A March 2005 trip
to Galveston by SFPhotocraft
Quote: Galveston is a town that takes to change slowly. Very little changes here, and that's a good thing. Texans have enjoyed this beach town for generations.
Galveston is a local or regional beach. Most people don't come from far off places to Galveston to enjoy the beach. Most of the folks you will meet here are just down for the weekend from Houston. To be honest, the water is a little murky and the sand is packed and brown. We saw a lot of trash on the beach near our hotel. However, if you are from Texas and need a beach fix, this is an acceptable option for you.
The cruise industry is growing in Galveston, and more ships are using this port as a base. However, the cruise terminal needs some work, as they now have too much traffic for the meager facilities here.
Our best day was getting away from the crowded beach and driving down to the far end, where the beach is less crowded and you can walk, collect shells, and even drive your car on the flat, hard beach. The beach was much cleaner here. Be careful, as this part of the beach has no lifeguards.
You will most likely need a car in the area. We did use a taxi cab from the Hertz drop-off location to the ship, and the wait time was almost 40 minutes - Galveston is not a town with lots of cabs, although they do exist here! Texans love their cars too much!
Hotel | "Holiday Inn - On The Beach"
We arrived late, but the hotel was easy to find, front and center, across the street from the beach. The bar next to the lobby was in full swing, with a band, and things looked fun and lively. However, the front-desk staff was not so lively. Their personality meters hit unfriendly. Okay, I don't need a brass band and streamers to check-in, but a smile would have been a nice touch. Later, when I needed some local directions, I found a new desk crew to be just as unfriendly and very unhelpful.
Our room was on the second floor. (The hotel has eight floors). Each room has a main door on the back side of the building and a small balcony looking out to the water at the front.
The rooms were rather plain jane. The room was not offensive in any way, but it was not the kind of room that awed you as you opened the door for the first time. The major color scheme of the hotel was beige and seemed to fit the hotel as a whole. The room did show some wear-and-tear and had a strong musty smell to it.
Our room was on the far end of the building, and thus our view of the ocean was beyond the rather un-scenic parking lot. Also, another problem with the location is that we were far away from the elevator but right across from one of the large stairwells to the parking lot. At first this seemed convenient, but the stairwell reeked of urine and was full of broken beer bottles. It was a pretty nasty way in or out, and we chose to take the longer hike to the elevator.
I noticed a lot of wear-and-tear around the hotel. When you have a beach property, you are under a constant siege from the elements, and I would say this Holiday Inn may be losing the battle. The hotel had a musty smell, attempted to be covered up by a stronger lemon scent. I will admit that we saw a whole section of rooms that were being completely redone.
The hotel has a small restaurant called The Jetty,a popular bar, a little gift shop, and a big pool in the front of the hotel. The kids tried to use the pool one day but found it too cold and quickly returned to the room.
I got my points, so I was happy. We had a clean room and were even across the street from the beach, so we can't complain too much. I just think, if you are going to Galveston, you may find some newer, better-managed hotels nearby for about the same price.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 13, 2005
Holiday Inn Resort Galveston on the Beach
5002 Seawall Blvd
Galveston, Texas 77551
Restaurant | "Gaido's"
Gaido's has been a part of the Galveston tradition since 1911. Many Texans have downed a few shrimp in these walls.
The bad news is that they do NOT do reservations, so be prepared for a wait. We were lucky we went early on a Friday night (about 5:45pm), and we got a table right away. However, on leaving, we heard the wait was over an hour. This night, a huge rehearsal dinner was also going on and took over one of the dining rooms. There are plenty of tables, as Gaido's is a maze of dining rooms. It seems that over the years, they have expanded and added on. The best tables are at the front, along the windows that look across to the beach. Tonight, we were sat further back and had no view.
Our waiter got to our table quickly and knew the menu like the back of his hand. He was a seasoned waiter and checked back often and was great with the kids. He had some good suggestions and told me which fish were fresh. The menu changes here all the time to accommodate only the freshest catches.
I started with local Gulf oysters. They were delicious and large. Then came the salad, and the house salad dressing here is worth the trip alone -- outstanding! I had the shrimp and scallop combo. Our waiter tried to steer me away from the popular combo into some more adventurous fish, but I knew what I wanted. I got the combo broiled, and it too was delicious and very fresh. Both the shrimp and scallops were large and local.
The kids stay clear of seafood, but the menu had plenty of good non-seafood items for them. We all got the popular house dessert. A huge scoop of local Blue Bell ice cream, slathered in syrup and then rolled in Texas pecans. It's outrageous and sinful and oh soooo good!
Gaido's is a tradition and deserved the crown for the king of the seafood places in Galveston; it sets the standard. A trip to Galveston would not be complete without a stop at Gaido's!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 12, 2005
3830 Seawall Blvd
Galveston, Texas 77550
Restaurant | "Rainforest Cafe"
Actually, I don't mind The Rainforest Cafes--they are located all over the U.S., Mexico, and even London. They do promote theme over substance, but not as badly as some other places do, and their food, although not fine dining, is usually tasty and good. We always have a good time when eating at a Rainforest Cafe.
You can't miss this establishment from the road. It has a massive volcano fountain and lots and lots of signage and action in the front of the cafe.
Once inside, it's a typical Rainforest Café: a huge gift shop upfront, rain at the bar, lots of aquarium space, a thunderstorm every 30 minutes, and animated animals in the jungle that growl, roar, and pound their chests. It's a bit like eating lunch on the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland.
Surprisingly, we got right in; my past experiences at Rainforest Cafes were very long waits for tables. The service was friendly and fun. Our waiter was from Mexico City and was delightful. We started out with fun drinks and all ordered our meals. I got the steak and lobster combination, and the kids got burgers.
We enjoyed our meals. Both my lobster and steak were tasty. I have noted that at all Rainforest Cafes, the plates are huge, but the bulk of the food of them is rice and veggies. It's always too much for me to finish, and a lot of the rice and salad gets sent back to the kitchen.
They were pushing a volcano dessert that was a mound of ice cream surrounded by brownies and drenched in hot fudge. It was too much for us to order, but we saw quite a few of them fly by. Every time one comes out of the kitchen, the employees scream "VOLCANO" and run through the restaurant with a sparkler on the dessert. Rainforest Cafes are not the place to have a romantic or quiet dinner. They are loud, fun, and full of action.
This location also has a ride. For an extra $5 per person, you can take a jungle raft through a make-believe jungle, lost temples, and rainforest. We happened to be the only ones on the ride at the time we went. I have to admit that the ride was longer and better-presented than I had anticipated.
Rainforests are considered family restaurants. However, the prices are a little steep. We had one adult and two kids and our meal without a dessert, but the jungle ride came to just over $100.
The Rainforest Café, for the most part, is a fun dining adventure--kids love it, and it's easy for adults to tolerate.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 13, 2005
The Rainforest Cafe
5310 Seawall Blvd
Galveston, Texas 77551
Attraction | "The Bishop Mansion"
At one time, Broadway was a street of fine homes and stately mansions. Only a handful remain today, sandwiched in between more newer and more modest homes and businesses. The one that really stands out as you drive by is The Bishop Mansion. It looks more like a secure stone castle than a family home.
The home was completed in 1893 by Colonel Walter Gresham, a famous Confederate Colonel during the Civil War. After the war, he moved from Virginia to Texas, and this was the mansion where he and his wife raised their nine children.
The home is a masterpiece and an important Texas landmark. It has wood from the far corners of the world and a fireplace mantel that won first prize at the World's Fair. The stained-glass windows are breathtaking. You can only imagine what fine parties took place in these walls. My favorite stories were about the 1900 hurricane when the home stood like a fortress. The Greshams housed over 200 neighbors who were left homeless by the storm.
In the 1920s, after the Colonel's death, Mrs Gresham donated the home to the Catholic Church to house The Bishop of Galveston. (So much for that vow of poverty!) Thus the name - Bishop Mansion.
The Catholic Church kept the home to house the Bishop until 1963. During that time a chapel was added and many religious paintings and stained glass windows of saints. In 1963 the home was opened for tours and maintained by the Catholic Church. The third floor is still used by the church for offices, and the basement is The Newman Center.
I was a little sad to see how the home is in need of repair. Several rooms had paint peeling, and one of the upstairs bedrooms had a very bad leak and stain on one of the walls. However, most of the wood and glass are orginal and are in very good shape, considering the age and the number of tours that come through this now-famous sight.
Today, volunteers give daily tours of the home. The cost is $6 per adult. Each floor had a different docent. I have to admit two of the docents were very soft-spoken and very hard to hear and understand. The third docent was far more lively and interesting. The docents are volunteers, so they change frequently, and the day you tour, you may find some with better speaking ability and higher enthusiam levels.
There are several homes in Galveston that give tours. However, if you only have time for one home tour, the one NOT to miss is the landmark Bishop Mansion.
Galveston, Texas 77550
We lost part of our day exploring Galveston Beach and only had a limited time to enjoy Moody Gardens. We had to pick one area to focus on, so we picked the aquarium.
The complex is dominated by three large pyramids, each in a distinct, unique color. We only did the aquarium pyramid, and the cost was $15 for adults and $7 for kids. There were plenty of other price options for combinations of the IMAX or other pyramids. You can easily spend a full day here.
The aquarium was bright and clean, and had a feeling of being very well maintained. The tanks seemed very clean and full of fish. The kids enjoyed watching the fish swim by. However, their favorite part of the day was the tanks were you could touch the animals. You could explore the creatures that reside in the tide pools or pet a stingray. I think I enjoyed the tunnel tanks best, where you walk through and have fish swim all around you! Finding the sharks is everyone’s favorite thing.
This isn't the largest aquarium I have ever visited, but it seems to have all the major fish groups and a good variety. All the popular sea animals are covered. We went on a Friday, and the crowds weren't too bad. You could get up to almost any tank you wished to observe without fighting for space.
The one thing I wished we would have seen more of would be employees or volunteers explaining some of the tanks and fish. The only volunteers we saw were at the touch tanks, and they mostly were there to enforce rules.
When we left, we walked back to our car via the grounds. The grounds are huge, and the hotel looked first-class. My kids were dying to hop into the deluxe pool.
WORD OF CAUTION: We found signage to be very poor here. We were told the turn-off of Seawall Boulevard was very clear and well marked. We went sailing right by it and went way too far out of our way. When we got back on track, we found the sign, and it was tiny compared to all the billboards and other signage on the road. When we got to Moody Gardens, we followed the parking signs and found ourselves in the convention-center parking lot, which was blocks away from the aquarium. We found that other guests had the same complaints we did about poor signage. My advice is to get good directions and be on the lookout for small signs along the road.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 14, 2005
One Hope Boulevard
Galveston, Texas 77554
I kept heading south, following the Gulf of Mexico away from the crowded beach and tourist area. The beach homes here were large and luxurious and all built on stilts to protect them from hurricanes and coastal flooding. By this time, I knew I must have gone too far, but I was enjoying the beach home tour. We drove through little beach communities with romantic names like Jamaica Beach. There were just a few small grocery stores and a local seafood shack or two this far out of town. However, the beach seemed to be broader and more beautiful here.
Soon we came to a toll bridge (that was unmanned) and a small island of more weekend homes. We knew we had come to the end of the road, and it was time to resume our hunt for Moody Gardens.
However, at the foot of the toll bridge, the kids noticed a car or two parked on the beach and folks fishing the Gulf of Mexico. They begged for us to explore a little more and also drive on the beach and see what these folks were fishing for. I thought twice about talking the rental car off the secure highway but was up for a little adventure myself, so off the road we drove! Splash! Right into a huge puddle, or was it a pond? Our car handled the water hazard just fine, and soon we were on the open beach!
The beach here was not as crowded as in Galveston, and it actually had some white sand. We parked the car and explored the beach by foot. The kids were delighted the minute they stepped out of the car and the sand was covered in sea shells - hundreds of them!
The kids walked up and down the beach with their hands and pockets filled with the most perfect shells. There were mostly scallop shells, but also some small conch shells. Many had unique and interesting colors. There is nothing like exploring a beach with kids! We found a dead squid, and that required a lot of examination.
We were the only ones on this beach, expect for a few fisherman in the far distance. The wind was blowing and it was a bit chilly. However we had a grand time walking up and down this beach on The Gulf of Mexico and finding gifts from the sea.
The water had some gentle waves and looked fairly calm. It was a bit too chilly to take a dip. There are no lifeguards way out here, so don't swim alone, and be catious if you do take a dip.
Of the the three days we spent in Galveston, this hour will be the part of the trip I remember the most. Yes, the travel gods were with us and made sure we got a little lost to show us this marvelous beach. When the travel gods point - follow!