The History Of The Galveston Cruise Port

The Galveston Cruise Port is one of the top cruise ports in the world. It is the fourth busiest cruise homeport in the US, as the home to many major cruise lines. Galveston's success as a cruise line port attracts over a million cruise passengers each year. There was a hamper in growth during the coronavirus pandemic. Even then, the port looks to retain its strong foundation as the world begins to recover from the crisis.

The Growth Of The Port

The city of Galveston created the port in the early 19th century. Back then, Texas was a part of Mexico, and the eastern end of Galveston island served as an ideal location to connect with the Gulf of Mexico. The port began as a center for import and export, becoming the reason for the city's economic growth. Due to its strength, the port became self-sustaining and needed no support from taxes.

Due to its connection to the valued cotton industry, the port became one of the main export locations of it. At one point, it was exporting goods valued much more than it was importing. Later on, the Galveston Wharf Company built a grain elevator, which led to the port expanding to grain export. It was one of the busiest and most profitable ports of the 19th century.

Falling Behind

During the dawn of the industrial age, Galveston began falling behind due to its inability to compete with advanced ports. While the port remained a center for agriculture, much of its former traffic moved to other areas. One of the biggest problems the port had was floods which made investors hesitant.

The Great Galveston hurricane hit in the 1990s. The fifth deadliest hurricane from the Atlantic claimed around 8,000 lives, most of which lived within Galveston. The storm wrecked 7,000 buildings and left 10,000 people homeless. Despite that, the city recovered, and the port was functioning shortly after.

Following the hurricane, city leaders began enacting dredging work on the port to accommodate larger ships. The move proved fruitful as Galveston became the top cotton port in the world. It was also a large importer of sugar and exporter of wheat during World War I. The war also made the port a center for immigrants who were looking for refuge in the US.

Transitioning To a Cruise Port

In the 1920s, dockworkers in Galveston initiated a strike that led to the closure of the port. It wasn’t until a year later that the Texas National Guard was able to gain control after a declaration of martial law. The threat of the strike was so much that many businesses threatened to leave Galveston. The dockworkers returned once they received a wage increase.

The port continued in its ways throughout the years and made little attention. In the 1970s, with the need for more business, local officials began looking at cruise lines to rejuvenate the port. The popularity of cruise lines rose thanks to television shows like The Love Boat. These shows sparked interest in the traveling public. In 1974, the port began hosting its first cruise ship.

In the 1990s, the port aggressively looked for modern cruise ships to port at Galveston. It paid off in 2000 when the ship Celebration from Carnival Cruise Lines began docking there. At that time, many of the cruise ships in the port were older and small. Investments to improve the port to make it more accommodating for cruise lines began.

Acquiring More Cruises

In 2008, the port closed after Hurricane Ike, which devastated the Texas Gulf Coast. It forced cruise lines to port in other areas temporarily. Due to aging facilities and the lack of modern amenities, Carnival urged the port to make improvements. It led to the overhaul of Terminal 1 two years later. Following the change, the Carnival Triumph began making Galveston its home.

Other cruise lines followed after the transfer of several Carnival Cruise lines. Ships from Princess Cruise and Disney Cruise made their way to the port. In 2014, Galveston became a cruise center, increasing its capacity by 400,000 passengers. Renovation began for terminal two. This renovation included an expansion to accommodate the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

The expansion was more trouble than officials realized. They needed more work, analyzing the seabed and construction area due to sandier soil. In 2019, Galveston became a major cruise hub. Much of its business today comes from cruise passengers though it still maintains some of its import and export capabilities.

Parking In Galveston Port

Another major contributor to Galveston’s revenue is its parking facilities. Cruise travelers needed a location to park their vehicles while on a cruise, and parking became a natural expansion. There is a large parking lot for cruise passengers. You can also pay additional to have your car enter the cruise terminal area for pick-up or drop-offs.

The Galveston Cruise Port Today

Following the coronavirus pandemic, many major cruise lines around the world shut down. The Galveston cruise port became a quiet place, with only import and export being active due to a lack of travelers. In adjusting to this new environment, the port began investing in various amenities to help protect travelers.

Some of the newest features in the port include disinfection lamps and touchless plumbing. Elevators had self-cleaning buttons and the port installed plexiglass dividers. Dividers abound in areas where there is much contact between passengers and staff. All the new equipment cost over $100,000 of additional funding. In 2021, the port announced that it was ready to accommodate cruises once more. It matched the sentiment of cruises which showed interest in returning to operations.

Through the years Carnival, Royal, Princess, Disney and Norwegian cruise lines have scheduled a growing number of ships to homeport and make seasonal sailings from Galveston. Driven by industry demand, the port has continued to improve and expand its cruise infrastructure.  

 In November 2022, the port celebrated the opening of its third cruise terminal, a $125 million, state-of-the-art facility built at Pier 10 in partnership with Royal Caribbean. The terminal is home to Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest class of cruise ship, and other Royal Caribbean ships.

 This third terminal has contributed greatly to the port’s cruise growth. The port is poised in 2023 to set new records with five cruise lines, 13 ships, more than 350 scheduled sailings and an estimated 1.3 million-plus passengers.

 Based on national cruise market demand, cruise lines are bringing newer and larger ships to sail from Galveston. In December 2023 the port will welcome the newly built Carnival Jubilee, which has a passenger capacity more than double that of the original Carnival Celebration. 

 And, for the first time in more than a decade, the port and Carnival are investing $50 million in major improvements to the original cruise terminal to accommodate larger ships and to give passengers a better experience as they sail from Cruise Terminal 25.