Wow, what a fun filled ten day winter vacation to Galveston - some of which included: parades with colorful floats, a lot of beads, plenty of beer, some very interesting people watching, and live music at Galveston's Mardi Gras celebration; a Galveston harbor and dolphin tour; way too much good food and several happy hours; a stay in a nice RV park as well as a deluxe villa; a visit to Moody Garden's Rainforest and a round of golf at Moody Gardens Golf Course; a Galveston Bay Harbor Tour and a tour of the tall ship Elissa; and lots more fun things.
An Enjoyable Stay at Stella Mare RV Resort
For the first 6 days we stayed at Stella Mare RV Resort just west of downtown and we really enjoyed this new (2016) RV Resort. Stella Mare has over 190 long level paved full hook-up sites, two fully furnished rental homes, a great pool, a clubhouse, and more. It's a fantastic place to park the RV and explore Galveston. To learn more, read our Review of Stella Mare RV Resort.
Lots of Fun at Galveston's Mardi Gras
One of the main reasons we came to Galveston was to enjoy the last weekend of Mardi Gras. Which means that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were spent at the Strand enjoying the Galveston Mardi Gras parades, the music, the food, the cold beer, the people watching, and collecting beads. Several food trucks sell everything from corn dogs to cheesesteaks to hamburgers to fried corn to lobster rolls and more! Lots of friendly and interesting people attend in some colorful and festive costumes. And the parades - 22 over the two weekends and Fat Tuesday - are fun to watch and each float has several people tossing beads and other trinkets from the floats. To learn more about how much fun we had, read our Galveston Mardi Gras article.
A Tour of the Elissa, Galveston Bay Harbor, and the Texas Seaport Museum
On Monday we got a break from the parades and took a tour of the tall ship Elissa, the Texas Seaport Museum, and a harbor and dolphin tour on Seagull II. The Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 - she is 205 feet long, 99 feet tall and displaces 620 tons. For 90 years she lugged commercial cargo to and from North America, South America, Europe, Africa, India, and Australia before she ended up in a scrap yard in Greece. In 1975 the Galveston Historic Foundation purchased Elissa for $40,000, began resorting her and towed her from Greece to Galveston in 1979. She has been completely resorted and in 1986 Elissa sailed to New York Harbor to represent Texas in the centennial rededication ceremonies for the Statue of Liberty. Once a year she raises the sail and sails into the Gulf of Mexico for two weeks! A beautiful sailing ship and an interesting tour - it helps you appreciate how hard and complex it was to sail one of the tall ships. Imagine a 30 knot gale with huge tossing and turning waves and being told to climb 85 feet up a mast and out on one of the spars and use both hands to wrap the flapping sails!
When we visited, moored in the next berth was a 165 foot $40 million yacht named the Boardwalk which is owned by Tilman Fertittas - the star of the reality show Billion Dollar Buyer and owner of several business including the Kemah Boardwalk and with a net worth of over $2.9 billion. What a contrast between the gleaming white slick fiberglass yacht and the 1877 concrete hull and wooden deck and tall masts of the Elissa. I think I would prefer to cross the ocean on the Boardwalk's upper deck with a margarita and some appetizers.
The Elissa is berthed outside the front door of the Texas Seaport Museum and we enjoyed the movie about the Elissa, the history of the fleet of ships that kept the shores of the Gulf Coast safe from invaders, the first and second Navies of Texas, and lots more. An interesting and educational way to spend a few hours.
We walked out of the Museum and boarded the Seagull II for an hour tour to look for dolphins and to learn more about the Galveston Bay and the historic Port of Galveston. We saw huge cargo ships and oil tankers, a fleet of shrimp boats, Seawolf Park, several offshore oil rigs in for repair, a couple small dolphins, some local fisherman off loading their catch for the local fish market, and the 420 foot SS Selma, a World War I reinforced concrete tanker that was scuttled in the shallow bay decades ago. The Seagull II skipper departed with some interesting information in a humorous way and the knowledgeable first mate was able to answer every one of my many questions.
After the Elissa, Texas Seaport Museum, and the Seagull II tour I was ready for lunch and a drink - and we didn't have to go far because Fisherman's Wharf (also owned by Tilman) was right next door. It's got a cool deck jutting into the bay along side the Elissa, good drinks, and an excellent Yellow Fin Tuna Club sandwich!!!!
A Round of Golf at Moody Gardens & Fat Tuesday
Within 5 miles of Stella Mare RV Resort is Moody Gardens Golf Course, which meant we had no excuse not to head over there for a round of golf. Some of what makes Moody Gardens Golf Course worth playing includes: each nine is a little different, for example, the front has 3 par 3s and 3 par 5s and back is more fun and demanding; the course is challenging but fair and requires some shot making; and you'll need to avoid water on 17 of 18 holes and the numerous fairway and sand bunkers. The course meanders through upland and lowland native areas and a natural wetlands habitat of beautiful Sydnor Bayou with over 500 palm trees. Here is a link to our review and rating of Moody Gardens Golf Course.
During golf, I could tell that my wife wasn't really focused on her game like she usually is - she finally admitted that she couldn't stop thinking about getting more beads at the final Mardi Gras Parade - the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius 21st Annual Fat Tuesday Parade. So after golf we rushed downtown, found a great bar along the parade route, and enjoyed some apps and drinks while we waited for the floats. And she took home another 100 or so beads!
Playing Tourist for a Day in Galveston
It was a little overcast and threatening to rain so we scheduled some indoor touristy things to do. First up was a visit to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum which sits above the bay at Pier 21. The Ocean Star is a retired jack-up drilling rig, which means the rig is towed offshore to the site where it's 3 legs drop to the ocean floor and then the platform is jacked up on its legs to get it above the surface of the sea. The museum is inside the rig and is 3 stories of very well done models, equipment, and interactive displays that illustrate the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. Display signs, videos, models and equipment are used to explain the drilling process, the search for oil, and the well servicing and production. I could have spent a couple more hours here - very interesting and informative.
Jamming my brain with all that information can make a man hungry and luckily right next door was Olympia Grill - we enjoyed a good lunch sitting on the edge of Galveston Bay. And right next door to Olympia Grill is the Pier 21 Theater. We watched two short films, the first of which was The Great Storm about the 1900 category 4 hurricane with 145 mile an hour winds and a 15 foot storm surge (at that time Galveston was less than 9 feet above sea level) that destroyed numerous Galveston homes and buildings and killed between 6000 to 8000 people!
The second short film was "The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte" which was about a French pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He became a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence and moved to Galveston Island, Texas, where he developed a pirate colony and continued attacking merchant ships as a pirate.
The Galveston Beach and Other New Stuff
Every time we come to Galveston there is something new to see and do or a new bar, RV Resort, or restaurant. This trip Galveston is working on a $18 million beach nourishment project on the island's east end - they are adding new sand to significantly expand the beach areas along the seawall and last year they opened "Babe's Beach" which is a newly created 15 block beach on Seawall Blvd west of 61st. What used to be a foot of beach in front of the seaway is now 150 feet or more.
Another new addition to Galveston is the world's tallest water coaster, the MASSIV at Schlitterbahn Waterpark which opened in June 2016. It is 81 feet tall and sends riders on several downhill and uphill thrills before blasting you into a pool of water. Can't wait to try it!
And finally, Disney Cruise Lines announced that they will return to Galveston with a lineup of seven-night itineraries to Key West, Castaway Cay and Nassau and seven night sailings to Falmouth, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel plus four night sailings to Cozumel
From the Beach Into the Rainforest
Wow, step through the double doors and into the giant 10 story Moody Garden Rainforest Pyramid and you'll think you're in the middle of a rainforest on Galveston Island! Part of what makes this a unique experience is that you can't get any closer to over 1,000 species of exotic and endangered plants and animals from the rainforests of Africa, Asia and the Americas. When you visit the Rainforest Pyramid, you'll start on a walkway overlooking the endangered giant Amazon River otter exhibit and then enter the pyramid in the canopy level which gives you a high level view of the birds, sloths, white-faced saki monkeys, cotton-top tamarins and other free-roaming tree-dwellers. Then you wind you way down the Pyramid and on the way to the bottom you'll encounter:
What makes the Rainforest interesting is that you're totally immersed in and surrounded by the sights and sounds of animals, waterfalls, ponds with fish and turtles and stingrays, lush tropical plants, and birds flying overhead or walking down the path with you!
To A Fantastic Beach Villa
After the Rainforest we moved down the road close to the south western tip of Galveston Island for a three night stay in a brand new villa at Holiday Inn Club Vacations Galveston Seaside Resort. We stayed in what is called the "beachfront Luxury Signature Collection" with accommodations with premium decor and linens, free Wi-Fi, washer/dryer, and a private balcony with a beautiful view of the ocean and infinity pool. I think we were the first guests to stay in one these Villas and we loved it. To learn why, read our review of Holiday Inn Club Vacations Galveston Seaside Resort.
While we were at this end of the Island (about 16 miles from downtown Galveston) we enjoyed Jean-Michael Cousteau's (he is the son of ocean pioneer Jacques Cousteau) 3D movie "Secret Ocean," at Moody Gardens. The 40 film left us in awe of the beauty and diversity of the ocean. The photography was unbelievable, the small creatures were unique and interesting, and the film was very well done.
Next up was the Lone Star Flight Museum which I thought was very interesting as we walked around a wide variety of airplanes that flew in several different wars including World War II, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. On display are over 40 historically significant aircraft and many hundreds of artifacts related to the history of flight.
That evening we enjoyed hanging with the locals at a funky bar over looking the bay; had a delicious Lobster Bisque and outstanding burger; and were entertained by the locals line dancing and singing karaoke with the help of Motown Larry!
And before we knew it, we were back in the motorhome heading for home to plan our next adventure. What a fun vacation in Galveston