From humble beginnings, with just one cruise ship home-ported at its dock 22 years ago, the Texas Port of Galveston expects to set new records in 2023, as hundreds of scheduled sailings attract more than 1 million cruisers to its Gulf of Mexico location.
Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean were the first lines to recognize the port’s potential, and their investments in the last two decades helped to propel Galveston into the powerhouse port it is today.
New Terminal Buoyed Port’s Cruise Arrivals
As the Port of Galveston marks its 22nd year as a homeport for cruise ships, it is poised to break records in 2023 thanks in large part to the launch of its third cruise terminal, a $125 million facility that opened in late 2022 and became a game changer for the port.
Constructed in partnership with Royal Caribbean, the 161,000-square-foot terminal situated on 10 acres can alone handle up to 630,000 annual cruisers embarking in Galveston.
“This third terminal has contributed greatly to the port’s cruise growth,” said Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director and CEO.
Located at Pier 10, it is large enough to enable Royal Caribbean to base its Oasis-class ships at the Texas port. Allure of the Seas is operating Western Caribbean sailings from Galveston until late October 2023, before repositioning to Port Canaveral.
“This year we’re poised to set new records with five cruise lines, 13 ships, more than 350 scheduled sailings and an estimated 1.3 million-plus passengers,” added Rees.
In 2023, Galveston became the fourth-busiest US port, based on cruise arrivals, behind Florida’s three ports, Port Canaveral, PortMiami, and Port Everglades. Galveston’s attraction as a convenient port for Western Caribbean cruises continues to lure virtually every major cruise line to its facilities.
Besides Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, other brands that embrace the port include Princess Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises.
While the port traditionally handled day sails and some seasonal cruise ships, it was the original Celebration cruise ship from Carnival Cruise Line that became the first cruise ship to homeport at Galveston in 2000, following the conversion of a century-old cotton warehouse into a cruise terminal in 1990.
“On this 22nd anniversary of our home port operations, we can thank those visionary leaders and early cruise partners who believed in our potential as a cruise port,” said Port Director Rees.
The popularity of the Galveston port, known as a convenient drive-to port for cruisers living along the Gulf Coast and in the Texas metro areas, has led to significant economic benefits, including $1.6 billion in related revenues, 27,000 jobs, and cruise guest and crew spending that reaches about $125 million per year.
A Major Investment By Carnival
With additional investments in the port, those numbers are likely to rise. Carnival Cruise Line and the Port of Galveston are in the process of making major upgrades to Cruise Terminal 25, which will soon accommodate the new Carnival Jubilee when she debuts in December 2023 and is home-ported in Galveston.
The $53 million project includes modifications to the gangway, a ramp, two elevators, an escalator, and other enhancements meant to streamline the embarkation and debarkation process for guests.
The 183,900-gross ton new-build will accommodate 5,400 guests and will sail 7-night Western Caribbean cruises. Carnival Jubilee will join Carnival Breeze and Carnival Dream at the Texas home port.
Another Cruise Terminal on Horizon?
Another major project could be on the horizon at the Port of Galveston, with a proposed fourth terminal slated at Pier 16. According to the port, its partnership with MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line would add another $177 million in revenues, nearly 1,000 more jobs, and several million dollars in taxes.
In late 2022, the port and MSC Cruises signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding that outlined parameters for the possible development and operation of a terminal at piers 16-18, although no specific details have been released since.