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Cruise on in to Galveston

Along the northwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico is the Texas island city of Galveston, a community known for its beautiful beaches, interesting history, commercial and cruise line ports, and a hit song, “Galveston,” made popular by singer Glen Campbell.

Galveston is a welcoming destination for both meeting professionals and tourists. Because of that, it will be the host city for the 2023 Small Market Meetings Summit, May 10–11 at the San Luis Resort Hotel, Spa and Conference Center on the city’s Gulf shore. The 32-acre property has 200,000 square feet of meeting facilities, which includes 43,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 15,000-square-foot grand ballroom and other adaptable meeting spaces that total 12,000 square feet. The hotel has an impressive 700 guest rooms. There are 10 restaurants on-site and many relaxing resort-style amenities to make guests feel special.

“Many meeting planners choose Galveston for the destination’s beaches and also for the variety of lodging venues from resorts and historic hotels to affordable chains, beach houses and condominiums,” said Mary Beth Bassett, director of public relations for Visit Galveston, the local convention and visitors bureau.

The Summit will bring together more than two dozen top meeting planners and many destination providers who will try to convince the planners to bring future meetings to their cities, states, resorts, attractions and other venues. By coming early or staying late for the day-and-a-half conference, delegates can tour the city and see for themselves all the amenities that make Galveston an efficient and affordable meeting site for groups.

“Galveston is a historic beach town, and home to a busy port, some great family attractions, wonderful restaurants and museums, and historic sites,” said Bassett. “Many of those sites also lend themselves as off-site meeting or reception venues.”

This mid-size Texas city was founded in 1839 and has a population of 48,000. It is located about 45 miles south of Houston by way of Interstate 45. Most motorists arrive in the city via the interstate causeway, which crosses over the bay. Car ferries also bring vehicles and people to the island from the mainland.

When flying in, visitors either use George Bush Intercontinental Airport, north of Houston, and commute south to Galveston, about 70 miles away, or the smaller Hobby International Airport, located on Houston’s south side, and travel 40 miles down to Galveston.

Meet, Then Play On the Water

In addition to the excellent San Luis Resort Conference Center, there are several other top locations in Galveston where meetings can be held. The Galveston Island Convention Center is located right on the Gulf and is part of the San Luis Resort property. The convention center has 140,000 square feet of meeting and event space available for bookings.

Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center is a beautiful facility that just keeps growing. It has many choices for its flexible spaces. The center has large expo halls and several ballrooms to handle trade shows, corporate meetings or special events.

After the business of the day concludes, there is a tremendous number of things to do at Moody Gardens, which is designated as a nonprofit educational destination that utilizes nature to promote recreation, conservation and research. The 1.5-million-gallon Aquarium Pyramid is one of the largest aquariums in the Southwest and features interactive encounters with penguins, sharks, seals, jellyfish and tropical fish, and more. The experience is full of conservation messages that stress the importance of protecting the world’s oceans.

Also on-site at Moody Gardens is the Rainforest Pyramids, where the miraculous rainforests of Africa, Asia and the Americas are replicated, and visitors see plants and animals like river otters, sloths, monkeys and collections of rare birds.

The Discovery Museum examines the connection between music, math and science and brings visitors to the crossroads of technology as they learn just what makes music. A new exhibit in the Discovery Pyramid is “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: An Interactive Adventure.” Moody Gardens partnered with the design and production company Super 78 to take visitors through every stage of a submarine voyage, including amazing views of sea life.

At the end of a busy day, visitors may want to relax and enjoy a 45-minute ride on the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, a replica of paddlewheel crafts common in the 1800s. Longer dinner cruises are available, with Tex-Mex, Hawaiian, French and Louisiana Bayou theme nights.

On the Water

There are unique attractions everywhere in Galveston, so visitors can enjoy themselves day and night. Galveston Island has 32 miles of shoreline with many distinct beaches and parks for people to enjoy. With warm Gulf waters from spring to October, there’s something for everyone to do. Naturally, fishing is popular for locals and tourists alike, and it can be done from shore, off a dock on the fun Galveston Fishing Pier, in a quiet isolated spot, or far out on the Gulf or a charter boat.

Other water-related activities include relaxing on a sunset cruise, feeling the thrill of a jet boat ride, and hopping on a boat and going dolphin spotting on the bay. There are numerous locations on shore where adventurers can rent all the equipment they need for activities like kayaking, rafting, paddleboarding, kite boarding, jet skiing and other activities.

Being an island city surrounded by water, visitors can be assured that Galveston’s restaurants have plenty of fresh, delicious Gulf Coast seafood. Chances are good that a diner’s snapper or grouper made its way from the nearby Gulf to their restaurant dinner plate only a day or two earlier.

The Texas Seaport Museum is home to the beautiful 1877 tall ship Elissa. It is a fun and interesting museum ship that is ideal for a tour of the decks and down below. The theater has a presentation that explains how the old ship was rescued from the scrapyard and meticulously restored. Now it is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Groups can hold business meetings or socialize on the pier with seating for up to 300 people. Or they can board the Elissa and hold a reception there with as many as 500 people.

Another waterfront attraction is Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, which offers family-oriented entertainment spread over a pier that juts out over the Gulf and features rides, food venues, retail shopping and midway games.

Galveston may be a relatively small city, but it may surprise some to learn it is home to the fourth busiest cruise port in the United States. Carnival and Disney cruise lines operate cruises from Galveston, as does Royal Caribbean, which recently opened a $125 million terminal that features the Oasis-class Allure of the Seas cruise ship. Plans are in the works to bring Princess and Norwegian cruise lines to Galveston, raising the city’s tourism profile even higher.

Some hotels that are adjacent to the cruise docks offer parking and free shuttle rides to the cruise terminals, giving tourists every reason to come to Galveston a day or two early to enjoy the town before their ship departs.

In-Town Activities

There are more activities to take part in in the city. Galveston’s downtown is home to one of the finest collections of Victorian-era architecture in the United States. Galveston was known in the 1880s as “The Wall Street of the South” for its financial success. Homes and buildings, especially in the downtown Strand District, reflected that. Historic motif includes Greek Revival, High Victorian, Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Italianate, French, Romanesque and Beaux Arts architecture. A tour with a guide is a wonderful way to see the spectacular structures. It is no surprise the area is a National Historic Landmark District.

The Strand District also has great shopping, interesting restaurants and fun nightlife. There are about 100 shops in this neighborhood, which encompasses 36 blocks. Visitors can walk, take a pleasant horse-drawn carriage ride or hop on a convenient trolley to get around the district.

The Bryan Museum, not far from the beach, has one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts, artwork and documents connected to the American West. Naturally, Texas is well represented there.

Many locals and visitors enjoy catching a show at The Grand 1894 Opera House, a performing arts venue that has been a Galveston institution for more than a century. The season runs from September to May, and the audiences enjoy everything from hit Broadway shows to concerts and musicians, comedians and more.

“There is so much to do in Galveston besides just the beaches,” said Bassett. “People will enjoy the many land activities our city has to offer.”

To register for the 2023 Small Market Meetings Summit, go to

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.