by Carmel L. Mooney
Usually, when a family visits a port on the way to board a cruise ship, the departing port gets swallowed up in the excitement of the cruise vacation itself. Not so with Galveston Island, Texas-one of Carnival’s most fascinating, historical, and family-friendly ports of embarkation. It’s the perfect family destination to enjoy while getting primed up for an unforgettable cruise to Cozumel and Progreso aboard the beautiful Fantasy-class Carnival Ecstasy.
With direct flights to Houston from Sacramento, this non-stop fun destination is easily accessible by bus or limo service once the family arrives in Houston. It’s an easy 45-minute drive to gorgeous Galveston Island where the pre-fun awaits. We were pleased with Karr Limo Service in Houston.
Checking in at the Hotel Galvez, it is easy to see why this beautiful historic hotel has boasted a guest list of celebrities and presidents for nearly a century. Overlooking the beach, this hotel offers all the amenities including a new multi-million dollar Mediterranean-inspired spa.
It would be an utter shame and injustice not to allow at least two days to sample just a bit of the fun in Galveston. The Lone Star Flight Museum, with one of the nation’s most amazing private aircraft collections, is a must-see where you can go up in an old warplane. The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling and Rig Museum is an educational tour of a real drilling rig with exhibits and interactive displays.
The 1894 Grand Opera House is the “Official Opera House of Texas”, with performances ranging from country stars to Broadway shows, and is an architectural beauty to behold.
The Moody Mansion is a beautiful 28,000 square foot home built in 1895 for the Moody family, who are integral in making Galveston what it is today.
The film The Great Storm shown at the Pier 21 Theater is a spellbinding, gripping, and truly touching documentary depicting Galveston’s greatest tragedy, loss of life, and America’s deadliest natural disaster. Yet, it leaves the audience with a deep appreciation and respect for the American spirit and the fortitude of the people of Texas and their heroism and humanity.
Moody Gardens is the Houston area’s number one family destination with opportunities to meet penguins and seals, jungle fun in a recreated rainforest, numerous IMAX and 3D movies, and a chance to view artifacts from the Titanic.
It may seem a bit eerie to receive a replica of an actual Titanic boarding pass the day before your real cruise begins, but if you can handle the goosebumps go ahead and board this amazing display of over 125 authentic artifacts from the RMS Titanic.
Galveston has golfing, shopping, beautiful beaches, exquisite dining, and endless entertainment in an all-inclusive resort destination for family cruisers.
Galveston Island offers cruisers a wonderful all-in-one travel solution and free service called GalvestonCruises.com where travelers can obtain parking for the duration of their cruise, airport transfers, and anything else needed to coordinate the transition from land to water.
After fun in the sun in Galveston, the Fun Ship awaits as you board the Carnival Ecstasy for a four or five-day sailing trip. If possible, opt for the five-day sailing trip so your family can enjoy the beauty of both ports Progreso and Cozumel.
Progreso offers much for history buffs who will enjoy visiting nearby colonial Merida, the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, or the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, now added to the Seven Wonders of the World. Cenotes, biosphere reserves, jungles, beaches, adventure parks, and pristine turquoise waters provide dozens of outdoor adventure choices for diving, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, and adrenaline junky activities. The tour of Chichen Itza is offered by Aviomar and provides one of the best port excursions. They are knowledgeable, safe drivers and offer wonderful hospitality.
Cozumel is Ecstasy’s other port of call and boasts some of the best water sports and outdoor activities in the Caribbean. Enjoy the clear kayak adventure where kayakers can spot exotic colorful fish and wondrous sea creatures from the comfort and safety of a clear-bottomed kayak. This is perfect for small children who might not yet be up to snorkeling.
The Ecstasy crew loves Cozumel. Captain Pier Paolo Scala enjoys windsurfing there. “Cozumel is one of my favorite Carnival ports because I love windsurfing, scuba diving, and tennis. The weather is favorable almost always in Cozumel,” he adds.
Back onboard the best just keeps on getting better as the Ecstasy, like many other Fantasy-class ships in Carnival’s fleet, has recently undergone a face-lift including flat-screen televisions and Carnival Comfort bedding in all of the staterooms. Many public rooms have been revamped as well as a new mini-golf course.
“The Fantasy-class vessels are the most successful cruise ships, as well as the industry leader in three to five-day vacations, carrying nearly 1.6 million guests annually,” says Gerry Cahill, Carnival president, and CEO. “‘Evolutions of Fun’ represents a multi-million dollar investment designed to build upon these vessels’ tremendous appeal with vacationers by incorporating a host of new and exciting features,” he adds.
Camp Carnival, one of the best features for families, is refurbished and relocated. Now there’s a new state-of-the-art Internet café on the Promenade deck which teenagers are sure to appreciate.
The Ecstasy tends to be a more casual ship and is ideal for families of every size, providing something for everyone, including fine entertainment, comfortable accommodations, and excellent food with varied choices. Our family has sailed on the Ecstasy twice on two different itineraries. Offering four and five-day itineraries, the Ecstasy attracts families and kids of all ages, even multi-generational cruisers.
Aside from the cruise industry’s best child care program with non-stop fun from morning and into the wee hours of the night for all aged kids, the “Newlywed Game,” “Name that Tune” contests, ice carving, karaoke, and multiple bingo games are still as popular as ever. Between Camp Carnival, Club O2 art auctions, spa classes, and Broadway-style shows, there is always some fun activity that will please each member of the clan, literally morning, noon, and night.
For fast-paced families who like a lively, active cruise with plenty of nightlife, this is the cruise you seek. Las Vegas-style entertainment, adult comedy shows, and a selection of themed bars and lounges will provide mom and dad with plenty of opportunities for alone time while the kids are happily and safely cared for at Camp Carnival having dance parties, slumber parties, and scavenger hunts.
The two main dining rooms are the Wind Star and Wind Song, where Michelin three-star chef, Georges Blanc, offers his gourmet selections. And for kids without a gourmet palette, the kid’s menu is always available along with 24-hour stateroom room service, complimentary of course, but with fewer options. Cookies and milk at bedtime, turn-down service, chocolates on the pillow, and towel animals are always the norm.
Three meals a day are served casual style at the Panorama Bar & Grill buffet where guests enjoy a 24-hour pizzeria, 24-hour yogurt and ice cream station, and deli sandwich bar along with a few of the offerings from the main dining rooms. Thankfully, all dining areas are non-smoking.
Cabins range from 185-to 190 square feet with some of the ship’s cabins featuring a unique combination of twin beds and a comfortable king-size bed. Triples and quads are popular with families and can accommodate the needs of three or four, but book as far in advance as possible as these cabins are at a premium filling quickly -, particularly over school vacation periods. The Ecstasy and all of Carnival’s Fantasy-class ships have some cabins that even accommodate five. This is not the norm in the cruise industry and is yet another way that Carnival caters to the needs of families with more than a half-million kids sailing each year.
Ecstasy’s entertainment offers an excellent stage and musical productions. The show the last night at sea is a quality Texas-flavored country revue that will surely capture the hearts of travelers from any state. One can almost chew the patriotism and spirit of Texas by the final curtain call. Y’all don’t want to miss that one!
Spa Carnival offers spa treatments and exercise classes. The Ecstasy has three pools, including a wading pool for younger Camp Carnival guests. The main pool is where the grown-up fun is found with live bands, pool games, and contests along with an ever-popular 115-foot-long Carnival water slide which is enjoyed by most folks of all ages.
The shorter-than-a-week cruises tend to be extra laid back which may be good for families who like to relax and go casual. The seasonably warm weather of Mexico and Galveston lends itself to shorts, T-shirts, sundresses, and flip-flops most of the cruise. Dressy casual is acceptable for dinner on all but formal nights where the dress code is still far from dressy for most with hardly a tux in sight. People even dine in swimwear and pool wraps around the Lido Deck or the pool.
Carnival is extending its vacation guarantee again this year so there is no excuse to forego sampling the ultimate family vacation where everyone unpacks only once, has fun every day all day and night, and where every day is a carnival.
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. For tips on smooth traveling with kids, check out Carmel’s book, Holiday Family Travel Tips.