Courtesy Galveston Island CVB
T. Wayne Waters
Published July 07, 2014
Galveston Island is a Gulf Coast slice of Texas unlike any other in the Lone Star State. Measuring about 32 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, the island is a mere 50 miles south of Houston, but it encourages a dramatically different mindset.
In Galveston, groups will find a seaside ambiance, exceptional seafood, a 36-block downtown historic district reflecting the city’s rich cultural heritage, and some outstanding recreational and leisure attractions.
“Galveston has so much more to do than perhaps some people realize,” said Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau director Meg Winchester, “from the historical aspects of the city to the attractions, the restaurants, our beach destination. And we have a lot to offer travel groups.”
Three of Galveston’s most enjoyable attractions for groups are Moody Gardens, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum.
A rain forest in Galveston, Texas? Pyramids? And penguins? Strange as all that may sound for southeast Texas, you can find all three along with lots of other enjoyable features at Moody Gardens, a multifaceted recreational and educational facility on Galveston Island.
Moody Gardens’ three 10-story metal and glass pyramids, sitting right beside Offatts Bayou, are sure to catch the eye, all the more so for their contrasting colors. The Rainforest Pyramid is clear-glassed and houses the flora and fauna of an Amazon rain forest. Group visitors can have close encounters with monkeys, giant Amazon River otters, alligators and other animals that are at home in a rain forest atmosphere.
The blue color of the Aquarium Pyramid’s exterior is apropos for a building housing a 1.5 million-gallon aquarium and its myriad inhabitants: penguins, sharks and more. And the pink panes of the Discovery Pyramid somehow seem fitting for the home of three extraordinarily immersive theaters and a science/culture museum.
Floating out by the Moody Gardens boat dock, a replica of an 1800s-era paddle wheeler offers scenic cruises. Dinner and private cruises are available for groups of 65 or more.
The newest attractions at Moody Gardens are the Sky Trail Explorer Ropes Course and a new zip line, both opened in May. The 71-foot ropes course has 48 obstacles and presents great team-building exercise opportunities. The zip line takes visitors 60 feet into the air over Palm Beach, the site’s water park, which features a lazy river, a wave pool and tower slides.
Group tour leaders should check on special packages available for groups of 20 or more. “Groups have a lot of options on the type of experience they want to have here,” said Moody Gardens’ marketing and public relations manager Jerri Hamachek. “The new ropes course is a great addition. It lends itself to team activities.”
The 242-acre Moody Gardens complex also includes a 428-room hotel with a spa and a convention center. The Moody Gardens Hotel recently underwent a $20 million renovation.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier features retro family-oriented attractions on a pier that extends out over the Gulf of Mexico. Located off Seawall Boulevard at 25th Street, Pleasure Pier features rides, midway games, live entertainment, retail shops and a wide selection of food venues. A convenient bus and shuttle drop-off point puts groups right beside the amusement park action.
“It’s very unique,” said Mark Kane, divisional vice president of the Amusement Division of Landry’s Inc., Pleasure Pier’s parent company. “There are no other thrill-ride attractions on the island. But we have 16 rides, and they run the gamut from high-thrill to small kiddie rides. We’re very family oriented, very clean and we run the pier with the same standards we run our 500 Landry’s Restaurants. Hospitality is key, as is service and quality.”
Groups of 25 or more enjoying Pleasure Pier’s wholesome fun are eligible for discounts and special group package deals.
Landry’s also operates a nearby three-hotel beachfront resort complex that offers special package deals and shuttle buses.
Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center
A museum dedicated to offshore oil drilling may not be the first thing to come to mind as a group tour activity, but Winchester said it is one of the most pleasant surprises visitors to Galveston come across.
“It is the most fascinating museum I’ve been in,” said Winchester. “It’s a wonderful surprise to anybody visiting. To just see how the drilling is done, the technology that goes along with it — fascinating.”
Fascinating and unique. According to OceanStarOEC.com, it is the “only known facility of its type.”
The Ocean Star, a retired and refurbished jack-up drilling rig, gives visitors a chance to get the real story of offshore oil drilling and even use the skywalk to get out onto the drill floor of the rig, where the oil derrick rises nearly 200 feet.
The museum has three floors of interactive exhibits along with videos and other kinds of educational materials related to offshore drilling. The facility houses scale models of the huge drill bits, oil rig platforms and other equipment used in offshore drilling.
Groups are welcome on the Ocean Star, and discounted rates are available. The museum can accommodate up to 100 people simultaneously, but groups of 40 or more will be split into smaller numbers.