Carnival Cruise Line returns to Port of Galveston, applies pressure to lift restrictions

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Carnival Cruise Line is ready to get back to work. While the cruise industry waits for final approval to resume travel, the cruise line moved two ships into the Port of Galveston. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that after a year of waiting, it is time to bring back jobs and economic advantages in port cities like Galveston.

Federal orders halted cruise ships fourteen months ago. The City of Galveston has been hit hard by the economic pain brought by the pandemic. Carnival Cruise Line is the Port of Galveston’s largest cruise operator. The cruise industry brings $1.6 billion in annual economic activity and employs 27,000 people in Texas. On Sunday two of Carnival’s ships – the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista – pulled into the port as a way of highlighting the cruise line’s economic impact on the area. A rally was held on Monday.

The CDC has given the ok for cruise lines to get back to business by mid-July. On March 2020 the CDC issued its first No Sail Order and then extended the order indefinitely on September 30. Last month a glimmer of hope for those eager to get back to cruising emerged when the CDC issued a letter stating it would consider rescinding the order by July if 98% of passengers were vaccinated and 95% of crew members. Carnival is reviewing CDC guidance but has not issued its decision on vaccination requirements for guests or for the crew. Crew members were vaccinated for COVID-19 onsite from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston during the Monday rally event.

Carnival is the only cruise line operator with three year-round ships based at the Port of Galveston. They carry about 750,000 passengers each year. The port has two terminals. One terminal is used solely by Carnival, the other is shared by Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. Carnival launched its first year-round cruise program from Galveston in 2000. The port is expanding, adding a new terminal, thanks to a deal between it and Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Construction will begin soon on a third terminal as part of a delayed deal between the Port of Galveston and Royal Caribbean Cruises, said Rodger Rees, CEO of the Port of Galveston. Royal Caribbean may decide to wait until cruises again set sail and revenue is flowing again to start construction, he said. Originally slated to be ready by later this year, Rees said the new terminal could be ready by late 2022.

Cruises account for around 65 percent of revenues for the port, Rees said; it lost $25 million in revenue last year and is on track to lose another $18 million this year, assuming cruises resume in July.

“What those numbers don’t indicate is the jobs that are not out there right now,” Rees said, noting it’s around 25,000 Texans without cruise-related jobs. “It’s a trickle down situation.”

The rally at the port was a win/win for both Galveston and Carnival Cruise Line. A message was sent that the industry is important to the community and the city is eager to welcome it back.

In a statement, Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said, “Cruising is so critical to the Galveston economy and today’s event clearly demonstrated our community’s desire that cruising return to bring much-needed visitors and jobs back to our community.”

“Today was yet another significant milestone in our efforts to resume cruising in the U.S.,” Carnival President Christine Duffy said in a statement. “We’ve said all along that we would like the cruise industry be given equal treatment of other travel and hospitality companies and this event sent a strong and unified message that we need to start sailing again.”

If we are ever going to get back to some level of normalcy, it’s time to bring the travel industry into recovery. Millions of people cruise each year.

Heather Luckey, a travel agent, told CNN she was brought to tears when she saw the ships arrive.

“It is a symbolic sign that travel is coming back,” she said. “We are on the cusp of a travel boom and I’m here for it!”

Another spectator at the port, Mike Welsch, told CNN there were several hundred people watching the ships make their way down the channel.
“It was great seeing them come back to Galveston,” Welsch said. “We can’t wait to get onboard one.”

It’s time for the next phase to begin. Trial cruises with relaxed pandemic mandates in place will allow crews and port personnel to practice new Covid-19 procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers. The two ships in the Port of Galveston now will receive maintenance and be ready to go when the approval comes.