Small Park Showcase: Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier
The classic seaside amusement park is becoming more and more of a rarity in the United States, so when you have the opportunity to visit, you absolutely should. On this edition of our Small Park Showcase series, we’re headed to the gulf coast of Texas to spotlight the Galveston Pleasure Pier. While the current iteration of the Pleasure Pier opened in 2012 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, amusements in Galveston actually have quite the storied history.
The story of the Pleasure Pier begins in the early 1900s with a park known as Electric Park. Located two blocks from the current Pleasure Pier location, Electric Park featured a number of attractions, including a roller coaster, carousel, theater, and aerial swing. Promoted as “The Coney Island of the South,” Electric Park operated for a few years before closing following the 1910 tourist season to raise the grade behind a newly constructed seawall. The final piece of the park, the carousel, was destroyed in 1915 as a Category 4 hurricane hit the area.
In 1940, the original Pleasure Pier was built in Galveston, originally designed as a recreational facility for the United States Military during World War II. By the late 1940s, the Pleasure Pier became the largest of its kind int he United States, and featured a ballroom, open-air stadium, fishing facilities, a full carnival midway, and aquarium. However, once again, a hurricane devastated the tourist attraction, as 1961’s Hurricane Carla severely damaged the property.
A hotel known as the Flagship Hotel opened four years later on the Pleasure Pier site. Its unique location as an “over-gulf” hotel served as a catalyst for tourism in the area, and the Flagship operated for over four decades until (there seems to be a theme here) the Category 2 Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston and significantly damaged the hotel, causing it to close for good.
However, in 2009, Landry’s Inc., a hospitality company whose properties include Casinos, Hotels, and restaurants including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Rainforest Cafe, and Joe’s Crab Shack (not to mention the Kemah Boardwalk amusement park), announced plans to build an amusement park on the historic pier. These plans expanded into the current version of the Galveston Pleasure Pier – a tourist destination with restaurants, hotels, a convention center, and the aforementioned amusement park.
Following extensive renovations to the structure of the Pier, The Historic Pleasure Pier opened to guests in May of 2012, and features 16 rides and attractions, including a Ferris Wheel, Star Flyer, Double-Decker Carousel, and the Gerstlauer Eurofighter coaster, Iron Shark.
To access the Pier, guests either need to purchase an “all-day” ride wristband, or a “walk-on” pass, which includes admission to the pier, but no rides. Individual ride tickets are available (ranging from $5-7 each), but a “walk-on” pass is required in addition to individual ride tickets. As of this writing, walk-on tickets are $11 for those 48″ and taller, $9 for under 48″ and $8 for senior citizens with valid ID. All-Day ride wristbands are $27.99 for 48″+ and $21.99 for those under 48″ tall.
As coaster enthusiasts, the highlight of and main reason for our visit was to take a ride on Iron Shark, the 5th-ever Eurofighter Coaster from Gerstlauer to open in the United States. (the 15th Eurofighter overall to open worldwide) The stats for Iron Shark aren’t going to break any records, with a maximum height of 100′ tall (off the pier), top speed of 52 mph, 95-degree “beyond vertical” drop, and track length of 1,246′, but this coaster packs a bit of a punch.
The coaster, with the exception of a few horizontal width feet’s worth of brake run, is completely contained within the vertical envelope of the pier’s boundaries, but its location, adjacent to and high above the Gulf of Mexico, causes the coaster to feel scarier and more terrifying than it actually is. The pre-ride queue audio notes that the coaster goes upside down four times, but RCDB lists its inversions as only three, with an Immelmann loop, cutback, and inclined loop listed.
It could be argued that there’s also a dive loop, but you’re moving too fast to know if you’re truly upside down or not. From start to finish, Iron Shark only takes a minute of your time, but is definitely worth a ride or two. Best of all, you’re guaranteed a great seat. There’s one train on the track, featuring two rows of four seats.
Right next to Iron Shark is a 230′ tall Funtime Star Flyer known as Texas Star Flyer, that was once the tallest attraction of its kind in Texas before the Texas Skyscreamer opened at Six Flags Over Texas in 2015. While we did not ride, riders do swing out over the Gulf of Mexico below, adding even more to the ride’s terrifying stature.
Other thrilling classic amusement attractions, including a Sea Dragon swinging ship, Log Flume, Chance Revolution and Larson Loop complete the thrill ride line-up, while younger guests and families can enjoy a line-up of family attractions including the Ferris Wheel, Double Decker Carousel, Wave Swinger, Bumper Cars, and series of kiddie rides. Across the street, there’s a 5D Theater that is part of the Pleasure Pier “Complex,” but is a separately ticketed attraction.
The Pleasure Pier also features a number of classic seaside and amusment eats at its two in-park restaurants. There’s also an outdoor bar, candy shop, countless carnival games, an arcade and a merchandise shop, which is located near the park entrance. Landry staple Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. towers above the park entrance, and has its own bar, Lt. Dan’s Hideaway.
In total, we spent about 90 minutes at Galveston Pleasure Pier during our visit, and a large portion of that was spent waiting for Iron Shark to open following weather in the area, in addition to walking around and taking photos. It’s a park that can best be described as “quaint,” but definitely provides that sense of nostalgia (or more likely manufactured nostalgia from countless scenes in film and television) that comes with a seaside amusment park.
Every square foot of the park is painstakingly planned out to pack as much into the approximately ~12,000 square feet (1,050 long’ x 115′ wide via rough google maps measurements) of space that the Pleasure Pier has to offer. While this could potentially limit the park’s ability to expand — at least according to Wikipedia, there hasn’t been a new attraction to open at the park since its 2012 debut — there’s a lot to enjoy about the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier.
If you find yourself as one of Galveston’s more than 7 million annual visitors and are looking to scratch that amusement park itch, look no further than the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier.
For more information about the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier, visit their website, and follow them on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.
Be sure to check out the other entries in our “Small Park Showcase” series by clicking here!