Houston has long served as the air hub for cruises departing out of Galveston, which lies on the coast about an hour away. The charming and picturesque city offered terrific opportunities for pre- and post-cruise shopping and mini-breaks.
Alas, the tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Ike means that Galveston will be off limits in the near future. And while we're working quickly to provide a port profile on Houston itself, we thought we'd offer a few tips about cruising out of Houston's Bayport Cruise Terminal.
Bayport is located on the southeast side of Houston at 4700 Cruise Road in Pasadena, Texas. It's not right in the city but is located about halfway between Houston and Galveston, on the western shores of Galveston Bay. This dedicated cruise terminal was only recently completed, and it's so brand-new that Carnival Conquest and Ecstasy will be the first ships to call there! Expect a state-of-the-art facility with onsite parking for 800 vehicles. Parking rates are $10 per day. Only cash payments will be accepted September 18 - 21, with credit cards also accepted as of September 22. For directions, search for Houston Cruise Terminal or Bayport Cruise Terminal on Mapquest.com.
Houston has two airports: George Bush Intercontinental Airport handles domestic and international flights, while William P. Hobby Airport is North America-only. George Bush Intercontinental is farther from the port facility; plan on about an hour's drive between the two (a cab will cost somewhere around $80 - $100 depending on traffic). Hobby, at 27 miles away, is somewhat closer; cabs could run $40 - $60. Neither airport offers bus transportation. Carnival and the port are working together to provide taxi and shuttle service to and from the port. A temporary system will be in place by September 18, with full embarkation services available by September 20.
Arriving a few days early? Discovery Green Conservancy, Houston's newest attraction, is a 12-acre park in the heart of downtown. Features include a water park, lake, amphitheater and restaurants. Other key sights to see include: The Space Center Houston, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, Downtown Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Children's museum, George Ranch and The Health Museum. Most are easily accessible via the city's light rail system. If you're planning to visit most of the major attractions, you can buy a Citypass ($34 for adults, $24 for kids). Go to www.visitHoustonTexas.com for more.
Wondering where to stay? Families should check out the Inn at the Ballpark downtown and, uptown (near the massive Galleria Houston shopping mall) try the resort-like Omni Houston Hotel; it's got family suites in which the kids' room connects to the parents' and is decorated (and outfitted) to the more whimsical standards of children.
For couples, good options include the Hotel Icon, downtown; it's a classic. Uptown, the Houstonian is beloved for its fantastic spa and dining.
Hipsters should check out the trendy Za Za in Houston's Museum district.
Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for more information on cruising out of Houston -- and we'll keep you posted on Galveston as well.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief