Carnival Cruises is giving Carnival Magic a big sendoff in Galveston this week; partly to celebrate the fact that Caribbean cruising season is back, and because Magic is one of Carnival's biggest "Fun Ships."
The 3690-passenger ship arrived from Europe just last week after a 16-day trek directly from Europe where she was built and where see sailed a series of cruises out of Barcelona. Today she is embarking on her first 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean.
The cruise line celebrated the ship's arrival with a free concert by the hit band Maroon 5 on Sunday. The group is known for hits like "Moves Like Jagger," "This Love," "She Will Be Loved," "Wake Up Call" and "Makes Me Wonder." The name of the band is no reflection on the cruise line or the Antigua incident.
As a port, Galveston is riding a crest of popularity. In 2012, in addition to Carnival Magic, there are four different ships scheduled to sail from the port on a regular basis; Carnival Triumph, Crown Princess, Disney Magic and Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas.
While the biggest ship there is Mariner of the Seas (137,000-tons), Carnival Dream comes close at 130,000-tons. The ship has plenty of family-friendly activities like a 312-foot water slide; something called a "ropes course" where people cross an apparatus of boards suspended from ropes, and a very cool social networking computer network designed for onboard cruisers to stay in touch with each other called the "Fun-hub."
At the heart of Carnival Magic is the Ocean Plaza entertainment center with its Lanai outdoor seating with hot tubs. This area is the first outdoor area of size on a mainstream cruise ship at a level as low as the Promenade deck. It features live music, food and libations.
The ship is offering four, five, six and seven day cruises from the port.
The four-day cruise goes only to Cozumel, but it sails over the weekend so the price is higher than the five-day cruise. It starts at $319 per person or $479 for balcony cabins.
The five-day cruise sails to Progresso and Cozumel, Mexico. Prices on the web site start as low as $309 per person and just $459 balcony. Yes, prices are actually lower, but you have to take an entire week off from work.
The six-day New Year's Eve itinerary goes to Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progresso, all in the Yucatan of Mexico. Inside cabins start at $849 and verandahs are $1329. The eight-day Christmas cruise goes to Mahogany Bay (Roatan), Belize and Cozumel with insides starting at $869 and verandahs $1299.
The seven-day cruises go to Montego Bay (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. An alternative itinerary offers Mahogany Bay (Roatan), Belize and Cozumel. Seven-day eastern Caribbean cruises go to Key West, Freeport (Bahamas) and Nassau. Insides start at $579 and verandahs at $799.
All prices are per person, with taxes and other fees extra.
Why is Galveston so Popular?
Galveston and New Orleans are enjoying a renaissance in Caribbean cruise bookings in recent years. Voyager of the Seas is starting in New Orleans just this week as well. The ship was in Galveston but it was just replaced by sister ship Mariner of the Seas, which formerly sailed out of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the slightly smaller Carnival Conquest was sent from Galveston to New Orleans with Carnival Magic arrived.
Both ports are within close proximity to large residential areas, especially in Texas with Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Fort Worth all within a short driving distance to Galveston. While Southern Florida will likely remain as the heart of the cruise universe due to its proximity to more Caribbean islands, these other Gulf ports are benefitting from the strong economy in Texas and the attraction of New Orleans as a tourist destination.
Ironically, while Galveston has five ships coming to the port area which is within easy walking distance of the popular island Downtown district with its nightclubs and shopping, the nearby city of Houston recently built a $71-million cruise terminal in 2009 with hopes of attracting its own cruise ships but so far not one ship has agreed to use it.
Carnival helped to renovate the port of Galveston with a partial investment of $12.5-million to provide a new gangway. "We couldn't have done it without them," said the Galveston Port Director Steve Cernak.
That Galveston downtown district contains something the locals call "The Strand," – a series of restaurants and nightclubs along the waterfront. There is a museum dedicated to the Great Storm of 1900 – a category five hurricane that struck there back in the days before satellite technology made it possible to warn people days in advance. There were thousands of deaths and casualties; the island's buildings were almost completely destroyed. As a result the city built a permanent sea wall that has protected it from subsequent similar storms.
The island is also famous for its oil refinery business, as you may recall if you saw the movie "Urban Cowboy" which also featured the world's largest nightclub, Gilley's, formerly in nearby Pasadena, TX. If you were hoping for a visit to the nightclub when in Galveston, you should know it was relocated to the Dallas area in 2003.