They say everything is bigger in Texas. And while the cruise port in Galveston may not be the biggest (that title goes to Miami), cruising from the island seems to get bigger every season. With only two cruise terminals, a staggering one million passengers call on Galveston in a year.
One of the big reasons for that popularity? Passengers sailing from Galveston usually don’t have far to go to get to the cruise port and head out on vacation. The Houston area — home to about 8 million people — is just about an hour away. Meanwhile, other large Texas cities including San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin are only a few hours drive.
That proximity to so many people makes it easy to see why Galveston has blossomed into the largest cruise port outside of Florida.
The good news is that with only two terminals and ample parking facilities, it’s fairly simple to get your way around the Port of Galveston. However, many people — especially those flying in for their cruise who are unfamiliar with the area — may have questions about what to expect.
If you’re about to cruise from Galveston, we have this guide to answer everything you would want to know about sailing from the port.
In This Article...
- Distance from Bush-Intercontinental Airport: 75 miles | 75 minutes
- Distance from Houston-Hobby Airport: 45 miles | 50 minutes
- Number of Terminals: 2 (with a third being built)
- Passengers Carried Each Year: ~1 million
- Cruise Ship Dockings Each Year: ~300
Port of Galveston Location
Galveston Island sits as a barrier island just off of Texas, attached to the mainland by Interstate 45. If you’re coming from the Houston area, you’ll approach over a short causeway that will bring you just a few miles from the port. Those coming from the east normally take the free ferry between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.
The port itself sits on the northern side of the island, protected from the Gulf of Mexico. Its location makes it a convenient spot to set sail as it only takes 30-45 minutes for the ships to get out to the open water.
What’s not convenient is that the port sits at least 45 minutes from the nearest major airport (Houston Hobby). In other words, if you are flying in for your cruise, then you will need to figure out transportation to the ship (we have full details below.)
Given the location, many people choose to drive in for their cruise. If driving into the port, the address is:
2502 Harborside Dr.
Galveston, TX 77550
Things to Do Near the Port
Galveston is a Texas tourist hotspot as it offers a lot to do and a completely different atmosphere than the rest of the state. The island isn’t that large and has a lot to do within just a few minutes of the cruise ship.
Jutting out into the water at the site of the old Flagship Hotel, the Pleasure Pier is a 1,000 foot long amusement park. On the pier you’ll find food, shops, rides, and even a roller coaster. Tickets cost about $30 ($20 for those under 48 inches tall), but it’s a great way to spend the day (or evening) if you are traveling with a family.
Galveston to Bolivar Ferry
While there is only one main road on/off Galveston (Interstate 45), there is a free ferry that runs back and forth between the Bolivar Peninsula and the island. The ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but the line can be backed up during the busy summer months. If you’d like to ride, simply park in the lot next to the ferry and walk aboard instead of driving. It will save you lots of time waiting for the boat. The ferry ride takes about 15 minutes each way.
The famous Texas waterpark with several locations around the state has a park in Galveston. Here you can relax on a lazy river, get extreme on tons of different slides, and even surf a standing wave. There are also a number of options for all ages so whether you have a toddler or a teenager, they will find a lot to do at Schlitterbahn Galveston.
If coming in from Houston, you’ll see three large pyramids on Galveston as you cross the causeway. This is Moody Gardens. It features a rainforest pyramid and aquarium, as well as other attractions that are all family friendly. (Read our review of Moody Gardens here.)
Galveston Cruise Terminals
While ports in Florida may as well be cities they are so large, Galveston in comparison is much smaller and easier to navigate. Currently there are two terminals at the port. A third cruise terminal is in the works, which is slated to be home to Royal Caribbean’s largest ships.
Cruise Terminal 1
Cruise Terminal 1 is the eastern terminal when facing the port (on your right). The terminal primarily serves Carnival ships. The good news is that with only two terminals, you simply walk toward your ship. There isn’t a big port to navigate like in some other places. It’s right across the street from a number of parking options, making it extremely convenient to get to and from the ship on cruise day.
Cruise Terminal 2
Cruise Terminal 2 is the current home to Royal Caribbean ships. It’s on your left as you face the port. If you’re walking to the terminal, it’s a bit farther than Terminal 1, but if you are taking a shuttle, they will drop you off right at the entrance.
Cruise Terminal 3 (Future Terminal)
With the size and growth of the Port of Galveston, it was only a matter of time until another terminal was built to accommodate more ships and passengers. Cruise Terminal 3 is slated to be home to Royal Caribbean and have the ability to handle its largest ships. The terminal will be east of the current facilities.
Hotels Near the Port of Galveston
The bad news? There aren’t a ton of hotels right at the port (but there are a few). The good news? Galveston isn’t that large, so in reality every hotel is just a few minutes away.
The island has a wide variety of places to stay, from historic hotels like Hotel Galvez to modern-day hotel chains that are abundant on Galveston. There are also a few resorts with large pools, restaurants and more. No matter your budget of what you’re looking for, Galveston has something to fit your needs relatively close to the port.
Most Galveston hotels are along the Seawall. After the hurricane of 1900, the entire island was built up, with a protective barrier along the island facing the Gulf of Mexico. Today the main boulevard on the island runs along the Seawall, and hotels next to it offer unfettered views.
There are also hotels on the mainland, just 15-20 minutes from the island. While these don’t offer the views or atmosphere of staying in Galveston, they can be affordable and convenient as they are on the way from Houston.
Galveston Hotels With High Ratings
- Courtyard Galveston Island
- Baymont by Wyndham
- Comfort Suites Galveston
- The Villa Bed & Breakfast
- Hotel Galvez
One thing to know is that a number of hotels in the area offer parking at their hotel while you cruise. So stay a night, and you can leave your car there for little or no cost. If you’re driving into the port, it’s hard to beat this deal. Click here to see our list of Galveston hotels with cruise parking.
Getting to the Port of Galveston (Transportation)
As we’ve mentioned, sailing from Galveston is easy and convenient if you live in the area. If you have to fly in for your cruise, then you’re looking at another 45 to 75-minute ride to get to the cruise port. That’s because the nearest major airports are in Houston.
Not to worry, however. We have all the details on the major modes of transportation on our port transportation page. Below we hit the highlights of the major ways to get to the ships.
Driving to the Port
One of the reasons that Galveston is such a popular cruise port is that millions live within a few hours drive of the port. That makes it convenient to get to the cruise port and not having to deal with airports or flying. As well, having your car means you can get to the port when you want, leave as soon as you get off the ship, and not have to meet anyone else’s schedule.
One good thing about driving to Galveston is that there is ample parking right near the port that’s extremely affordable. See details in the parking section below.
Given the distance between Houston and Galveston, an industry of shuttles have popped up that provide rides from the airport to the cruise port. Typically these shuttles offer shared rides at affordable rates and leave at set times from both locations. There are also private car options available that can give you a ride for a bit more money, but offer direct service and can even make any stops you’d like.
For cruisers flying in, shuttles pick up and drop off at both airports. You can see the details of your options here. Costs run about $50-75 per person, roundtrip.
Uber/Lyft or Taxi
Rideshares and taxis are available at the airports to take you to the port. In general, you can expect Uber/Lyft to be less expensive than taxi cabs. Still, given the distance from the airport, the price can add up. For example, Uber/Lyft will cost you about $45 each way from Houston Hobby and $75 each way from Houston Intercontinental.
If traveling with a larger group, then these options can be cheaper as they charge by the car while shuttles charge per person.
Parking at the Port of Galveston
One of the best things about cruising from Galveston is that parking is easy, cheap, and convenient. The area around the port offers ample parking, with official Port of Galveston parking lots competing alongside independent lots.
We have all your parking options with complete prices here. Below we cover parking for your cruise in general terms. One tip — always reserve a spot ahead of time as there are discounts at each lot for advance payment.
Official Port Parking
The Port of Galveston operates ample parking that’s near the cruise terminals. A shuttle will transport you back and forth from your car and the ship for free. Rates run about $100 for a 7-day cruise and $70 for a 5-day cruise if you book ahead of time. The port accepts cash, traveler’s checks and credit cards. There is also covered parking available.
Independent Parking Lots
As the Port of Galveston has boomed in popularity, nearly a dozen independent parking lots have sprouted up all around the port facility. These lots typically offer cheaper rates than the official port parking, while sometimes being even closer than the port’s parking. There are also a number of options for covered parking. Prices start as low as $60 for a five-day cruise or $70 for a 7-day trip.
Hotels with Cruise Parking
As a tourist destination, Galveston offers a lot of hotels for visitors to choose. In the competition for business, these hotels look to provide guest with perks to attract those about to take a cruise. One popular perk is free parking for the length of your cruise in return for a one-night stay. Some offer cruise parking as part of a package, others just let you leave your car while you cruise. Click here for a full list of hotels with cruise parking.
Dropping Off/ Picking Up Passengers
Are you dropping off or picking up family or friends? The good news is that it’s fairly simple to drop people off in Galveston. Meanwhile, providing a ride to the port saves a lot of money in paying for a shuttle or having to park during the cruise.
To drop off passengers or pick up, head into the port entrance at the intersection of 22nd Street and Harborside Drive. From there, it’s as simple as following the signs to the correct area for passengers to get out.
When it’s time to pick up people at the end of the cruise, you follow the same route for picking up. One thing to know is that it can get busy on cruise day, with lots of pedestrians. If you want to avoid this, you can plan to drop off a couple of blocks from the port. Here it is much calmer and still only a short walk to the cruise terminals.
Security & Check-In
Compared to airports, checking-in and security on a cruise ship is a dream.
For example, instead of the familiar blue-shirted TSA officers, security is done through private companies. You don’t have to take off your shoes or belt, you aren’t restricted to only three ounces of liquids, and you don’t have to take electronics out of your bag.
As you approach the terminal, you’ll see lots of porters ready to assist you with your bags. If you wish to check any luggage, you can leave it with the porters, and it will be delivered to your stateroom later in the evening.
From there, you enter the terminal and check your boarding documents with the cruise staff. Once they ensure you’re in the right spot, you’ll head through security. Here, you place your bags on an x-ray machine and you will walk through a metal detector. Assuming everything checks out, you’ll then head to the check-in station.
We all know that waiting in line to check-in for a flight is mind-numbing. On a cruise, it takes just a couple of minutes. You’ll see dozens of check-in agents working with passengers. Once you are called for your turn, you’ll set up your onboard spending account, get your room keycard and then board the ship.
In total, the security and check-in process shouldn’t take more than about 15-20 minutes. Then you’re ready to start your vacation.
If you think people are excited to get on the cruise ship, then wait until the ship gets back home. Despite having a great time on the cruise, people are ready to get off the ship. Unfortunately, it can take some time.
The debarkation process actually starts the night before your cruise ends. At that time you will set any large bags you don’t want to carry with you off the ship in the hallway outside your cabin. The crew will pick the bags and they will be transported to the terminal for you to pick up after debarking the ship.
Many people instead choose to carry all their luggage with them as they get off the ship. The advantage is that those carrying all their bags are allowed to debark first. Unfortunately, so many people choose this option that it can cause long lines and still take considerable time to exit.
Once off the ship, you’ll make your way through the terminal and pick up any luggage you set outside your cabin. You’ll then go through customs and immigration to legally enter back into the United States. One thing to note is that Galveston has moved to facial recognition, meaning you simply take a photo that’s verified instead of having to meet with an agent (if you have a passport). This makes the process of getting off the ship much faster.
After immigration, there is one last spot to visit that’s unique to Galveston. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) collects fees for the alcohol and tobacco that you bring back into the country. If bringing these items, you’ll need to stop and pay the duty to TABC to legally bring your items back home.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Time Should I Schedule My Flight Home?
We suggest people don’t schedule a flight before noon if flying from Houston Hobby and 1 p.m. if flying from Bush-Intercontinental. Cruise ships arrive early (around 6-7 a.m.), but it can take 2-3 hours for everyone to get off the ship. Then there is the time to get to the airport, going through security, etc. Leaving plenty of time before your flight will help you from feeling rushed to get to the airport.
For instance, we recently sailed from Galveston and weather made us arrive late (9 a.m.) to the port. Then it took another hour before people started to get off the ship. We weren’t out of the terminal until close to 11 a.m.
Are There Cruise Parking Discounts?
Yes, there are some discounts we’ve heard about and detailed here.
One thing we know is the EZ Cruise Parking offers a sharp discount of $15 off of a week’s cruise parking if you choose to park and walk to the cruise port. Because of access fees that the Port of Galveston charges parking lots to drop off passengers, the parking lots save money if they don’t have to provide shuttle service.
What’s the Cheapest Way to Get to the Port?
If you need a ride to the cruise port, then we suggest Uber/Lyft or an independent shuttle for most people (not the shuttles operated by the cruise line). Cruise shuttles offer roundtrip rides between the airports and the cruise terminal for as little as $40 per person. You can read more and get all the details on our Galveston port transportation page.