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Will the Houston (Bayport) Cruise Terminal Overtake the Port of Galveston?

Cruise Terminal

Five years ago, the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Houston opened its doors… to nothing. In fact, apart from a few cruises in 2008 the terminal has sat unused — leaving many to call the $108 million project a boondoggle.

But that’s about to change. Starting later this year the terminal will welcome a total of 102 cruises from Princess and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Even that deal, however, took some large incentives that totaled nearly $7 million, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Incentives or not, it’s now clear that the Port of Galveston — which has enjoyed a booming cruise industry during the past decade or so — now has some competition for cruise lines.

So could the terminal in Houston one day overtake the port in Galveston in popularity and departures?

There’s no doubt that it’s an uphill climb. That said, there is a lot to like about the Bayport Terminal.

First, is the port’s location. The majority of people who cruise from Galveston come from the Houston area — either they live there or fly into the city. The Bayport Terminal is less than half the distance from downtown Houston than the Galveston port. And someone coming from a flight from Houston Intercontinental would shave 30 minutes off their travel time each way by sailing from the Bayport Terminal.

Second, the Bayport Terminal is akin to the “big box” stores so many people are used to. The terminal is new, clean and large. Parking is very convenient, right next to the terminal. In Galveston you have to park off-site and ride a shuttle to the terminal. That added convenience can be a big factor, especially when many cruise passengers are older and have some mobility issues.

Third, is the port’s room to expand. There is plenty of room around the Bayport Terminal to add in more docks, infrastructure, and parking with relatively little development costs. That low cost could help the port in offering lower fees to the cruise lines or being able to offer more incentives to sail from Houston.

Of course, there is a reason that the Bayport Terminal has sat empty for so long.

Sailing from Galveston is popular with the cruise lines. Since Galveston sits closer to the Gulf of Mexico, it allows the ships to use less fuel and travel shorter distances on their trips. Those savings add up significantly.

As well, while Galveston is a bit further from Houston than the Bayport Terminal, it is definitely more of a destination. Families can go to the beach, Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn, enjoy great seafood and more. In our opinion, this negates the extra drive time.

Finally, the Port of Galveston has enjoyed a decade of working with the cruise lines day-in and day-out. That long-term relationship cannot be overlooked. If there is anything important to a business, it is reliability and predictability. Knowing all the ins and outs of working with one port is a big plus for the cruise lines.

All that said, we do see one issue that could cause cruise lines to take a harder look at the Bayport Terminal — hurricanes.

After 2008’s Hurricane Ike, cruise lines relocated to Bayport Terminal for several months. If Galveston were to be hit by major hurricanes multiple years in a row, or even two storms in one season, then it’s not unthinkable that the cruise lines would take their business to a more protected port.

We simply hope both ports do booming business, offering passengers more sailings and lower fares.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Mach says:

    Interesting question… will Bayport overtake Galveson? Some of what was mentioned in the article I agree with… quite a bit I do not.

    I was one of those folks who was forced to sail from Bayport after the arrival of Hurricane Ike at Galveston. I can tell you that it wasn’t exactly pleasant experience.

    We were nearly 5 hours late boarding the ship and I’m a VIP with Carnival. There was insufficient parking (I had to park in the grass about 3/4 of a mile from the terminal) but I have seen claims that parking has been expanded to 1000 spots. Consider that cruise ships have somewhere between 1200 and 1700 cabins and the expected popularity of Bayport as a drive in cruise port 1000 parking spaces is still woefully inadequate.

    As was mentioned in the article, Galveston itself is a destination with businesses and event organizers who are wonderfully experienced with tending to the needs of upwards of fifteen thousand cruise ship passengers weekly.

    True, the Bayport terminal is ‘new’ but, despite it’s advertised 96,000 sq ft of floor the passenger terminal is remarkably tiny. I recall seeing a plaque on one of the walls claiming a max capacity of 600. That’s dramatically insufficient for ships who’s passenger roster will exceed 3600.

    Bayport was added to a bond proposal to fund the container terminal to elicit public support. They got the bond passed and the container terminal was built as was the cruise terminal. Having sailed from numerous ports across the US I can say with confidence that Bayport is a day late and a dollar short.

    Good luck to them. Expansion of the available number of ports is generally a winner for cruise ship passengers but not necessarily so for the cruise lines.

  2. Galveston Cruise Tips says:

    Great comment. We’ll have to see. As we said in the article, our biggest hope is that both do booming business.

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