Galveston Island, just 60 minutes south of Houston, TX, looks to be a great family vacation destination, but does it get a DISDad stamp of approval? I had the opportunity to take my family to Galveston Island just a short while ago for a large family gathering and would like shed some light on a few of the attractions in the Galveston Island area. There are many more attractions than this, but these are some that we visited.
Galveston Island beach is unique in that it sits below one of the longest concrete sea-walls in the United States, over 10 miles long. The beach is very convenient to get to from the numerous hotels located on Seawall Boulevard, which makes it very close to services such as shopping and restaurants as well. The negative we found to the beach this year was the massive amounts of seaweed washing ashore. Seaweed washing ashore happens yearly, especially near the beginning of the summer season, but this year was one of the worst years in recent history. The seaweed was piled up higher than the seawall itself along the entire beach and there were mounds of fresh seaweed right on the ocean where the tide was carrying it in. Galveston Beach is a great place to enjoy the ocean, but this year the seaweed made it a little less than desirable. For this reason a hotel or rental property with a pool would be a must for us.
The next attraction we were fortunate enough to visit was Schlitterbahn Water Park. Schlitterbahn Galveston is one of the newer Schlitterbahn Water Parks, having opened in 2006. The original Schlitterbahn is located north of San Antonio in New Braunfels, TX. It opened in 1979 and is generally regarded as the world’s first waterpark resort. The Galveston property offers great summer fun in the sun for South Texas vacationers.
The park is divided into three sections: Wasserfest, Surfenburg, and Blastenhoff. Each section is surrounded by some sort of lazy river type attraction in the form of a river, rapids, or what Schlitterbahn terms the “Torrent River”, which is one of my favorite attractions in the park. Torrent River seems like just another lazy river type attraction, but every twenty seconds a large wave comes shooting down the river. The Galveston Schlitterbahn, much like its sister parks, features one concept they have named a “transportainment” system. This system allows you to transport yourself to any point in the park without ever getting out of the water, which makes it great for lazy people like me or for people who want to stay out of the oppressive South Texas heat. The water park, as a whole, seemed to be laid out extremely well. I have read some reports of it being extremely crowded in the summer months. We were in town the first week of June, while Texas schools were still in session, so the crowds were very low. Because of this we waited in almost no lines for any of the major slides and attractions the entire day.
Finally, Schlitterbahn has a great – dare I say Magic Band-like – system where you get a wristband when you buy your park tickets and you can load that wristband with money to spend in the park. This way you can keep your valuables in a locker, away from the water, and not have to worry about getting them out to pay for lunch or a drink. Overall, Schlitterbahn is a great option for family vacation entertainment. I would caution you to make sure that you arrive when the park opens. With a price tag of $48.99 (or $45.99 for online “advance purchase”) admission is not cheap. You are going to want to give yourself enough time in the park to get your money’s worth.
The Strand is another tourist hot spot for those visiting the Galveston area. When I was younger, this was a fantastic area that we loved. For kids, it had games and great food; and the adults loved to walk and shop and look at the many antique stores in the area. Unfortunately, the antique shops and food vendors have gone away in favor of stores selling overpriced t-shirts, magnets, and other tourist-trap trinkets. Don’t get me wrong, The Strand, which is just a couple of blocks away from the cruise port, is still nice to visit. It is just not the hidden gem it used to be. One great part of the Strand is still there though – the Confectionary. From salt-water taffy to homemade milk shakes to chocolate treats by the dozens and hand-dipped ice cream, this place is awesome. The Confectionary is air-conditioned, has more options than you could ever want, and has indoor seating to enjoy your treat (or in my case, treats)!
The Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry
The Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry is still a hidden gem for those traveling to the Galveston area, because it is completely FREE fun! Yes, I said free in a tourist town. First, make sure you have some crackers with you. Pull your car right onto this ferry that runs 24 hours a day, and travel across the entrance to the Port of Houston; the 2nd largest shipping port in the US. Once on-board the ferry and underway, head to the back of the ship to feed the birds. Be aware that these birds do this all day, every day, and are really hungry. This means that they are pretty aggressive, but it is a fun experience nonetheless. Another great aspect of the ferry ride is that, while crossing the entrance to the bay, you are almost always going to see some of the incredibly large ocean-going vessels entering the harbor. If you are on the right day you may even get to see a Royal Caribbean or Carnival cruise ship in port. And after you get off the ferry in Port Bolivar, you get to turn around and do the whole thing again heading back to Galveston.
I highly recommend Galveston Island as a family-friendly South Texas vacation destination. There are a lot of fun activities that I did not even get to on this trip, such as golf, theme park rides at the Pleasure Pier and the numerous museums in the area. Galveston Island area definitely gets this DISDad’s stamp of approval!