Take a Caribbean cruise on Carnival Freedom from Galveston, Texas and you can also explore the Lone Star State. Becky Wiggins saddles up

A Texan cowboy rounds up his horses. Photo credit iStock
A Texan cowboy rounds up his horses. Photo credit iStock

I’m not sure I make a good cowgirl. I’m sweltering and pink-faced in the full heat of the Texan sun as my new cowboy friends whoop and whistle, explaining the technicalities of lassoing. I can’t help feeling sorry for the steer who is the subject of our demonstration, but he is soon freed and skitters back to join his buddies, kicking up dust from the orange dirt.

Cruising from Galveston means that you can spend a few days either side of your trip experiencing Texan culture; hence my somewhat reluctant role as trainee cowgirl at George Ranch Historical Park, just outside Houston, 50 miles from the port.

Soon, huge dark clouds were rolling in across the prairie and we took
 cover in a rusty red barn to sample 
the delights of the chuck wagon.
After delicious beans, beef stew, peach cobbler and a reviving sweet peach tea, I felt much more like myself again.

With the rain not showing any signs of slowing, we headed towards the iconic skyline of Houston. There are 19 museums in the Museum District. We opted for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and it turned out to be a good choice: we wandered the Hall of Ancient Egypt, marvelled at the dinosaur skeletons arranged in the Morian Hall of Palaeontology.

For dinner, we visited the Saltgrass Steakhouse at Kemah Boardwalk, a proper old-fashioned funfair straight out of an episode of Scooby Doo, complete with a rickety wooden rollercoaster. After being rattled half
to death and spun upside down several times, I was ready for a huge steak and a nice sit down.

Of course, no visit to Houston would be complete without a trip to the Space Center. The official visitors’ hub of NASA’s Johnson Space Center boasts an array of fascinating exhibits, and the best way to see everything is to take the open air tram tour. Lasting about 90 minutes, it takes in Mission Control and astronaut training area Building 9. Visitors can also see the Apollo 17 command module and the awe-inspiring Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park. There are many things to see and do and we quickly ran out of time as we were headed to Galveston and our ship. Next time I would allow at least a half day at the Space Center.

You might be forgiven for not associating Texas with cruising, but although Galveston is a less well known cruise port, it’s a great base to spend a few days before departing on a Caribbean cruise.

Flanked either side by the RedFrog Pub and the BlueIguana Tequila Bar (both already full of guests enjoying the party atmosphere) and dominated by a huge LED movie screen, the main pool deck area was loud and buzzy. Everyone was up on their feet dancing, and the cocktails flowed.

The 334ft Twister water slide on Carnival Freedom
The 334ft Twister water slide on Carnival Freedom

We soon discovered that Carnival take fun very seriously indeed. When we weren’t whooshing down the Twister water slide, we were singing along to the poolside DJ or dancing around with the Cat in the Hat at the Seuss-a-Palooza parade. We even ate Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast.

The rooms on board Carnival Freedom are fun and functional; we had twin beds, plenty of storage space, a combined shower and toilet and a room attendant called José, who left us creative towel art and was perpetually cheerful.

The entertainment was full on: a whirl of live performances, hilarious game shows and a cracking comedy club, although several times we found ourselves back in the relative quiet of the RedFrog Pub, where our favourite waiter knew our names and drinks preferences after the first night. The Alchemy Bar, a classy cocktail joint where drinks are custom-made by
the resident mixologists, was also a favourite. There is also a huge and obviously popular casino, but it tended to be smoky, so we avoided it.