Quickly becoming Texas' most cosmopolitan city, Houston's island neighbor of Galveston is teeming with youthful energy and always-friendly locals. The region surrounding the city has been transformed from its former designation as a southern swamp and become a glittering city with tree-lined parks and marvelous skyscrapers. Galveston is quickly becoming a hotspot for vacationers, particularly those making their way south on a Caribbean cruise.
This thin strip of land is a year-round coastal destination for thousands of sun seekers and beach dwellers. A number of Texas' first buildings were once located on the island, though many were destroyed during the Great Storm of 1900. The remaining structures have been restored and beautifully maintained over the years, and are a great example of charming, turn-of-the-century southern life.
More than 32 miles of pristine sandy beaches line Galveston's coast - a perfect appetizer to a long stay in the Caribbean Islands. Though high-rises dominate the skyline, a number of quarters boast Victorian architecture and dozens of charming antique stores.
Best spots to take a nature photo
Likened to the red rock boulders of the southwest, Big Reef Nature Park is brimming with sunset hues and a great place for birdwatchers to take a photo of one of the 500 species that pass through here on a regular basis. Galveston is one of the best bird watching locations in the United States, and during Caribbean cruises, passengers young and old will have the rare opportunity to see flocks of migratory birds descend upon the park by the thousands. Sightings may include jaegers, northern gannets, plovers and a wide array of gulls. Thanks to a joint effort between Galveston and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, Big Reef Nature Park is heavily protected so nature-lovers will have the chance to enjoy this stunning spot for years to come.
Galveston Island State Park is a perfect place to take young families for a fun day at the beach. The waters are warm enough to swim in during the summer and offer miles of beautiful, sunny views. Children are invited to explore the beach and find handfuls of seashells to make their very own tropical jewelry.
A taste of history
Once the hub of trade between the Caribbean and the United States, Galveston features a number of historical maritime sites, including the tall ship Elissa. The stunning vessel has been declared a National Historic Landmark and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by hundreds of sailors hoping to explore the high seas. Originally built in 1877, the Elissa has been restored to house numerous century-old artifacts. The nearby museum building is a spot-on replica of the wharf that once welcomed throngs of immigrants arriving in the New World.
Pier 21 Theater, located along the seaside promenade, screens short documentary films about the area, including a nail-biting tale of the exploits of pirate Jean Lafitte, who once used Galveston as the base of his plundering.
Take a walk along The Strand
Early-20th-century buildings boasting antebellum and Victorian architecture line the streets of The Strand, where those on a Caribbean shore excursion can peruse through numerous antique stores and grab a fresh cup of coffee at a family-run cafe. Artists frequently construct elaborate installations along the sidewalks so cruise passengers should have their cameras ready to take a unique photo before heading back aboard to enjoy an evening of entertainment with Princess.