Not that long ago, Galveston was a side note when it came to cruising. Today, the port is a powerhouse.
The Port of Galveston is now the busiest cruise port outside of Florida. It is home to two terminals (with a third on the way) and features year-round cruises from both Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
While no one would confuse a port like Miami with the Port of Galveston, there is a lot going on at the terminals on cruise day with thousands of passengers coming and going. If you aren’t familiar with the port, there’s a lot that you may not realize or ways that you can better prepare for sailing from the island.
From saving money to saving time, to simply what to expect, here are a dozen things to know before you take a cruise from Galveston Island.
(For more on sailing from the port, see our complete guide to the Port of Galveston.)
Prepare For a Commute to Your Cruise Ship
With millions in the Houston and Galveston area, many people within driving distance of the port sail from the island. Still, for those who fly into the area, it can be a surprise at the distance from the airports in Houston to the Port of Galveston.
Galveston doesn’t have a commercial airport, meaning passengers must fly into Houston. The city has two airports — Hobby and Bush Intercontinental. Houston-Hobby is the closer of the two at about 45 minutes from the Galveston cruise port. Bush Intercontinental is about 75 minutes away from the cruise ships.
Be prepared to factor in this commute time to your trip.
Fly into Houston-Hobby If Possible
With two major airports, you might be wondering which to use to get to Galveston. In general we recommend people fly into Hobby instead of Bush Intercontinental.
Having flown from both, Houston-Hobby is much more manageable to navigate. It is served primarily by Southwest Airlines, and features fewer gates and sprawl than the Intercontinental airport.
But the biggest reason to suggest Hobby over Bush is that it is much closer to Galveston. Houston-Hobby is on the southeast side of town, closest to the island. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the ships.
Bush-Intercontinental is on the north side of town, meaning you have to drive across the entire city to get to the cruise terminal. It will take you about 75 minutes to get to the port. Of course, if you arrive during rush hour, the trip to the port would take even longer.
Use Uber/Lyft or a Shuttle Service to Get to the Port
One of the biggest questions passengers have is how to get between the airport in Houston and the cruise port in Galveston. We’d suggest one of two ways to get from point to point.
First, you can take an Uber or Lyft. Both services will pick you up at the airport and take you to the cruise port or your hotel. Expect it to cost about $85 to go from Bush-Intercontinental to the cruise port. Trips from Houston-Hobby cost about $50. Keep in mind this is the cost per car, not per person.
The other option is to take a shared shuttle. A number of companies have sprouted up that specialize in rides between the airports and the cruise port (or hotels). You can normally find a ride for about $30-40 per person from Bush-Intercontinental or $20-30 per person from Hobby, each way.
For more details on each option, see our port transportation page here.
Driving to the Port? Park Off-Site to Save
One advantage of sailing from Galveston is that there are a number of independent lots right near the cruise terminals. This competition keeps prices down. While some ports can charge more than $20 per day for parking, the official port parking in Galveston is less than $13 per day.
Even better, independent lots right near the ships can save you even more money. There are some lots that charge less than $10 per day, saving you even more.
For more details, see our page on Galveston cruise parking. There, we have all the details, including your options and prices.
Staying in a Hotel? Look for One With Cruise Parking
If you want to save even more on cruise parking, then look for a hotel with cruise parking. As a perk to entice passengers to stay at their hotel the night before, many places in Galveston offer free or discounted parking while you cruise.
This perk isn’t worth booking a hotel room if you hadn’t already planned on it. But if you were going to stay somewhere the night before you sail, then definitely look at a hotel with a cruise parking offer.
You can see a full list of Galveston hotels with cruise parking here.
Prepare for Fog Delays in the Winter Months
Because of where the Port of Galveston sits, it is the perfect spot to have troubles with fog during the winter.
It’s not every day, but many many times during the season fog descends on the area and makes it all but impossible for the cruise ships to navigate safely. Due to the fog, many trips each year get delayed.
When these ships are delayed, it can take hours until they are able to get underway as they can’t do anything but wait for the fog to lift. This means it’s relatively common for trips to have to be cut short or have their itineraries adjusted.
Put simply, there’s nothing you or the cruise line can do about fog. Just know that it’s a possibility if you sail during the winter.
Drink Packages Don’t Work the First Day on Carnival
Sailing on Carnival and bought a drink package? At most ports they are able to be used the moment you step on board. In Galveston, however, they aren’t activated until 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
This is due to Texas rules surrounding “all you can drink” packages, which aren’t allowed in the state. To stay clear of the law, Carnival won’t allow you to use the package until the ship is well out of Texas waters the next day.
If you want to drink on the first day of your trip on Carnival, you have to pay out of pocket. (Don’t worry, you aren’t charged for the drink package on the first day since you can’t use it.)
You’ll Have a Limited Drink Menu the First Day
Rules surrounding drink packages aren’t the only ones while the ships are in Texas waters. Cruise lines aren’t allowed to serve liquor on the ship in Texas unless it’s been bought from a dealer with a local distributor’s permit.
So if the cruise line normally buys its liquor from another source (like an out-of-state vendor), then it can’t be served in Texas waters.
Because of this, the cruise lines still serve drinks, but the menu is much more limited until the cruise ship gets 12 miles offshore. So you’ll be able to get a beer or cocktail, but it might not be the exact brand you wanted until you leave Texas waters.
Board Later If Possible
Currently there are two cruise terminals in Galveston (with a third on the way). Terminals 1 and 2 sit right next to each other, right along a busy street and the Strand area of Galveston. On cruise day, things can get pretty busy.
While it’s not impossible to get to the cruise terminal at any time, it is definitely much easier if you plan to board later in the day.
Right when the boarding window opens many people try to be there to get on the ship. That not only leads to more traffic and a busy area around the ship, but it’s also busier in the terminal.
While the wait won’t be too long, it can still take some time to get through security and be checked-in to board your ship. Instead, if you show up later after the initial crowds have died down, you can get to the terminal easily and it will only take minutes to get checked-in.
Save Money By Parking… and Walking
If you use an independent parking lot like we suggest, you can save even more by walking to the cruise port.
Independent lots all run shuttles to take you from their lot to the cruise terminal. But the port charges these shuttles for access. Some lots like EZ Cruise Parking offer discounted rates if you instead park and walk to the cruise port. It’s a short walk (about 5 minutes) and can save you about $15 off a week’s parking.
For more details, see our Galveston cruise parking page.
Schedule Your Flight for Later in the Day
Flying back home after your cruise? We suggest booking your flight no earlier than noon on the day your cruise gets back if you are flying out of Houston-Hobby. We suggest no earlier than 1 p.m. if flying out of Bush-Intercontinental.
Remember, just because your ship arrives back at the port at 7:00 a.m. doesn’t mean you can just walk right off. It can take 2-3 hours to get everyone off the ship as passengers have to go through customs.
From there, it will take time to get your ride and make it to the airport, where you also have to go through security lines.
Ideally, a flight at 12 p.m. / 1 p.m. (depending on your airport) should leave you enough time, but it doesn’t hurt to depart a little later than that even.
Spend Some Time on the Island
Many people think of Galveston as a spot to depart for their cruise, but it has a lot to offer. The island is a tourist mecca in Texas. It features all sorts of things to do from Moody Gardens with its famous rainforest pyramid to the Schlitterbahan waterpark, historic mansions, the beach, museums, resorts, and more.
Visiting the island can be a vacation all by itself and there is so much to see and do. We suggest treating your stop in Galveston as another port of call and spend some time exploring the island. It’s the perfect location to spend a long weekend before or after your cruise.