2016 Galveston Vacation

MRB enjoy the surf in the shallow waters near the beach
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

We enjoyed Galveston so much last year that we decided to do it again. In fact, we decided that last year, on the way home from Galveston. Early this year, when we received our Income Tax Refund, we set aside part of it for this vacation, and booked our hotel room not long after.

Scroll on down to read about this year’s Galveston adventure.

New ice chest bought for this trip
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

• The Outbound Trip (2016.06.12)

This year, our trip was preceded by a couple of very busy days. The preceding evening (2016.06.11) was RLF’s dance recital, the culmination of many months of practices, classes, and rehearsals. It was a two-hour affair at Copperas Cove High School. A few hours before that, we hosted BWF’s third birthday party here at our house, which went splendidly. A few hours before that, we decorated the house with streamers and balloons, and I drove into Harker Heights to pick up his birthday cake from H-E-B and buckets of food from KFC. The evening before that (2016.06.10), we’d attended RLF’s dress rehearsal at Copperas Cove High School, shopped for party supplies, and met our new neighbors — replacing the Martinez family that we’ve enjoyed knowing for the past four-and-a-half years, in the house immediately to our north. Earlier that day, we had thoroughly cleaned house in anticipation of BWF’s party, and I had mowed/edged the entire yard to carpet-like perfection.

So, by the time Sunday (June 12th) arrived, I was more than ready to step out of the house, out of town, and into a more relaxed mode. In no particular hurry, we didn’t leave the house until 10:08, and immediately fueled (I’m subtracting the four-minute fuel-up from the total trip time, because either M or I could have done it separately, earlier) the minivan. Frustrated by last year’s route, we drove differently this time, taking US190 eastward to Bryan/College Station (stopping for 11 minutes in Hearne to pick up lunch). In Bryan, we switched to TX6, which took us south to Hempstead. During that stretch, we hit heavy rains several times, some of which brought traffic to a standstill on the 70-mph highway. Then US290 took us all the way to Houston (with a brief bathroom stop near the end of it), through more sporadic, mostly light rain. In Houston, we took I-610 briefly to I-10, which got us to I-45, the latter of which goes all the way to Galveston.

Our arrival at the Baymont Inn & Suites at 15:00 meant the whole trip required four hours and 48 minutes, half an hour quicker than last year, despite the slowdowns for weather. (We drove 262 miles, 10 fewer than last year.)

Wrap-around panorama of the beach near our hotel
Click here for 15280×1664 version (6.3 MB)
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

MRB at the beach on Sunday
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

• Sunday Evening

After checking in, finding our third-floor room satisfactory, and bringing up luggage from the car, we dressed for the beach and headed downstairs. The sky was cloudy, but the air was in the mid-80s, so we were comfortable. BWF got cold pretty quick (he said), so he spent some time wrapped in a towel, but RLF had a great time. She had been looking forward to this since last year, and was ready to play.

When a light rain began to fall, we walked back to the hotel. The rain stopped as we got there, so we spent some time in the tiny hotel pool. Again, BWF was cold, so he just sat in a chair, wrapped in a towel, until we headed upstairs to shower and change.

For supper, we chose Little Caesar’s, since we remembered it from last year. It was raining steadily by this time. As we got out of the car, I said something like “Let’s hurry to the door so we don’t get too wet”, and RLF ran for the door. She slipped on the asphalt at the corner and skinned her elbow pretty badly. She managed to calm down while we ate, and then we went to the nearest supermarket (Randalls) to buy bandages, ointment, and hydrogen peroxide.

As soon as we got back to the hotel, BWF fell asleep immediately upon getting into bed. M and RLF stayed up a bit to watch part of the Tony Awards.

Handheld night photo of our hotel; image made with my Samsung Galaxy Note 5
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

The long third-floor hallway of our hotel. Our room was very near the end
(Copyright © 2016
by Wil C. Fry.)

• The Hotel

The Baymont Inn & Suites was a step down from last year’s hotel (Comfort Inn & Suites), but only a literal stone’s throw away from it. We chose it because (1) Comfort’s prices had risen since last year, (2) it was still close to the beach, and (3) the location was very familiar — we didn’t want to have to learn an entirely new set of directions, spending valuable vacation time making wrong turns, etc.

The not-so-good (both in general and in contrast with the Comfort Inn):

• It’s about 200 meters further from the beach (and no sidewalk on the road we had to walk)
• Smaller balcony, smaller closet
• No shelf high enough for “keep out of reach of children” items
• TV’s aspect ratio set incorrectly (sadly common in today’s hotels)
• Very basic channel choices — difficult to find kid-friendly shows
• No drying rack for swimsuits or beach towels (should be standard in beachfront hotels)
• A/C didn’t dry the air, so hanging items don’t dry anyway
• Bathroom exhaust fan louder and less useful than the cheap ones at home
• Front door to lobby is pull-to-open, the only one I’ve seen at a hotel in many years (most are auto-sliding)
• Included “breakfast” was skimpy, eating area is small
• No covered parking (this is normal, but worse than last year)

The better-than-average, in our hotel experience:

• Chairs on the balcony provided perfect clamping space for beach items that needed to dry
• No flying bugs around the hotel, even at night (this still mystifies me)
• Room was clean and adequate for our needs
• Beds were comfortable (M disagreed on this point)
• Shower water pressure was strong

As with last year, the negatives were minor, and I only list them here due to my bafflement as to why they exist in the first place. It’s not difficult or expensive to have a high shelf (at least in the closet), to set the TV aspect ratio correctly, to install drying racks, use better exhaust fans. I admit that the issues of the air conditioner and front door are, admittedly, more money-intensive, and location-change really isn’t an option for them.

We rate this hotel as “average” among the many we’ve stayed at over the years (last year’s was “among the best”).

M and BWF at the beach. In the background, it’s clear how much sand has been added to the beach since last year
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

• The Beach

The beach was different this year. Last year, the beach in front of our hotel was very skimpy — there were huge boulders at the bottom of the sea wall, and only a few feet of sand beyond them. This year, all those rocks were gone, and the sandy beach extended a good 50 yards from the seawall. One lifeguard informed us that the city had removed the rocks at great expense, and dredged up the new sand from the Houston shipping channel.

(I confirmed what he said. Before we even visited last year, the city approved a plan to facelift the beaches, and the part we saw was apparently completed during the winter.)

Since that part of the beach is public, it meant we didn’t need to pay to enter Stewart beach, which we did last year.

Looking north-northwest from the top of the San Jacinto Monument.
Visible are the flooded reflecting pool, Battleship Texas, the Houston shipping channel, and oil refineries
Click here to see a 2048×1152 version
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

MRB at the SJM
1152×2048 size
(Copyright © 2016
by Wil C. Fry.)

• Monday (San Jacinto & Beach, 2016.06.13)

Last year, I’d seen the San Jacinto Monument (world’s tallest masonry column) for a few minutes, and wanted to get more out of it, so we decided to return this year. After breakfasting at the hotel, we drove away at 08:00, arriving at the monument grounds at 09:00, just as it opened. As it would be the rest of the week, the humidity was at or near 100%, the sky was mostly sunny, and the temperature was in the mid-90s. The humidity is why I could never actually live in the Houston/Galveston area. I very much enjoy that here in Central Texas we typically swing back and forth between 20 and 60% humidity (with occasional forays into very dry or very humid air).

Without spending much time in the museum at the base of the monument, we quickly bought tickets to ride the elevator to the top and did so. We were the only people in the highest level the entire 20 minutes we spent up there (about 490 feet above the ground). The kids enjoyed looking out the windows, running around in the limited space, climbing on various things, and making crushed-penny souvenirs with a hand-crank machine. While M worked to keep them from harming themselves or destroying property, I took in the views afforded by the several windows and made several photographs from the vantage point. Most of what I saw from up there was oil refinery machines.

After coming down and buying a couple of souvenirs (T-shirt and mug), we drove over (it was too hot to walk, since we didn’t have to) to the U.S.S. Texas, a floating museum on the same grounds, intending to tour it. About to pay $28 for the privilege, M asked the ticket-seller if the ship was air conditioned, and the woman said it was not — only two compartments in the giant battleship had cooling devices. I was already soaked with sweat just walking across from the parking lot, so I shook my head. Another time, perhaps. I think if I was alone, or just with M, we would have sweated through the adventure. But adding kid-wrangling to the equation makes the heat/humidity a different story.

A fairly decent self-portrait, especially considering the blend of bright and dark scenes
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

MRB at U.S.S. Texas
(Copyright © 2016
by Wil C. Fry.)

Instead, I suggested just walking around the grounds a bit to photograph the few monuments I’d seen from the top of the obelisk. So we walked over to a statue and plaque, and were about to see more on the well-kept grounds, when RLF began screaming that bugs were attacking her. Sure enough, I spotted a couple of mosquitoes. (We hadn’t brought insect repellent because there had been no insects during the entirety of last year’s vacation.) Then I felt them on me, and M started slapping her own skin. BWF just looked at us, wondering what was going on. I patted a few blood-suckers off him too, and we scooped the kids up and hurried back to the car. Result: BWF appeared to have zero bites. RLF and I had several bites each, but they faded and disappeared by the next day. M, as usual, experienced her bites for a week, all of which grew to the size of silver dollars.

We lunched at Burger King back in Galveston and then returned to the hotel, deciding to spend the afternoon at the beach. We changed, lathered up in Banana Boat SPF50 sunscreen, collected a duffel bag of towels and a bucket of beach toys, and stepped into the hall. RnB ran ahead unencumbered, as they are wont to do, and beat us to the elevator. When M and I got there, RLF was yelling that BWF had pushed the button and gone inside the elevator. Both elevator doors were closed. M nearly freaked out. I told her to wait there in case he rode it back up, pushed the button, and got in the other elevator (had the stairs been closer, I would have already been halfway down). When I exited on the first floor, I didn’t see the boy, so I ran to cover the nearest exits. I saw the top of his head via a window of a side exit door — he had already made it outside to the parking lot and was heading to the beach alone.

Fortunately, it will be a few years before he can outrun me, and I caught him in the parking lot. He was pretty proud of himself: “Me go outside!” he exclaimed. M arrived a few seconds later, not willing to wait on the top floor another second, and chewed him out pretty good. I could tell that his mood came down a couple of notches, but he refused to be cowed by her words, feeling the independence flow through him.

This panoramic image shows the relative emptiness of the beach on Monday, compared to the Sunday pano above
Click here to see a larger version (2048 x 641)
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

M is buried chest-deep in the beach
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

The beach was nearly empty of people, which I enjoyed. We dug holes, built ragged sand castles (recognizable to others only as “piles of wet sand”), played in the surf, collected shells, buried each other, etc. BWF only lasted a few minutes before he said he felt cold, so M wrapped him in a towel and sat him in the shade of our rented beach umbrella. He fell asleep within minutes and napped most of the time we were out there. We made sure either M or I was always within sprinting distance of him, taking turns going out into the water with RLF, who had the time of her life. We reapplied sunscreen after 80 minutes, as per instructions, and then again another time. But I still got sunburned on my back — my tan children and brown wife all seemed to make it through with only minimal tan lines. Let’s just call this “black privilege”, at the risk of my wife instructing me to remove this sentence.

The funniest phrase I heard all day: When a relatively big wave hit RLF, she exlaimed, “That got me right in the penis!”

The very nice Kroger Signature in Galveston
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

As I felt the sunburn beginning to set in, we collected our things and trudged back to the hotel, showering and changing, and decided on Waffle House for supper. Neither M nor RnB had ever been inside one (I frequented the location in Jacksonville, Ark., for a few years). The place was run by just two people, an apparently senile server (I had to tell her where she’d set down her order book, for example, when she couldn’t find it, and I got the silverware for us that she’d forgotten to provide) and an apparently somehow-challenged cook. They argued amongst themselves about which order had bacon and which one did not have cheese, though both were about two meters away from our table and could have just asked us.

But the food was delicious, and hit the spot after an exhausting day. The bacon especially was fantastic, the best I’ve ever had.

Note to self: Except for beach-going, make sure all future trips to the Houston/Galveston area are in winter time.

Afterward, we stopped at a Kroger Signature supermarket and bought a few breakfast items to make up for the hotel’s lack. We also bought Solarcaine spray for my back. M had never heard of it, for perhaps obvious reasons. It was a staple of my childhood. We fueled the minivan at Kroger’s own gas station; we’d gotten 21.5 miles per gallon (including the entire trip to Galveston, the drive to San Jacinto and back, and a few trips around town). The entire vacation required high-intensity air conditioning in the vehicle, which certainly cut into the fuel economy.

• Tuesday (Children’s Museum, Pelican Island, 2016.06.14)

Tuesday morning, my back hurt — especially the lower part, but the Solarcaine spray helped quite a bit. It was not the worst sunburn of my life, nor even of my marriage. I’m certain that I was burned worse on our honeymoon, and perhaps another time or two.

We spent all morning at the Galveston Children’s Museum, which is the smallest one of seven we’ve visited in four states, but enjoyable. RLF remembered it from last year, especially the restaurant part, where both children again played for nearly an hour. She also remembered the veterinarian station, and enjoyed that again. BWF said he didn’t feel well, and his tummy hurt, but he still managed to play quite a bit. All of us had a good time.

We lunched at a nearby KFC, which was small and dirty with one restroom out of order and the other one full of women, but had quick and friendly service.

Deciding that BWF probably had a fever, we stopped at a Target to buy a thermometer and fever-reducing medication. Sure enough, BWF’s temperature was about 102°F. M administered medication to him. We also bought Aloe Vera gel for me, as an alternative to the Solarcaine.

Waiting for the bridge on Pelican Island Causeway
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

We spent the afternoon at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island (after waiting 20 minutes for a raised bridge on the Pelican Island Causeway, for two small boats to pass). Not long after getting inside the submarine U.S.S. Cavalla, BWF said he needed to poop, so M raced him to the portable bathroom outside. Over the course of the next three hours, he repeated this several times. Submarines aren’t easy to get in and out of, so my wife was exhausted from these trips, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves. The submarine is mostly air conditioned, so we spent quite a bit of time inside it. The nearby destroyer escort, the U.S.S. Stewart, was not air conditioned, but had plenty of shaded spaces on deck where strong winds provided much needed relief from the heat.

Everyone enjoyed this visit quite a bit.

MRB in the forward torpedo room of the U.S.S. Cavalla, which is also a bunk room
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

RnB pose with hefty munitions aboard the U.S.S. Stewart
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

A non-sexy, partially nude photo of yours truly, displaying my sunburn
(Copyright © 2016
by Marline Fry.)

For supper, we ate at IHOP, the nicest one I’ve ever been inside, right on the beach near a beautiful hotel/resort called San Luis — which we’ve almost convinced ourselves to stay at next time we visit Galveston. RLF wolfed down her meal in the fastest eating performance I’ve ever seen her deliver.

On the way back to the hotel, we shopped at Academy Sports & Outdoors, buying “UPF50” shirts for RLF and I (it turns out she had a little sunburn on her back too), and a different brand of sunscreen, in case we visited the beach again — and of course, they’ll come in handy back home at our neighborhood pool, too.

Back at the hotel, as we prepared the kids for bed (BWF still with diarrhea), M and I discussed our options for the final full day in Galveston. We thought about revisiting Kemah, which we greatly enjoyed last year, or trying Moody Gardens, which is insanely expensive. I vetoed Kemah based on my sunburn still hurting, knowing that most of our time would be spent outdoors. Both of us shied away from Moody Gardens’ price, though we both agreed we could afford it. Eventually, we settled on NASA — the Johnson Space Center, with a possible morning at the beach, depending on energy levels and weather the next day.

• Wednesday (Beach, Space Center Houston, 2016.06.15)

BWF, exhausted, slept until 08:00, but we still managed to get to the beach by 09:00, staying until 11:00 or so. The new sunscreen and the UPF50 shirts helped quite a bit. Those shirts are also very comfortable — I’d never worn one until this day — so I now understand why I see people wearing them around Killeen, just as outerwear. They are very form-fitting, however, and my vanity required that I hold in my gut all morning. #FirstWorldProblems

No one got sunburned this time, BWF felt better and played in the water with us, and again the beach was nearly empty. It was lovely, relaxing morning.

After showers and reapplication of Aloe Vera gel on my back, we lunched at Golden Corral — another first for my wife and kids (I’ve eaten at GC before, in Arkansas). We had very friendly servers, the food was “okay”, and BWF ate a slice of chocolate cake for dessert.

MRB upon arrival at Space Center Houston, with the Independence shuttle in the background
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

From there, we easily made the drive to Space Center Houston, despite Google’s road names not agreeing with real-life road names, and capped off our vacation with a very enjoyable visit. I had been to this tourist spot before, when I was perhaps nine or 10 years old, and only have two memories from it — seeing the old Mission Control Center and getting photographed in front of the Saturn V rocket.

MRB at Mission Control
Click for larger version
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

The most confusing thing upon first entering the tourist-oriented primary building is that the center floor space is dominated by exhibits completely unrelated to NASA or the space program. Apparently, these exhibits change from time to time. When we visited, it was “Mythbusters“. I wondered through several before realizing that all the space program exhibits were around the edges of the building, in the wings. One other downside: the restaurants in the “food court” are only open for lunch, which is weird because the building/grounds are open until 19:00.

Other than that, the place was awesome, and measurably less expensive than either Kemah or Moody Gardens (it was $6 for parking and $69.85 for two adults and one child — BWF was free).

We rode a (free) tram over to the actual (still operational) Johnson Space Center to see the old Mission Control Center, where very young tour guides told us all about it (I say “very young” because neither of them had been born yet when I first visited the space center in the early 1980s). The tram also stopped at “Rocket Park”. Outside were a few small rocket displays, and inside a giant metal shed was the Saturn V rocket, the one that thrust men to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s — arguably the greatest achievement in the history of humanity. (When I was a child, the Saturn V was outdoors; we were told it was sheltered in the late 1990s due to “extreme weathering”.)

BWF near the Saturn V’s primary rockets (left) and me holding BWF under another rocket engine
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry [left] and Rebecca L. Fry [right]. Some rights reserved.)

This was probably the part I enjoyed the most — the sheer massiveness of the Saturn V (over 360 feet in length, or about a football field’s length, including end zones) and the astounding amount of science and engineering that went into the feat of constructing and operating such a behemoth are mind-blowing. It was also air conditioned in that building, so we stayed in it a while before boarding the open-air tram back to the rest of the Space Center Houston area.

Because the Saturn V is now indoors, there is no way to record the entire length of the rocket, as tourist photographers could easily do in the old days. It can be challenging to find a photographic perspective that shows the sheer large scale of the rocket. I think I came close in this image, with MRB walking alongside the Saturn V, about halfway to the end
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

M views the interior of Skylab
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

There were also full-scale mockups of Skylab, a space station that orbited during my lifetime — as a child, I remember hearing the news that it had crashed to Earth in 1979. I was surprised at how large it was. We also toured the Independence, a “high-fidelity replica” of the space shuttles, which was sitting atop an actual Boeing 747, which we also toured.

I won’t list every exhibit; the above stood out in my mind. The place is well-worth the price of admission and easy to get to from both Houston and Galveston.

We also listened to a 20-minute presentation called “living in space”, which took place in a cutaway mockup of part of the International Space Station‘s living quarters. When the “Mission Briefing Officer” told the small crowd that astronauts drink “recycled pee” (after explaining the process), RLF shouted out: “That’s disgusting!” and everyone laughed.

I can’t articulate the reason, but I think this is my favorite image from the entire vacation.
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

When we finally left there, we stopped at Wendy’s just outside the space center and had supper, before driving back to Galveston and our hotel.

Note: BWF was feeling better during the afternoon’s activities; his diarrhea cleared up and his fever had broken.

• Inbound Trip (2016.06.16)

Waking on Thursday, all of us were ready to head home without delay. Surprisingly, I had the car packed and M had checked out of the hotel, and we left the parking lot by 08:11. We made it through Houston without issue, taking a slightly different route than Sunday’s (I-45 to I-610 to US290, so we got to see the Astrodome). Just before reaching Waller, we saw stopped traffic ahead and quickly exited at Binford Road, taking a rural route around to FM2920, where we stopped to refuel at a Love’s station before re-joining US290. Our next stop was in Cameron, where we ate lunch at Bush’s Chicken and viewed celebratory wall-postings about the local high school football team’s state championships in 2012, 2013, and 2014 (Class 2A and 3A) — they were defeated by Brock in 2015’s title game. It was a 35-minute lunch stop.

We arrived home at 13:21, making our 261-mile return trip in five hours and 10 minutes. That last tank of gas (fillup near Waller) lasted six days more, including a road trip to Austin and back, and small trips around town, but it came out to 18.77 miles per gallon.

(The entire vacation put 708 miles on our Kia Sedona.)

There were many inspirational quotations from scientists and astronauts on large posters throughout Space Center Houston. This one was inside the Boeing 747 on which rested the Independence shuttle
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Another fun self-portrait, this one with the camera pointing straight up, as I stand underneath a giant rocket engine. The engine is about 15 feet above me and larger by far than my entire body; it is the perspective of the wide-angle lens that makes it appear head-sized and pointed right at me.
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

• Overall

Early on, we were about to be disappointed in this year’s trip. Last year’s had gone so well that we knew it would be difficult to beat it. The two very stressful days preceding our trip didn’t leave us in a perfect mindset either. Then we arrived to find the hotel farther from the beach and not quite as good as last year’s, clouds/rain while we tried to swim at the beach that first evening, RLF scraping her elbow badly at the pizza place (and slow service there too). All this combined with the general appearance of griminess around town to put my wife and I in low spirits that first evening.

But our spirits brightened with the sun the following day, and we convinced ourselves to have the best possible time this year. Despite BWF’s mystery illness, my painful sunburn, the excessive humidity, the barrage of mosquitoes at the battleship site, and a few other obstacles, we succeeded in our efforts and came away with yet another slew of nice memories and a (metaphorical) pile of photographs.

We did come to a tentative conclusion about future beach vacations, however: When we come to visit the beach, we should stay only for a couple of days, and only do the beach, and then come home. When we want to visit the other stuff, we should do it at some other time of year, when it’s not so hot.

If you haven’t already viewed my photos (from being a follower on Flickr or from seeing my link on Facebook), please click here to view the 258 images I saved and uploaded (of more than 500 recorded). I depended more heavily on my phone this year, not only because of its convenience, but because it often makes very good photos — better than any compact digital camera I’ve previously used. I did use the 60D, but mostly for telephoto shots, and I did leave it either in the car or hotel several times to avoid the weight and distraction of it.


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