In September 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed into the island, a Texas cruise hub, bringing 100-mile-per-hour winds and a storm surge up to 20 feet high. More than 75 percent of the island was damaged, and the cruise port was closed due to flooding in the cruise terminal and damage to the channel itself. Carnival Cruise Lines' Galveston-based ships, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Ecstasy, had to switch to Houston's brand-new, never-before-used Bayport Cruise Terminal.
Ships returned to Galveston in November 2008 for the first time since the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Like the well-known sweet shop, several local businesses still have some work to do -- but as we enter this year's hurricane season, the port and the town are back in a big way.
The Port of Galveston reopened on November 1, 2008 to cruise traffic and was one of the first tourist facilities up-and-running on the island. Carnival Conquest continues its year-round, seven-night Western Caribbean cruises and Carnival Ecstasy its year-round, four- and five-night Western Caribbean cruises. Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas offered seven-night Western Caribbean cruises through April of this year and will return in December. (The ship alternates between the Caribbean and Europe.) All told, 149 cruises are expected to depart from Galveston in 2009.
The Port has two cruise terminals, and Mike Mierzwa, deputy port director, tells us that the first floors of each of the terminal buildings were completely renovated after Hurricane Ike. The result is improved passenger flow, especially during debarkation. Additional customs inspection booths have been added and the port has streamlined procedures for getting passengers through customs. Debarkation now typically finishes by 10 or 10:30 a.m., well before arriving passengers show up to board the ships for the next sailing.
A spokeswoman for Galveston's Convention & Visitors Bureau tells us that the island is 90 percent back to normal. For those pre- or post-cruise stays, all major hotels are open, with the exception of three small properties: the Ramada Inn, the Flagship Hotel and the Sandpiper Motel. A new Holiday Inn Express opened in May, and a Country Inn and Suites is scheduled to open later this year.
The downtown area was hit the hardest by the storm and is only 75 percent restored. Visitors may notice that some shops are still closed, but new businesses and restaurants, such as the Gumbo Bar and fine-dining establishment 901 Postoffice, have been added. Downtown and tourist areas have been completely cleared of debris from the storm, though some residential areas still show signs of recovery construction. Due to a renourishment project, Galveston's beaches are looking better than ever.
Want to see for yourself how Galveston is looking these days? Check out the Web cams, including coverage of the cruise port, at Galveston.com. And stay tuned for an updated port profile here on Cruise Critic, coming soon.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor