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By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
You’ve got to spend money to make money. This old saying certainly applies to the Port of Galveston’s cruise business. We’re investing an estimated $33 million in cruise-related infrastructure improvements now to reap many more millions in future revenues and economic growth for our community and region.
Many of the major capital improvements I’ll discuss are included in our 20-Year Strategic Master Plan adopted by our board in 2019. Other projects are upgrades to accommodate additional and larger ships and more passengers at a cruise terminal built more than 20 years ago.
Cruising from Galveston Island has never been better. We estimate 330 sailings this year, which would be a new record in the port’s 22-year history as a cruise homeport. Passengers choose Galveston, the only homeport in Texas, for its convenience and great sailing experience to Caribbean destinations.
More than 30 million people live within a 300-mile radius, making us the prime drive-to market for the central U.S. We typically host more than 1 million passengers a year, making us the fourth most popular homeport in the U.S.
New Cruise Terminal This Fall
By far, our biggest and most exciting cruise expansion is the addition of a third cruise terminal. Opening in November 2022, the state-of-the-art terminal at Pier 10 is made possible through a public/private partnership with Royal Caribbean International.
RCI is building the 161,000-square-foot terminal to homeport its stunning Allure of the Seas. At 1,187 feet long and with 18 decks, the Oasis Class ship is one of the largest cruise ships in the world. The award-winning ship can host up to 6,780 guests with 2,200 crew members.
The project includes an estimated $110 million from RCI to build the terminal. The port is investing roughly $22 million for pier repairs, site work, utilities and port-operated cruise parking for 1,800 vehicles. The new terminal will be a major revenue and jobs generator for the port and regional economy.
The extensive internal roadway is designed to bring passenger and ground transportation vehicles off Harborside at 14th Street for parking, as well as passenger and luggage drop-off and pickup. Three grants from the Texas Department of Transportation have helped fund portions of the road network.
Mid-Port Cruise Improvements
We’ll also spend about $11 million for improvements at cruise terminals 25 and 28 (also known as cruise terminals 1 and 2) to prepare for the new Carnival Jubilee, scheduled to homeport here beginning in November 2023. Now under construction, the ship will have a capacity of 5,374 passengers and 1,735 crew. It will be the port’s first LNG-fueled cruise ship.
To accommodate the new ship, the port will build a second gangway, internal improvements to efficiently process more passengers, and a federally required facility for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In addition, the Ruby Princess will homeport from cruise terminals 25 and 28 beginning this year, sailing from December 2022 to April 2023.
As a self-funding city entity with no taxing authority, the port is funding all these necessary improvements through cash reserves, operating income, loans, grants and public/private partnerships. The great news is that all these projects reap tangible, direct revenue and jobs for the port, the city and the region.