Galveston, TX: Harbor House, The Pleasure Pier, and My Next Adventure

Terminal A at Boston Logan International Airport

It’s always an interesting statistic for me to hear that only about 25% of the US population have ever cruised considering we love cruising.  We’ve cruised out of Boston, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, New Jersey (Bayonne), Los Angeles, and Malaga, Spain and yet, we are always looking to add new cruise lines, cruise ships, cruise ports, and itineraries.  Every year we do our annual birthday/anniversary cruise and we all wanted to try something new this year.  When I looked at airfare to the Mediterranean for a Mediterranean cruise, the cost was prohibitive so we knew we would have to stay domestic for our next trip.  After narrowing our choices down based on itineraries and ships we have previously been on, we decided to take a chance and try something new.

Friday afternoon we left Boston and headed for Houston, Texas.  We flew nonstop on United 1644 to Houston (IAH) and our flight was just under four hours total.  I was disappointed that we were going to have to pay $7.99 for the DirectTV service that is free with other carriers, but apparently United is one of the many airlines nickel and diming customers these days.  When we landed, we headed toward baggage claim where we were then met by our driver Karl from Elite Limousine who drove us to our hotel in Galveston.  Normally, I would get a rental car, but here’s the problem.  Although Galveston loves visitors, they must not like visitors leaving or arriving on Sunday because there are no rental car agencies open on Sunday.  This limited our choices considerably and so we opted for the limo transfer, which was effortless and easy thanks to Karl.

The Harbor Hotel

We arrived at our hotel, Harbor House, close to around 10 pm and made our way to the hotel lobby. For what’s it worth, there isn’t much of a lobby, but a teeny front desk with a clerk.  We checked in and went immediately to our room.  Why did I choose this hotel?  Because I wanted to be close to the port and thought it would be a good idea. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much around the hotel that was open and although close to the cruise  port, everything else that we wanted to do was a distance away.  We dropped our bags off and decided to head out to grab something to eat.  At check in we were presented with two coupons, one for Willie G’s Seafood and Steaks for a free chef’s appetizer or dessert selection of the day or the same at Fisherman’s Wharf, but of course, both had already closed.  The restaurant adjacent to the hotel, Olympia, was also closed so without much in the way of choices, we took a brief walk around the hotel and tried to find something, anything that stayed open past 10 pm.  The only restaurant we found open was Joe’s Crab Shack and for two non-meat or seafood eaters, we knew it would be slim pickings for food, but as long as we could get a few cold ones, we were ok with that.

Twisted Cherry Limeade

Nothing says thirst quencher like a Cherry Limeade, but how about the adult Twisted Cherry Limeade?  This had fresh squeezed limes shaken with cherries and Three Olives Cherry Vodka and then topped off with Sprite.  Cool, refreshing, and dangerous, but it comes in its own keepsake Mason jar.  Nope — didn’t take the jar with me.  The restaurant was winding down, but I think management might have left earlier that evening.  The place was a mess with dirty tables and a bar top full of dirty glasses.  I noticed the waitstaff talking more than cleaning and getting anyone’s attention this late at night was next to impossible.  The carnivore at my table ordered the Joe’s Surf ‘N Turf Burger, which was described as “A big, juicy peppercorn burger topped with crunchy popcorn shrimp, crispy onion strings and our own spicy sriracha remoulade sauce.”  He said it was an average burger, nothing special, but for the record he did eat it in its entirety so it couldn’t have been terribly bad. He also had a monstrous Root Beer Float and when I say big, I mean incredibly big.  My husband ordered a 20 oz. Shiner Bock beer so he was a happy camper.

Room 223 at the Harbor House

A short walk back to our room and we literally crashed. The room itself was a nice size with two full size beds, a sofa, chair and coffee table, and a huge piece of furniture that stored the old-fashioned tube TV, microwave, and refrigerator.  There was nothing horribly wrong with the room, but I had hoped to get a view of the harbor to watch the ships sail in and out, but instead we were given a view of Joe’s Crab Shack.  I did inquire if any rooms with a view were available, but was told there were none available.  That didn’t prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep and dreaming of the fun we would have in Galveston the following day.

Entrance to the Pleasure Pier

We woke up with just a few minutes to spare before the hotel’s continental breakfast ended. Breakfast consisted of coffee, danish, yogurt, oatmeal cups, and juice available, which was enough to get us up and motivated for the day.  Our goal for the day was to get to the Pleasure Pier, which is located on Galveston Island at 25th & Seawall Blvd.  Without a vehicle, we decided to walk because it didn’t seem so far away at just under 2 miles.  We started walking and noticed that there was literally no one on the street but us.  We soon discovered why no one was walking because it was brutally and painfully hot.  By the time we arrived, we were completely soaked in sweat and that’s something I normally would never admit, but it was so hot!  My advice to anyone not from Galveston or Texas?  Take a cab, bus, or one of the many tour buses down to the Pleasure Pier as the walk may just do you in.

Revolution

The Pleasure Pier only recently had its soft opening at the end of May and is now open to the public.  All-day passes are $26.99 for anyone taller than 48″ and $21.99 for anyone under 48″ tall.  If you want the pier walk-on pass, it’s $10 and you can purchase tickets for rides ranging in price from $4-$6 per ride.  With 16 rides available, there is definitely something for everyone from the Iron Shark rollercoaster to the Cyclone or Dragon or the more nostalgic 100-foot-tall Galaxy Ferris Wheel. If you’re looking to get wet, they have the Pirate’s Plunge log flume ride with twists, turns, and two drops measuring 40 feet and 20 feet.  You don’t even have to ride it to get wet as there is a splash zone outside the ride that requires great timing to avoid getting soaked.  We love fun rides like the ones they had at the Pleasure Pier and despite the heat, we had a great time.  The only negatives I would have would be that they had absolutely nothing set up for recycling the massive quantity of plastic cups they were distributing with drinks or the cans and bottles and they had no locker facilities, but there was a sign that said, “coming soon” so hopefully it will be soon.

The Original Mexican Cafe

I had read great reviews of The Original Mexican Cafe and thought it would be a great stop for lunch before heading back to the hotel.  The walk from the Pleasure Pier was 1.7 miles, but it felt like it was another continent away.  Along the way I decided that I would bathe in margaritas upon arrival as I was hot and thirsty and my only wish was to sit quietly in an air-conditioned room with a big drink in hand. There was a whole lot of praying going on that the restaurant wouldn’t be closed for some odd reason and I felt as if I had found the Holy Grail when we finally arrived at this otherwise unassuming restaurant.

Two jumbo Original Margaritas

We were seated and our server, Caesar, immediately brought us menus.  I was ecstatic to see that they actually had a section of the menu just for vegetarians!  Of course, I had to get my priorities in order and it was necessary to focus on my drink order. We both ordered the jumbo Original Margarita and it was insanely good!  That was definitely a great way to start our meal off and it more than helped me cool down and regulate my body temperature or at least that was what I kept telling myself.  I even ordered a second and my husband got the Sangria Margarita, which was a frozen margarita with a swirl of sangria in it.  Yum!

World’s best flan!

As for the food, I can honestly say that this is the best Mexican food I have had anywhere and I don’t say stuff like that often.  The tortilla chips are freshly made as is their house salsa, which is fresh and has the right amount of spiciness to it. We ordered the guacamole and I could have stopped right there and had nothing else as it was so good.  I have zero pictures of the food because we basically wolfed it down as it came to the table because of the great taste.  My son ordered a beef chalupa smothered in queso, which was served with rice and beans and a side of guacamole.  He loved it as did my husband who ordered the vegetarian chalupa.  I ordered the vegetarian tacos (lettuce, tomato, and guacamole) and the cheese enchiladas, which also came with rice and beans.  We could not stop raving about how great the food was and I don’t feel like I can ever find another restaurant that will ever serve food as good as what we received in The Original Mexican Cafe.  We ended up ordering one order of the flan and that sealed the deal.  We all agreed that there has never been a smoother, tastier, or more richly caramel laced flan than that one.  If I lived anywhere near this place, I would have to eat here every day.  It really is that good.  Don’t believe me?  Go try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

After that insanely great meal, we were now ready for the walk back to the hotel, but first?  The Strand.  I wanted to check out some of the stores along this strip and although only about 0.7 miles from the restaurant, there were no trees to offer shade or cover whatsoever and so the walk back was a hot one.  I forgot to mention that when we were in the restaurant  I discovered that I had gotten sunburned, something I didn’t feel or expect, which wasn’t terribly smart of me.  Definitely put on sunscreen as you will get toasty just from walking around.

The stores around the Strand offer quite a variety of items from bathing suits and t-shirts to jewelry, food, alcohol, hermit crabs, and then just the strange to the weird.  I love these signs that were in one of the stores.  I picked up a ladies straw cowboy hat, sunglasses, a summer dress, a bathing suit cover up, and sandals so overall I think I did quite well for some quick shopping after a day of being drenched in sweat.  The hotel was nearby so we headed back and didn’t do much for the rest of the evening.  Since the Olympics were on, we got sucked into those and took care of our bags and such for the next morning.

On Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30 am for some strange reason and my husband and I decided to look outside to see if we could see the cruise ship coming into port.  I was shocked when I opened the door and it looked like the ship was close enough that I could touch it! Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was close.  And so that’s our adventure for the next week, a 7-night cruise on the Carnival Magic.  The adventure is finding out if we can avoid Tropical Storm Ernesto or if we end up with an alternate itinerary along the way.  Fingers crossed that plans stay the same, but if the itinerary changes, we might go to Roatan or Belize or Key West.  I am up for a new adventure so stay tuned as I blog, tweet, and update my FaceBook page live from the Carnival Magic.

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