AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 1 /PRNewswire/ — Texas, the Western Gulf of Mexico’s gateway for international cruise vacations, sets sail in 2005 as more ships and passenger cruise lines steam into the ports of Galveston and Houston, introducing new itineraries and expanding the choices of destinations, departures and cruise lengths available to vacationers.
For more than four years, Texas has built a reputation as one of the nation’s premier departure states for passenger cruise lines, with ships departing weekly to ports throughout the Western Caribbean, with ports of call in Cozumel, Roatan, Belize City and Cancun; Mexico’s Mayan Riviera; and the Panama Canal. Currently, Galveston is homeport to five industry giants, including Carnival Cruise Lines’ Ecstasy and Elation, Royal Caribbean International’s Rhapsody of the Seas, Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy and Princess Cruises’ The Grand Princess. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sea homeports in the Port of Houston once a week. With this array of vessel offerings, cruise passengers can experience four and five day, seven day or 11 and 12 day cruises that depart every Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
“This is going to be another groundbreaking year for cruising from the Port of Galveston,” said Steven M. Cernak, Galveston Port Director. “By year end, we will have three year-round, homeported cruise ships and three seasonal cruise ships operating from our cruise terminal complex. We have invested about $40 million upgrading, renovating and enhancing our cruise facilities. Our growth has been phenomenal and we will continue our efforts to maintain Galveston as the port of choice for our cruise customers.”
Promising changes took place in 2004, and more changes are on the way in 2005 that will launch the cruise industry in Texas full steam ahead. The Lone Star State welcomed Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy in November 2004, a 1,870-passenger vessel that was ranked among the top 10 “best cruise ships in the world” in the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler’s latest readers’ survey. Princess also added Galveston to its roster of homeports, offering cruises from Galveston to the Western Caribbean on its 109,000-ton Grand Princess. In addition, Norwegian Cruise Line is scheduled to bring Houston the larger Norwegian Dream later this year, and Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas is set to return offering four- and five-day Caribbean cruises.
In the fall of 2004, because of the success of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Celebration, which sailed its inaugural voyage in late 2000 and was the first ship to homeport at The Texas Cruise Ship Terminals on Galveston Island, Carnival announced its increase in capacity from Galveston with the addition of the 2,052-passenger “Fun Ship” Ecstasy, set to replace the 1,486-passenger Celebration. The deployment of the Ecstasy creates a 38 percent passenger- capacity increase.
“Carnival pioneered cruising from Galveston in September 2000 with year- round four- and five-day voyages to Mexico. Over the past four years, we’ve dramatically increased our presence in Galveston, adding seven-day voyages in 2003 and expanding our four- and five-day program late last year. With its strong tourist appeal, excellent terminal facilities, and convenient location, Galveston is one of Carnival’s most popular homeports, accounting for 282,000 passengers annually — a 130 percent increase versus four years ago,” said Bob Dickinson, Carnival president and CEO.
According to Lloyd’s Cruise International’s annual report “Top 20 Ports Supplement”, Galveston ranked number seven in “Leading Ports and Destinations in the Caribbean Region. Galveston ranked number 23 in the “Top World Cruise Ports and Destinations” and number 13 in the “Top U.S. Ports in the World”.
Appealing to a wide range of travelers and budgets, the expansions of the cruise industry in Texas will lure adventure seekers, ecotourists, art enthusiasts, family voyagers and the like to the Houston-Galveston area. Cruise guests can also combine their cruise with a pre- or post-cruise land stay to extend their vacation during which they can visit Galveston’s many historic sites and museums, enjoy 32 miles of beach, discover a rainforest and aquarium at Moody Gardens, or shop and dine along the Strand, the city’s renowned entertainment district. More information on the area can be found at (http://www.galveston.com/ ).
Houston, Texas’ largest city and the fourth largest in nation, offers several major annual events for pre- or post-cruise vacations including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in late February and early March, the largest livestock exposition in the world with championship cowboys and popular entertainers; the Houston International Festival each April, celebrating Houston’s multiculturalism with a 10-day outdoor festival of multicultural music, dance, arts and crafts, and food; and the bp Power of Freedom in July. For full details about Houston’s abundant attractions and events, call 1-800-4-HOUSTON or visit (http://www.visithoustontexas.com/ ).
Other area attractions include the Kemah Boardwalk (http://www.kemahboardwalk.com/ ), just 20 miles from Houston or Galveston. The boardwalk features several themed restaurants, retail and specialty shops, street performers, midway games, live music, a 65-ft. Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a gas-powered train that travels throughout the entire complex. Space Center Houston, home to America’s astronauts, offers exhibits and behind-the-scenes NASA tram tours, and Clear Lake and Galveston Bay’s several marinas offer charter cruises and fishing.
For cruise visitors looking for a taste of Texas’ Tex-Mex and Cowboy Cultures, San Antonio and Bandera are perfect pre- and post- destinations. Must see attractions in San Antonio (http://www.sanantoniovisit.com/ ) include The Alamo, where Texas’ fight for independence spurred the cry “Remember The Alamo”, and The River Walk, a romantic oasis just steps below the bustle of the big city with restaurants, boutiques and hotels. Bandera (http://www.banderacowboycapital.com/ ) offers visitors a true taste of cowboy life. Visit one of the many dude ranches in the area and be a cowboy for a day or a weekend.
Art enthusiasts will want to visit the Dallas-Fort Worth area for world renowned museums and exhibits including the new Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas Arts District, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, the new Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Kimball Art Museum, and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. For more information on events and attractions in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, visit (http://www.dallascvb.com/ ) and (http://www.fortworth.com/ ).
Transportation between the Houston airports and the cruise terminals in Galveston and the Port of Houston can be pre-arranged with assistance from the Galveston Convention & Visitors Bureau (http://www.galveston.com/ ) and the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau (http://www.visithoustontexas.com/ ). For more information on available cruises and interesting destinations for pre- and post-cruise options, visit (http://www.traveltex.com/ ) or call 1-800-8888-TEX.