All go in Galveston

With more passengers and expansion work underway, the port is enjoying a purple patch

All go in Galveston

By Sean Dudley |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

As one of the busiest ports in Texas, the fourth busiest in North America and one of the top ten ports for homeporting globally, it’s clear that Port of Galveston is doing something right.

With Mexico and the Caribbean just a short trip across the Gulf, Galveston is a great gateway to a vast number of diverse destinations.

Passenger numbers reached new heights in 2016, with 1,730,289 passing through the port during the year. The port embarked approximately 869,000 passengers in 2016. In 2017, that number is expected to pass the 945,000 mark, with 257 calls scheduled for Galveston compared to the 235 recorded in 2016. In March 2016, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Triumph sailed from Galveston for the last time, having completed 309 voyages to Mexico and the Caribbean during four years at the port. The ship was replaced by Carnival Liberty – a 2,974-passenger ship, which began sailing four and five-day cruises to Mexico year-round.

In November 2016, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder resumed its seasonal sailing from Galveston, taking in the Western Caribbean and the Bahamas. December 2016 saw the port welcome another new arrival, Carnival Valor, from Port Canaveral, Florida, to replace Carnival Liberty.

And the future looks prosperous. Between November 2017 and January 2018, the port will offer a total of 10 cruises on the Disney Wonder from Galveston to the Bahamas, which will include stops in Key West in Florida, the Bahamian capital Nassau, and Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.

Another regular visitor to Port of Galveston is Royal Caribbean International. In 2017, Vision of the Seas will head to the port, joining Texas’ largest cruise ship, Liberty of the Seas. It will begin seasonal sailings from Galveston on 6 November 2017, offering four and five-day Western Caribbean cruises. With 12 sailings scheduled, Vision of the Seas will bring about 24,000 additional visitors to Galveston in 2017.

To cope with such demand, the port has invested in its facilities. In 2016, Port of Galveston completed a number of major capital improvement projects, representing an investment of more than US$33 million. To better accommodate visitors, Port of Galveston constructed the Galveston Downtown Transit Terminal using a Federal Transit Authority grant provided to the City of Galveston. This new facility opened its doors on 25 February 2016, and helps to better connect the port to the city itself. The terminal features retail space and 159 parking spaces, and current tenants include the Strand Art Gallery and the Cruise Stop shop. In order to serve the larger cruise ships calling at the port and the greater number of passengers, Port of Galveston invested approximately US$13 million in expanding and renovating its Cruise Terminal 2. The expansion increased the floor space from 90,000 square foot to 150,000 square foot. The renovations include a check-in area, a large waiting room and a ramp for disembarking passengers.

The new facility accommodates ships carrying as many as 5,000 passengers and has a significantly expanded space for passengers screening and a separate baggage area for travellers to retrieve their luggage after arriving from their cruise. As a result, the terminal can simultaneously handle embarking and disembarking passengers, enhancing the efficiency of the turnaround process for cruise lines using the facility.

To accommodate larger ships, upgrades to the moorings and an expansion of the dock at pier 29 are also taking place. The project’s first phase will see an expansion of the wharf, and the removal of an old sheet pile wall and construction of a new one. Additional dock space will be created and mooring bollards built. These will be used to improve the mooring of Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas – a 1,111 foot, 160,000gt with capacity for 4,200 passengers. The project’s first phase is set for completion in April 2017. The port has recently completed several other repairs, specifically at pier 10 and on the pier 15 warehouse. In the upcoming year, the port will focus on making repairs to facilities that were damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. An estimated US$30 million in repairs has been identified and the port is working with the federal government on funding for the infrastructure projects.

On the horizon is Carnival Vista, which will homeport in Galveston from 2018. Carnival Vista will operate year-round service to the Caribbean beginning in September 2018, and will offer two distinctly different week-long western Caribbean itineraries. The first itinerary includes calls at Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico. The other features visits to Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan; Belize; and Cozumel.

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