You can barely tell that the Flagship was ever there. The past-its-prime hotel, which was destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike, has been replaced by Landry's new Galveston Island Pleasure Pier, a glimmering beacon to consumerism and consumption that celebrated its soft opening this morning, just in time for Memorial Day crowds to descend upon the island. And you know what? Despite the fact that parts of the theme park are still under construction, it's pretty freakin' cool. This single addition to the seawall has practically given the entire island a face-lift, and it's something residents are very proud of.
After months of construction on the pier, which first had to be reinforced, the theme park opened a bit ahead of schedule, though a handful of the 16 rides still aren't finished. That didn't stop an early morning crowd of islanders and vacationers from mixing with media to riding attractions like the Sea Dragon and the Gulf Glider.
The city has already installed highway signs just over the causeway directing visitors to the island's latest addition. And from Broadway, as you turn right onto 25th street, there it is -- the round Cyclone Coaster is the first thing you see beyond the rotating sign above Fish Tales. The entrance to the pier harkens back to Galveston's glory days -- it looks somewhat like a Victorian beach house, but with modern accents like neon lights.
The pier is also home to the first Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Texas, a genuine Midway with the friendliest hecklers I've ever encountered, and all manner of carnival-style snacks.
Mark Kane, Landry's regional director for amusement parks, said they're still working out some kinks, such as those rides that aren't quite finished, which include a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster. Rides will open on a rolling basis, he said, with the Iron Shark roller coaster as the first goal.
He also said Landry's hasn't settled on an occupancy number yet. "We're pretty comfortable with a 4,000- to 5,000-person capacity."
But that might present a problem, as the new parking lot across the street, next to Fish Tales, only holds 400 or so cars. Even this morning, Seawall parking was at a premium.
And here's the other interesting thing about the pier. It's 120 feet wide and 1,130 feet long, which means those 16 rides are sandwiched in pretty close to one another. There are only a few places on the pier (at least on the section that is currently open) where you can lean over the side and look down at the water. Add 4,000 people and things are going to get crowded fairly quickly.
But right now none of that seems to matter. Islanders are psyched about this bright new shiny thing heralding the start of summer, and to be honest, so was I once I saw it. It's going to look gorgeous all lit up at night.
One Pier employee and Galveston resident who asked not to be named summed up the local sentiment.
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"We really needed this," she said. "You know what I mean? We really needed it. Things are getting better. Everybody's taking such pride in their property now."
All-day ride passes are $21.99 for adults and $16.99 for children. Individual ride tickets are also available. More information is available at PleasurePier.com.
Update: The Iron Shark roller coaster is open as of June 1, officials say.