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Port of Galveston prepares to welcome Carnival Vista, its largest cruise ship

August 17, 2018

The Port of Galveston is about to welcome its largest cruise ship, the Carnival Vista, after investing millions of dollars in upgrades to prepare for the vessel.

The Vista will take its inaugural voyage from Galveston on Sept. 23 with frozen concoctions and island getaways for more than 3,900 vacationers. But before that could happen, the port needed some modifications. The terminal needed a longer gangway for passengers to board the ship. And with the Carnival Cruise Line vessel measuring 1,055 feet, the berth also needed an extension. The port lengthened the berth by installing new bollards — huge chunks of metal to which the ship is tied — atop pilings driven 125 feet below the ship channel floor.

These renovations came in under the roughly $3.5 million budget, so port officials also painted the terminal and installed new LED lighting. The final touches were added last month.

“It’s all unfolding according to plan, really,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough.

Some of the Galveston initiatives began before Rodger Rees took over as port director and CEO earlier this year. He was previously deputy executive director and chief financial officer at Port Canaveral in Florida. He’s now in charge of executing the plans and further growing the country’s fourth-busiest cruise terminal. His near-term plans include adding a third cruise terminal and boosting the frequency of Disney Cruise Line voyages. Ultimately, he’d like to see four cruise terminals and new cruise lines calling on Galveston.

The Carnival Vista debuted in 2016 and is the namesake vessel in Carnival’s largest class of ships. Its amenities include SkyRide, a suspended open-air cycling experience, an IMAX theater and expansive waterpark.

Carnival has been operating from Galveston since 2000. Carnival Vista will replace Carnival Breeze to join Carnival Freedom and Carnival Valor in sailing year-round from Galveston.

“We have a great deal of confidence in the market, and the port has done a great job accommodating our desire to expand,” a Carnival spokeswoman said in an email.

Bigger ships mean more revenue for the port. Galveston’s docking rates are based on the length or weight of a ship, and cruise lines must pay fees for each passenger. The Port of Galveston saw nearly 1 million passengers last year. It expects to surpass 1 million this year in late September or early October.

“It’s just increasing our revenue source, which allows us to continue to reinvest back into the port,” Rees said.

And the Carnival Vista’s title of largest cruise ship in Galveston would be replaced if a third cruise terminal is built, allowing Royal Caribbean to bring its Oasis-class of ships measuring more than 1,180 feet long.

Rees said the port has a memorandum of understanding with Royal Caribbean and is working toward a contract. Royal Caribbean would build the terminal, investing about $100 million in Galveston.

The Port of Galveston will lease the cruise line 10 acres of land. It will turn unused portions of Pier 10 into surface parking, and it will provide utilities to the pier. Rees expects construction to begin by the end of this year, if the contract is finalized as expected.

That would free up the terminal where Royal Caribbean currently operates for new cruise lines.

“That’s just going to snowball the cruise ship industry and the tourist opportunities,” Yarbrough said.

Ultimately, the port would like to relocate most of its industrial business from the east side of the port to the west side and Pelican Island. Officials said this could, in the long run, make room for a fourth cruise terminal while creating a better experience for tourists and locals in the nearer term.

andrea.leinfelder@chron.com

twitter.com/andrearumbaugh

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