GALVESTON — Carnival Cruise Lines in 2015 will base a third ship year-round in Galveston, luring thousands of additional visitors to the island while marking the first time a cruise line has deployed three passenger liners in Texas.
The Miami-based company, which homeports the 3,690-passenger Magic and the 2,758-passenger Triumph in Galveston, said it would add the 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom to that lineup in February, beginning with a special six-day Caribbean voyage before the start of year-round seven-day departures from Galveston.
The news secures Galveston’s status as the No. 1 Gulf Coast cruise port and underscores Carnival’s bullishness on the seaport city.
“In partnership with the Port of Galveston and the local community, we have been able to increase our passenger counts fivefold since we first launched service from Galveston in 2000,” Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said.
Moving the Freedom from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Galveston represents a 38 percent capacity increase for Carnival in Galveston; the cruise line’s ships carry about 600,000 passengers a year from Galveston.
Carnival will move its 2,974-passenger Conquest to Fort Lauderdale from Miami.
Before arriving in Galveston, Freedom will undergo a multimillion-dollar makeover, Carnival officials said.
Freedom will begin its Galveston schedule Feb. 15 with a six-day Caribbean voyage to Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize; and Cozumel.
After that, Freedom will launch year-round seven-day departures from Galveston Feb. 21, visiting ports throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.
Magic offers seven-day Caribbean cruises; Triumph sails from the island on four- and five-day voyages to Mexico.
The news comes as the port expects in May to see the 6-millionth passenger sail from the island since cruising became an industry here 14 years ago.
The landlord port receives no tax support. It generates income from dockage and wharfage fees and by leasing its facilities for such operations as roll-on, roll-off cargo, dry bulk, export grain, refrigerated fruit and general cargo. Through the years, the cruise business has increasingly made up a larger percentage of the port’s operating revenues.
This year, the Port of Galveston projected operating revenues of $26.9 million, with a little more than $10 million of that coming from cruise-related operations, including passenger fees and money the port receives for charging cruise passengers to park in its lots.
The island also is seeing an economic boost from its growing cruise industry. Last year, the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees, which oversees the city’s tourism efforts, released results of an economic impact study showing cruise passengers spent $42.3 million in Galveston in 2012. And, although the island isn’t a port of call, passengers spent $13.5 million in 2012 in hotels and accommodations.
Adding a third Carnival ship is a major coup for the island, Port Director Michael Mierzwa said.
“For the past 14 years, the port and Carnival Cruise Lines have enjoyed a wonderful partnership,” Mierzwa said. “Not only does home-porting these three ships represent the largest-ever capacity commitment by a cruise line to Texas, but it also reinforces the partnership that we have fostered with Carnival through the years.”
Freedom will depart the island on Saturdays and won’t create scheduling problems for other ships. The ship will use the berthing space on Saturdays that would have been taken by Disney Cruise Line, which announced last year it wouldn’t return to the port in 2014. But the port, which operates the Texas Cruise Ship Terminal at Pier 25 and Cruise Terminal No. 2 at Pier 27, is under pressure to find a third berthing space for passenger ships to avoid losing another liner to the Port of Houston.
Earlier this year, the Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, approved spending up to $100,000 on design plans for a third cruise-ship terminal. Along with the Triumph and Magic, Royal Caribbean International’s vessel Navigator of the Seas sails year-round from the island.
In November, the port was unable to accommodate Princess Cruise Lines desire to homeport a ship in Galveston for the winter cruise season because two other vessels would be in port on preferred sailing dates.
And Royal Caribbean International, which for years had sailed only seasonally from the island, agreed to deploy the 3,114-passenger Navigator from the island year-round beginning in November last year on the condition the port expand the 81,000-square-foot Cruise Terminal No. 2 to accommodate an expected increase in passengers.
As part of its makeover, Carnival Freedom will add the first-ever Bookville family reading venue — part of the recently launched Seuss at Sea program in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The makeover also will include a variety of new dining, bar and entertainment components that are part of the line’s Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancement initiative.
The news Galveston would become home to a third Carnival cruise ship follows an announcement last month that the company planned to test a series of 10- and 11-day Caribbean voyages. The 11-day cruises sail from Galveston to San Juan Oct. 25, 2015 and Jan. 16, 2016. Two 10-day cruises from San Juan to Galveston depart Nov. 4, 2015 and Jan. 27, 2016.
Inaugural cruise: March 5, 2007
Speed: 22.5 knots
Approximate crew size: 1,160
Gross registered tonnage: 110,000
Length: 952 feet
Total guest capacity (including uppers): 3,700
Normal cruise capacity: 2,974