Carnival Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship will move to Galveston on Sept. 23, 2018, but before it arrives, the island port must complete about $5 million in improvements to accommodate the 1,055-foot vessel.
“The Vista is about 52 feet longer than the Carnival Breeze,” said Jeffrey Thomas, a junior engineer with the port. “It takes up the berth’s entire length. Adding mooring to the eastern side of the platform will slightly lengthen the berth so we can fit the additional feet.”
Carnival officials in January announced plans to move the Carnival Vista to Galveston, replacing the Carnival Breeze that docks at Cruise Terminal No. 1.
Carnival Vista, which debuted last year and has been stationed in Miami, weighs about 133,500 tons and is 1,055 feet long, with a capacity of about 4,000 passengers.
Vista features the first IMAX theater aboard a ship, a water park and a brewery, officials said.
The ship will offer two seven-day Caribbean trips, departing each Sunday. The first includes calls at Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The other trip includes stops at Mahogany Bay, Belize and Cozumel.
The ship’s size has led port officials to develop a plan to accommodate the vessel by increasing the size of mooring devices on the east side of the berth to handle more weight, moving mooring bollards on the west side of the berth and building a new gate for a gangway farther east, interim Port Director Peter Simons said.
“Among other things, there is a water station that interferes with the cargo loading door for the Vista,” Simons said. “On the eastern end, we have to upgrade the mooring similar to the work we did with Cruise Terminal No. 2. We will also install new bollards there. The Vista is so much larger, it requires greater bollard strength alongside the terminal.”
The Port of Galveston’s governing board in October approved a final contract to complete a wharf expansion project at Cruise Terminal No. 2. That brought the total cost of the project to $3.59 million, up almost $1.4 million from an initial $2.2 million awarded to J.W. Kelso in May 2015, Thomas said in a previous interview with The Daily News.
Port officials said they hoped the second wharf expansion would be less expensive than initially projected.
“An engineer group is developing plan specifications right now and part of that is basically to get a better estimate of how much wharf work might cost,” Thomas said. “Right now, we don’t have a final quantity. The wharf work will be the lion’s share of the work of the $4 million to $5 million budget. In my opinion, that budget is conservative.”
The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, Monday approved a contract with PND Engineers for about $127,600 to produce design drawings that will be used to bid out the actual project in the early part of 2018, Thomas said.
Port officials are working to secure funding for the project, Simons said.
Documents for the project include a request to the Galveston Industrial Development Corp. for about $250,000 for the project, but Simons said that number was preliminary.
The IDC oversees spending of revenue collected through some of the sales taxes levied in the city.
Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough, who is also a wharves board trustee, said he thought it was a good idea to bring the request to the IDC in January.
“This is a good spot for that sort of request,” Yarbrough said. “I can’t speak for the whole board, but I’m confident that if it is well presented and we understand the purpose, it will be given favorable consideration.”
The rest of the funding could come via money left from a 2010 loan for waterfront structure improvements, Simons said.
Port officials received a $26 million loan in 2010 and have about $10.1 million left that can only be used for waterfront improvements, Simons said.
“We’ve delayed using that money because the intention of the previous administration was to use it for a slip-fill project,” Simons said. “But we need to use the money since we have been earning interest.”
Carnival Vista’s arrival in Galveston could be a financial windfall for the island port, Simons said.
The increased capacity of about 244 more passengers than the Breeze could result in 20,000 more passengers a year traveling to Galveston, Simons said.
If it had to, the terminal as it is could handle Vista, but port officials are hoping to fast-track the project to have it finished by the time Vista arrives in September, Simons said.
“It’s feasible, but it’s definitely going to be a fast-tracked project,” Thomas said. “We are working closely with the engineer to get the design out by the first part of next year and bid the project.”
The port depends heavily on revenues from cruise ships. The budget for the 2017 fiscal year anticipates about 62 percent of the port’s $38.6 million in revenues will be cruise-related.
The Port of Galveston ranks as the fourth-busiest cruise port in the United States.
The Port of Galveston is a landlord port, which generates much of its income from lease agreements with maritime tenants and fees related to ship calls.
The port is currently home to three year-round Carnival Cruise Line ships, one year-round Royal Caribbean ship, one seasonal Royal Caribbean ship and a seasonal Disney Cruise Lines ship.