Galveston palace more than another old building

Bishop’s Palace is the oldest and best-known building in Galveston, Texas. Currently open to the public, the 50+ room structure hosts much more than a boring, historical tour of some old house that requires a lot of imagination in order to visualize what life was like way back then. Instead, visitors are briefly transported back to the 19th century on a tour that includes an up close and personal view of the grandest moments of Victorian life.

Ranked among the top 100 homes in the United States, Bishop’s Palace cost $250,000 to build in 1893 (that would be about $6,250,000 today) and first served as home to the family of Walter Gresham, a former Confederate colonel and U.S. Congressman.

This home got its nickname as the “Bishop’s Palace” in the 1920’s, when the then-Diocese of Galveston purchased the house for $40,000 as a home for Bishop Christopher Byrne who always felt very humbled to live in such a “palace”.

Currently being operated as a museum and historic home by the City of Galveston, the building hosts bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxury materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces brought to Texas from around the world.


The interior spaces are grand with exotic materials like a pair of Sienna marble columns flanking the entrance hall. The first floor rooms have fourteen foot ceilings and an octagonal mahogany stairwell that is forty feet tall with stained glass on five sides, lit by a large octagonal skylight. A massive fireplace in the front parlor is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.

The Victorian castle-like home was cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America and was among the first to try out the then-new technology of a gas fireplace, electric lights, and running hot water.

The building is owned by the Galveston-Houston Catholic Archdioces, and is managed as a museum by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Tours of Bishop’s Palace are $10 and the facility is available for rental for weddings, receptions, and parties.

Photos: Chris Owen

Flight museum offers a ride to the past

Galveston features a number of attractive features for travelers. In the Texas island town over the weekend for the US debut of Carnival Cruise Lines new Carnival Magic, Gadling got to sample a few of them. One that stands out as a must-do for aviation buffs is the Lone Star Flight Museum. This rare collection of restored war aircraft ranks as one of the finest and most rare in the world. Uniquely, many of the museum’s historic aircraft still fly today and were flying while we were there.

Tours of the museum that can take as little as a hour ($10 per person) for the “just curious” or far longer (and far $more) for “this is my dream come true” aviation fanatics. That later group might enjoy a ride in one of these “warbirds” and for them, the price may be well worth every penny.

The B-17 Flying Fortress ($425 per person with group rates) was flying while we were there and was an Army Air Corps heavy-duty bomber in World War II. The four-engine aircraft flew strategic bombing missions over Europe armed with .50 caliber machine guns and five thousand pounds of bombs. 13,000 B-17’s were produced over the course of the war, of which only 13 still are airworthy today. The aircraft flew around Galveston Island while we were there, offering a birds-eye view and perspective not possible driving in from Houston. The Flight Museum’s B-17 is painted in the colors of ‘Thunderbird’, an aircraft with the 303rd bomb group which flew 116 missions during World War II.

Another prize of the collection, the B-25 Mitchell was a versatile medium-duty bomber which flew in both the Pacific and European Theaters during World War II. The Flight Museum’s B-25 was the official aircraft of the Doolittle Raiders. It honors the 80 brave men who flew 16 land-based B-25s off the USS Hornet in the first raid against the Japanese on their own soil. A ride on this one runs $375 per person with group rates.

Probably one of the best parts of a visit to the museum is the walking tour led by aviators who have flown these aircraft and offer a unique perspective on their contribution to the wars they were used in.

“The logistics of even being able to fly these aircraft in a European war are staggering” said Larry Gregory who heads the museum. “Some of these burn 200 gallons of fuel an hour, would fly four hour missions, and thousands of them could be in the air at any one time, all very far from the United States. Getting them there, keeping them repaired and loaded with fuel and ammunition was an immense job, a tribute to American ingenuity and one of the main reasons the US prevailed.”

The internationally recognized Lone Star Flight Museum contains an award winning flying collection of over 40 historically significant aircraft that also includes a P-47 Thunderbolt, F4U Corsair, F6F Hellcat, Spitfire and Hurricane.

Photo: Chris Owen

Can Carnival capture the Magic?

When Carnival Cruise Line’s 130,000 ton Carnival Magic debuts later this year the ship will have some pretty cool new features. Will those features live up to the name of the ship? Will they be Magical? Let’s take a look at what’s coming soon to a Galveston near you.

“What? A new ship in Galveston?” you ask.

Traditionally new cruise ships debut in Florida, older ships go to home-ports line Galveston, New Orleans or Charleston. This is a different direction to be sure.

“The commitment of a new ship outside Florida is pretty significant and is pretty rare,” Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer De la Cruz said. “We have built up our presence in Galveston over many years, and we have been able to do that because the Texas and Southwestern market is so strong for us.”

On board Carnival Magic will be some different features in the line’s newest ship. Let’s take a look at a couple of the really different ones.

The Lanai – In Southern-speak that means “covered porch”. But this is way more than that. Probably one of the most unique features on the ship, the Lanai takes the traditional cruise-ship promenade in a different direction. Outside. It’s a half-mile, open-air promenade encircling Deck 5. Described as an area where “guests can stroll while enjoying spectacular ocean vistas, curl up with a good book, soak up some sun in a comfortable deck chair, or relax in one of four cantilevered whirlpools that extend out over the ship’s sides” It sounds pretty cool.

The SportsSquare is Carnival’s stab at a rock-climbing wall/ fitness-oriented activity with a dose of the line’s trademark “Fun” element included. Adding to an industry-wide focus on fitness and health, this makes perfect sense and should be quite popular. The big draw here is SkyCourse where around 20 guests at a time can strap into a safety harness and choose from beginner or intermediate courses, traversing across rope bridges, swinging steps and beams suspended above the top deck, called the Spa and Sports deck. 20 different elements on the ropes course are each named after a notable bridge in the U.S.

Those two unique features alone would be a big change for Carnival. It appears that the line is looking at every department, leaving no existing space or feature “safe” from innovation and change.

RedFrog Pub – described as “offering a laid-back Caribbean vibe with island-inspired snacks and drinks”, including a private-label draft beer, ThirstyFrog Red, brewed especially for Carnival Magic Will be featured along with tastings of top-rated rums of the Caribbean and a collection of the regional beers

Cucina del Capitano (“The Captain’s Kitchen”) – Free by day, cover charge by night this is an Italian eatery we predict will become a signature venue across the fleet. The idea is that the place honors the Italian heritage of the line’s captains and the fact that all the ships were built in Italy. I’d be they learned a lesson or two from sister-line Princess Cruises Sabatinis’s up-charge restaurant and will apply that know-how here.

Huge Family-Friendly Spaces – more than 19,000 square feet of space catering to kids and families, including dedicated spaces for children (Camp Carnival), ‘tweens (Circle “C”) and teens (Club O2), with organized activities and counselors for each group. This is Carnival’s answer to Disney Dream and upcoming Fantasy’s possible world-domination of the kid market at sea. They made more space for their award-winning existing program as opposed to another partnership with an established cartoon brand.

Huge Adult-Friendly Spaces too called “Serenity” – a popular adults area on existing ships, Serenity offers comfortable chaise lounges and chairs, hammocks, colorful umbrellas and two whirlpools, along with full bar service. Look for this on just about any ship that does not have it in the near future. This wildly popular options for adults wanting to escape the kids fills up fast so get there early.

Cloud 9 Spa – All the traditional body stuff is right here. Fitness center, personal training, soothing thalassotherapy pool, thermal suite or just take in the elegant, serene surroundings.

Stateroom Innovations – Some different accommodation types appear on Magic, including two-bathroom (finally) cabins holding up to five guests along with connecting staterooms, cove balcony cabins closer to the water line (ala sister-line Cunard) and spa staterooms providing special access and benefits plus a hefty fine if guests get caught smoking.

Carnival’s Seaside Theatre – This huge LED outdoor movie screen made popular by Princess Cruises Movies Under The Stars. Once a controversial topic (“If I wanted to watch TV I would have stayed home”), now appearing on more ships as they debut or cycle through dry-dock.

Ocean Plaza – Carnival’s answer to Royal Caribbean’s Aqua Theater, this one looks to be a better solution than Norwegian Epic’s answer to Royal Caribbean’s Aqua Theater adding specialty coffees and sweets, milkshakes (I can see the line right now), and full bar service, specializing in martinis and mojitos.

Fun Hub –It’s a social network and comprehensive shipboard intranet portal that provides access to information on the ship’s services, facilities and daily activities. Carnival Magic will also offer bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and cell phone service. The ship also has an interactive micro-site which features a full-screen virtual tour, exclusive images and videos, construction footage and more.

Currently based in Texas, Carnival Conquest is scheduled to move to New Orleans along with Carnival Ecstasy and be replaced by Carnival Magic and the Carnival Triumph.

2 unique new cruise ships sailing in 2011

2010 was a good year for new cruise ships. Highlights included Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic that set the bar solidly higher for at-sea entertainment, highlighted by a Cirque Dreams and Dinner experience that was well received. Answering that call for improved entertainment, new largest-ship-in-the-world Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas followed nicely in the footsteps of older sister Oasis, clearly establishing herself as a unique ship of her own.

Looking forward to 2011, more new ships are on the horizon including Oceania Cruises new Marina, nearly double the size of the line’s existing three ships; Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth Solstice-class ship from Celebrity Cruises and another new yacht from Seabourn, the Seabourn Quest among others. Today we focus on two different ships by two different lines that will probably be the most talked-about of the bunch.

Disney Dream – at 128,000 tons, Disney Cruise Line’s new entry, the first of two with Disney Fantasy coming out next year, promises to steer Disney in a unique new at-sea direction. Sailing from Port Canaveral, the new ship will more than double the size of the Disney fleet carrying up to 4000 guests. Called “the most anticipated ship of 2011” by editor Carolyn Spencer Brown

Carnival Magic – the second of Carnival Cruise Line’s Dream-class ship and will offer 3,693 guests a 7 to 12 day Mediterranean sailing in the Summer followed by a unique first for Carnival; home-porting a new ship in Galveston Texas. 130,000 ton Carnival Magic will make a total of 23 ships in the fleet. Look for this one to be launched with some unique, social ways capitalizing on Carnival’s signature “fun” element.

35 Best U.S. beaches for Summer

Coast Guard Beach, Massachusetts.

Coast Guard Beach, Massachusetts.

Summer is fast approaching. Where are you going to spend your vacation? How about visiting one of our country’s many fantastic beach locations? Bring your lover or family, a bathing suit, sun lotion, a blanket and a picnic basket, and you are all set for a romantic get-away or a relaxing family get-together on one of these magnificent sandy stretches.

Delray Beach, Florida

Delray boasts a great family-friendly stretch of sand, with youngsters playing Frisbee games and teens surfing the waves. Enjoy the well-preserved dunes and the warm, snow-white sand and comforting turquoise water. After a day on the beach, take a stroll in the European-style town and dine at the sidewalk bistros.

Mexico Beach, Florida

Mexico Beach is located on Florida’s panhandle …