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UPDATED 23September 2020

Construction of Royal Caribbean's Cruise Terminal 3 is now planned to begin on April 1, 2021, and the Port of Galveston is continuing their ongoing design and construction work to prepare for Royal Caribbean's construction of the new terminal.  At the request of Royal Caribbean, the construction of Cruise Terminal 3 was delayed by one year. Allure of the Seas was scheduled to sail from Galveston beginning 10 Nov 2021 but will move to Fort Lauderdale instead.  Liberty of the Seas will remain in Galveston for the foreseeable future. 

Galveston is the fourth busiest cruise port in the USA and the 11th busiest in the world. Royal Caribbean is not alone in expanding operations in Galveston because Carnival will expand its Galveston fleet to four full-time ships in 2021.

Cruise ships calling Galveston their home port include:

  • Liberty of the Seas - 154,407 GT - 3,648 Passengers - 7 night sailings (Amplification postponed to a future date)
  • Jewel of the Seas - 90,090 GT - 2,191 Passengers - 7-11 night sailings (Arrives from Rome 11 Dec 2020, repositions to Barcelona then Amsterdam 22 Mar 2021)
  • Adventure of the Seas - 137,276 GT - 3,114 Passengers - 4-5 night sailings (Repositions to Copenhagen then Barcelona 21 Apr 2021. Returns to Galveston 13 Nov 2021.)
  • Explorer of the Seas - 137,308 GT - 3,286 Passengers - 4-5 night sailings (Arrives 5 May 2021. Repositions to Miami 25 Oct 2021.)
  • Carnival Vista - 133,500 GT - 3,934 Passengers
  • Carnival Dream - 130,000 GT - 3,646 Passengers
  • Carnival Freedom - 110,000 GT - 2,980 Passengers
  • Carnival Radiance (Formerly Carnival Victory) - 101,500 GT - 2,984 Passengers (Arrives 14 May 2021)
  • Disney Wonder - Nov/Dec/Jan holiday sailings each year

Cruise Terminal 1, which serves mainly Carnival, is the largest single-berth cruise facility in the world at over 257,000 square feet.  Cruise Terminal 2 which currently serves Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Disney, was expanded in 2017 to accommodate larger cruise ships.

Planning & Tourist Info

You can't beat this website for information on everything that is happening in Galveston: www.galveston.com

Transportation

Fly into HOU (Houston Hobby Airport) if you can. It's much closer to Galveston than IAH (Bush Intercontinental Airport) and you won't have the Houston traffic to deal with. Tip: HOU is a large hub for Southwest Airlines. They often don't show up on the travel booking sites so you need to book at www.southwest.com. You can't beat their "bags fly free" policy and "no change fees".

Here are some options for getting to Galveston from the airport:

  • Galveston Limo - provides very affordable shared rides from the two Houston airports with either their scheduled service (8 trips per day) or you can arrange a private car. Currently the pricing for the scheduled service from Hobby Airport to Galveston is $25/person one way if you book online. Owned by a local family of good folks.
  • Galveston Express - Their pricing starts at $30/person each way. 
  • Lyft and Uber - Lyft and Uber now operate in Galveston.  Lyft has a contract with the Port of Galveston to bring passengers to and from the cruise terminals.  Uber has chosen not to sign a contract with the Port, but can still operate in other areas of Galveston.
  • Enterprise Rent A Car - Enterprise is the only rental car company on the island. You should be able to rent from Enterprise at the airport and drop it off on the Island. The Island location is open on Saturday and Sunday from 8 am until 1 pm, so you can drop off on the weekends as well as week days.

Arriving By Car

I-45 is undergoing several phases of construction that will continue through 2022 and beyond. TxDOT is widening I-45 all the way to Galveston Island.

I-45 south ends on Galveston Island. When arriving on the island, if you turn off at the "Cruise Terminal" exit (Harborside Drive) you will hit a traffic back-up as you approach the cruise terminals. To avoid this traffic jam, as you drive down I-45 and arrive on the Island, continue straight on Broadway as the interstate ends and follow these directions:

Continue straight on Broadway as the interstate ends. Continue to 23rd street and turn left. Follow 23rd and it will dead end at the entrance to the cruise terminals. This route will avoid the lengthy backup on Harborside Drive. As you enter the Cruise Terminal area, stay to the left to bypass the Carnival Cruise drop-off area, then you will see your Royal Caribbean ship at Terminal 2. Drop your luggage with the porters, and then proceed to your parking location.  It is highly recommended that you drop your luggage at the terminal before parking. This prevents you from lugging all of those suitcases on and off of a shuttle bus.

Parking

Matt points out elsewhere on the message boards that if you just Google "Galveston cruise parking" you will see several parking options. I highly recommend researching on Google and then making a reservation on line with one of the parking companies, especially if you want an indoor or covered space as these sell out (especially now, with so many ships sailing from Galveston). Prepaying usually gets you about a 10% discount and a guaranteed parking space.

  • Port Parking has several locations with indoor, outdoor, and indoor park & walk in historic industrial buildings. Located a few blocks from the terminal, they have shuttle busses to get you to the port, and they also have an indoor park & walk option.  They also have electric vehicle chargers, including Tesla destination chargers.  This has become my preferred parking choice due to the great service and plenty of electric vehicle chargers.  I am personal friends with one of the partners in this venture and they are good folks who own other local businesses.
  • The closest indoor option is also walkable to the ship: Galveston Park N Cruise. I have used them several times and they are very nice and helpful people. You can drop your bags and family at the pier and then go park your car and walk back to the ship.
  • You can prepay for "official" Port of Galveston parking and receive a discount. The Port of Galveston offers covered, uncovered, and garage parking. 

I have parked at (or driven past) all of the private lots and the "official" lot and they are all fenced and gated. Some may be a little nicer than others but I would have no hesitation using any of them. Prices vary based on distance from the ship and whether the spaces are open, covered, or indoor. They are all only a short shuttle ride to the ship and some are walkable. Many of the private lots that provide shuttles now offer a discounted rate if you "park and walk" instead of riding the shuttle.  We have done this a couple of times and enjoy walking a few blocks to the ship after dropping off our bags at the pier (if it's not too hot, humid, or raining of course).

Hotels

There are a couple of hotels near the port and the historic Strand District in Galveston. It's a great idea to arrive a day or two early and enjoy the island ambiance.

  • The Harbor House is very convenient to the ship and to many nice restaurants, museums, and shopping.
  • The Tremont House is also very walkable to the Strand, the Port and nice restaurants, museums, and shopping. This is my preferred pre-cruise hotel. They offer cruise parking (for a fee) which includes shuttle service to the ships at their sister property, the Hotel Galvez, when you stay at least one night at either hotel (call to confirm details). The Tremont House is located in a beautiful historic building. The Tremont's rooftop bar has wonderful views of the island and port area. The lobby bar has live jazz on most Friday and Saturday nights. You may be able to get a nice rate on priceline.com using the Name Your Own Price tool (select "Galveston East - Harbor" and choose 4-Stars... there's only one hotel and you can name your own price until you get an acceptable offer).
  • There are plenty of other hotels on the Island, many along the Seawall facing the Gulf of Mexico.  Some provide transportation to the port or offer park & cruise options.  Call the hotel that you are interested in to confirm that they provide cruise parking.

Galveston has a wide range of hotel prices depending on day of week (weekends obviously much higher), whether there are major events happening, and the season (summer is the busy season here). Booking hotels during Mardi Gras (February), Lone Star Biker Rally (early November), Art Walk (every 6 weeks) and other major events will be much more expensive. Some hotels have a 2 night minimum on weekends.

Galveston Dining (And A Few Drinking Establishments)

Please avoid the tourist traps and chain restaurants that will leave you disappointed. Eat at these locally owned restaurants that use locally sourced, fresh food, including fresh Gulf seafood right from the docks in Galveston. All restaurants are casual dress unless noted, and all are family friendly (even most of the bars). Many serve craft beer on tap from Galveston Island Brewing. My only connection to these places is that I have personally eaten at them multiple times and I love them all!

Rudy and Paco - 2028 Post Office St (21st and Post Office) - Arguably the best restaurant on the island. Wonderful food with a South and Central American flair. Best service on the island. A little expensive but worth it. We like going for lunch because it's very affordable (lunch served weekdays only). No shorts allowed at dinner. Reservations suggested and are a must on weekends or when The 1890 Grand Theater has an event.

Riondo's Ristorante - 2328 Strand (24th and Strand) - Our favorite Italian restaurant on the island, and they also serve great seafood and steak. Beautiful historic building built in 1895 in the Strand Historic District. "Farm to Fork" sourcing and they make their own pasta.  Tell them you "want a table in the vault."

NEW! Katie's Seafood House - 2000 Wharf Road (On the water, adjacent to the Port of Galveston) - This new restaurant opened in mid-2019 and is the only restaurant in Galveston that catches their own seafood! Great food, good service, and a wonderful view of the Port of Galveston from their covered outdoor deck. 

Cafe at the Tremont House - 2300 Ships Mechanic Row (Mechanic Street) - Beautiful historic hotel built in 1879 near the Strand Historic District. Enter the main entrance, up a few stairs, and the cafe is just off the lobby to the right. Nice salads, flatbread pizzas, Panini served in a casual atmosphere. Most weekend evenings there is live jazz in the lobby, which is why we go here (in addition to the good food and casual, historic atmosphere). There is a beautiful bar at the opposite end of the lobby with several Galveston Brewing options on tap. Before or after dinner, take the elevator to the top floor, turn left, and walk to the end of the hall to the rooftop bar to cap off the experience.

Eatcetera - 408 25th Street - Lunch only (until 3 pm, closed Sunday). Gourmet sandwiches, salads, soups, Panini. Vegan and gluten free options available.

Brews Brothers Brew Pub - 2404 Strand - Huge craft beer selection, creative American bar food. Very casual. You wouldn't expect it for a bar, but the food here is excellent. Burgers (try the "Mission From God"), fresh made chips (try them with Buffalo Sauce & Bleu Cheese), local fish tacos, salads, etc. 

NEW! Texas Tail Distillery - 4116 Seawall (Moving to 2416 Post Office in November 2020) - On-site distillery for whiskey, moonshine, and vodka. Try the honey whiskey and other infusions.  Friendly staff, fun place to try crafted drinks with local liquor, or try them all with a flight of shots! No food on site, but they will order tacos from the highly-rated Mr. Taco next door.  The building on Seawall has no curb appeal but the inside is nicely finished out with a view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Blvd. Seafood - 28th and Seawall - One of the best seafood restaurants on the island. There isn't a lot of curb appeal outside but the inside is very nice. The food and service are both quite good and the seafood is all local. The red snapper is amazing and always comes fresh from Katie's Seafood Market.

Grotto Italian - 5222 Seawall (In the San Luis Resort) - Classic Italian restaurant featuring delicious veal, chicken, seafood, pizza, and house made pastas. This one breaks my rule of avoiding the Landrys restaurant chain, but we tried it again in February 2020 and are convinced it's a great option.

Blake's Bistro - 5222 Seawall (In the San Luis Resort) - Great burgers, gumbo, seafood.  Overlooks the resort pool and the Gulf of Mexico.  This one breaks my rule of avoiding the Landrys restaurant chain, but we gave it several tries in February 2020 and added it to the list.

NEW! The Cove Poolside Bar - 5222 Seawall (In the San Luis Resort) - Beautiful outdoor poolside bar with a swim-up bar too, all overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  The pool is heated so expect swimmers even in cool weather.  Great place to people watch and enjoy a drink with one of the most picturesque views of the Gulf of Mexico on the island.

Gypsy Joynt - 2711 Market Street - Funky family-run spot with great comfort food.  Excellent pizza, burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc. Breads/buns baked fresh multiple times per day.  Casual, funky atmosphere. A little off the beaten path but definitely one of my favorite casual places for lunch or dinner.

Maceo's Spice & Import Company - 2706 Market Street - Excellent muffaletta's, sandwiches.  Simple menu to eat in or carry out in this little spice shop across the street from Gypsy Joynt.

Hey Mikey's Ice Cream - 2120 Post Office Street - Ice cream is made in the store. Unique treats like Ice Cream Nachos (share with a friend) and traditional favorites. You gotta' go here! Note: this place is owned by a nice island family.  It is sometimes closed over the winter holidays.

Mod Coffeehouse - 2126 Post Office Street - comfortable with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Live music many weekend evenings. Coffee, tea, espresso, latte, home baked goods.

Jimmy's On The Pier - 9001 Seawall - On the 2nd story above the fishing pier (enter the souvenir shop, exit to the left, and up the stairs). Very casual with great views of the seawall and Gulf. Owner has their own farm and livestock for a true "farm to table" concept; other items locally sourced. Fish tacos, burgers, seafood, local beer, full bar, etc. 

Mama Teresa's Flying Pizza and Italian - 416 21st Street - This is the place for pizza. They also have nice Italian dishes. Convenient to the Post Office Street Arts District for a nice after-dinner stroll.

Embarkation Experience

The terminal is open at 9:30 am for check-in. We have dropped off our bags with the porters as early as 8:40 am. First you go through security (there are two lines: one for suites and upper level Crown & Anchor members, and one line for everybody else.  After going through security there is a large check-in area with plenty of lines and agents with iPads to quickly check you in. 

The waiting area includes clearly marked areas by Crown & Anchor status level. Boarding commences around 11:00 am (depending on when the ship is ready to accept guests) starting with Pinnacle Crown and Anchor members, then working their way down to Diamond Plus, Diamond, etc.

Disembarkation Experience

Self-assist disembarkation has become so popular that the lines to get off the ship for self-assist are very long!  You may want to relax and have breakfast in the Main Dining Room and disembark the ship in a more leisurely fashion.

Bringing Back Liquor & Cigarettes

If you sail from the Port of Galveston, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has agents sitting at a table after you clear Immigration. They will ask you if you are bringing back any alcohol or cigarettes. If so, you will need to pay the state tax for importing them into the state, whether they are purchased in the ship's duty free store or in a foreign port of call. Although Texas state tax is due, these items are still exempt of any Federal duty.

The law limits personal importation by an adult to once every 30 days with limits of 1 gallon of distilled spirits, 3 gallons of wine, and 288 ounces of malt beverages (24 12-ounce containers).

Tax due for a 750ml bottle of wine is $3.25, for a 750ml bottle of distilled spirits is $3.50. These rates include a $3.00 "administrative fee".

Cigarette tax is $1.50/pack or $15.00/carton. Other tax rates are available online.

You can pay with a credit card and they will give you a receipt and a sticker to place on the bottle. Failure to pay the tax and obtain the appropriate stamp will subject violators to a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 and/or a jail term of up to one year.

Galveston Webcams

Galveston has some great webcams. If you want to see what the cruise port looks like, or if your friends and family want to watch you sail away on Royal Caribbean via several live full-motion HD video cameras, go here (they have a pretty big following when ships are arriving and departing the port).

There are several Carnival ships here as well, and they often block the view of the Royal Caribbean ships when they are alongside the dock. Try the Cruise Cam, Pier 23 Cam, Strand Cam, Marina Cam, Emerald Cam for some cool live video.

Edited by Galveston Steve
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UPDATED 23September 2020 Construction of Royal Caribbean's Cruise Terminal 3 is now planned to begin on April 1, 2021, and the Port of Galveston is continuing their ongoing design and constructio

This deserves to be a regular blog post on the homepage.

Some have asked where the new Terminal 3 will be located at the Port of Galveston.  First is a big picture view, followed by a more detailed view.  

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Awesome post! We are sailing in October so I have plenty of time to figure out how to best suit our travel needs. But thanks to this site I have been able to get so much advice. We are now going to fly in on Saturday and travel to Galveston (I am going check uber out). Most likely we will fly Southwest out of Atlanta. I am still trying to decide where to stay, but I would definitely like to get to the port early so we can get on board and explore the ship. Thanks again Steve

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...I am still trying to decide where to stay, but I would definitely like to get to the port early so we can get on board and explore the ship. Thanks again Steve

You might want to give the Days Inn a call. Their website shows the rate being about $85 for your weekend. The website says they have transportation to the cruise terminal but there may be an extra charge for the shuttle. Let us know how it works out!

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RCCL is also planning a new terminal in Galveston  next to the one there.  The old terminal will be for luggage and the new one will be two story for passengers.  It is to accommodate the larger ship, Liberty of the Seas, when it arrives on 11/13/15.  The project is on hold for now, but hopefully will be completed in time.

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You might want to give the Days Inn a call. Their website shows the rate being about $85 for your weekend. The website says they have transportation to the cruise terminal but there may be an extra charge for the shuttle. Let us know how it works out!

 

Just checked online and they do have park and cruise and cruise port transportation, though the pricing on those rates are not listed. So, I called to find out but no one answered. Must be a busy night in Galveston :-) Any I will try them back later.

Has anyone ever tried the Priceline name your own price negotiator?

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RCCL is also planning a new terminal in Galveston  next to the one there.  The old terminal will be for luggage and the new one will be two story for passengers.  It is to accommodate the larger ship, Liberty of the Seas, when it arrives on 11/12/15.  The project is on hold for now, but hopefully will be completed in time.

 

Maybe it will be ready when we sail 10/18/15!

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RCCL is also planning a new terminal in Galveston next to the one there. The old terminal will be for luggage and the new one will be two story for passengers. It is to accommodate the larger ship, Liberty of the Seas, when it arrives on 11/12/15. The project is on hold for now, but hopefully will be completed in time.

Good point. Part of the deal with Royal Caribbean and Carnival was for the Port to expand Terminal 2 as a condition of bringing the larger Liberty of the Seas to Galveston in November and to accomodate the extra Carnival ship on Saturdays. The Port of Galveston awarded an $11 million contract in September to do just that. I would be interested in your source for the project being on hold because that would seem to violate the deal with RCCL. I assumed we haven't seen any construction because it takes time to do the design and procurement before you actually see something happen on the ground.

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...Has anyone ever tried the Priceline name your own price negotiator?

I have scored a couple of good deals with Priceline (once in swanky Sarasota, Florida and another time on a snowy evening in Little Rock, Arkansas). Both times I found the best deals by using Priceline the afternoon or evening of my arrival day. I guess they figure if they haven't sold the room by that time they can at least rent the room at a cheap price and make a sale. You could make a reservation that has a day-of-arrival cancellation policy, then use Priceline to see if you can get a better deal at the last minute. Just make sure you know what your cancellation policy is. Good luck!

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  • 3 months later...

I have not noticed any further construction progress on Galveston's expansion of Cruise Terminal 2, meant to accommodate Liberty of the Seas when she arrives on November 13, 2015. A recent article in the Galveston Daily News reports that unexpected soil conditions have caused a re-design of the foundation for part of the new building, which has slowed the project.

 

The Port Director is quoted as saying the goal is still to have "substantial completion" of the new building in time for the arrival of Liberty of the Seas. The larger Liberty of the Seas will replace Navigator of the Seas as Royal Caribbean's Galveston-based cruise ship. A wharf expansion and mooring upgrades are also part of the project. These upgrades are required under the terms of contracts that the Port of Galveston has signed with Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines.

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Is Liberty really that much bigger than Navigator ? I know they are different designs but I thought they were essentially the same chassis...or very close.

I'm no engineer and I have no insight into the construction situation (and I'm only a small town pizza lawyer), BUT I'd like to think a Freedom class ship can go to the old port considering Voyager was handled.  As you point out, Freedom is essentially a longer Voyager class ship.

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I think Matt is right... he IS a small town pizza lawyer (as I am)... he's also probably right that the port could physically handle the larger ship. Liberty is only 92 feet longer so they could probably work around that for a while if necessary. I believe the issue is passenger count. Liberty carries 410 more passengers than Navigator on a double occupancy basis (3,686 vs. 3,276). That means the passenger terminal, baggage handling, customs & immigration must all handle 12.5% more capacity with Liberty. If you read my original post above and posts from some other Galveston passengers you see that Galveston's Terminal 2 is already stretched to capacity. If Liberty arrives and must use the current passenger terminal, embarkation and disembarkation days will be even more challenged.

 

My wife and I (along with at least one other contributor on this message board) are booked on the first Liberty sailing out of Galveston in November. I sure hope they get back on track!

 

Will RCL pull out of Galveston if the terminal isn't finished? I don't know what the contract says, but at this point they have a lot of passengers booked out of Galveston, so it would cause some financial hardship to pull out on such short notice. Galveston is busting at the seams and 5 cruise ships will be sailing from here by late this year. They are studying ways to build a third terminal and that can't come too soon in my opinion.

Edited by Steve
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I suppose you're all correct given that the Liberty is only 10-12% larger overall.  I believe Matt has even said that the Freedom class is really just a larger version of the Voyager class.  However, given some of the complaints I've read about embarkation/disembarkation, I thought maybe the terminal was already maxed out with the Navigator and thus was at capacity.  Perhaps I assumed the size difference was larger than it actually is since I haven't been on either class yet (but soon).

 

Thanks for the replies.

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  • 1 month later...

I have not noticed any further construction progress on Galveston's expansion of Cruise Terminal 2, meant to accommodate Liberty of the Seas when she arrives on November 13, 2015. A recent article in the Galveston Daily News reports that unexpected soil conditions have caused a re-design of the foundation for part of the new building, which has slowed the project.

 

The Port Director is quoted as saying the goal is still to have "substantial completion" of the new building in time for the arrival of Liberty of the Seas. The larger Liberty of the Seas will replace Navigator of the Seas as Royal Caribbean's Galveston-based cruise ship. A wharf expansion and mooring upgrades are also part of the project. These upgrades are required under the terms of contracts that the Port of Galveston has signed with Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines.

In driving by the Galveston Cruise Terminals this week, I can report that construction on the Terminal 2 Expansion has resumed!  I drove past at 6:30 am a couple days and the construction crews were already on site and working.  At 5:30 pm today they were still busy working.  That would indicate overtime has been authorized to push for completion before Liberty of the Seas arrives on November 13th.

 

The activity so far appears to be earthwork/excavation and preparing for foundation construction.  There are two large backhoes and several other pieces of rental equipment on site along with the construction crews.  Once there is something to see, like steel and concrete, I will try to get close enough to take a few pictures, although Homeland Security tends to frown on that kind of activity.

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My 2 cents on sailing out of Galveston, as I am an expert. (I sailed out of there last year lol). I sail during Labor Day week. That means my sailing day is during the holiday weekend. That being the case, when I researched places to stay the night before, I got quite the sticker shock. Prices in the $250-500 range were not unusual. For those locals driving down, there is a beautiful new Holiday Inn Express on I-45 in the town of Texas City. Countless restaurants nearby and less than 1/2 hour to the ship for Sunday morning. The room was $105.

 

As far as the embarkation issues,, I suppose for those flying in and getting to the ship within a couple hours of sailing, it may be (probably is) a nightmare. But I got there at 8:30. Ok, ok, I was a little anxious. The porter looked at me like I had 2 heads and said "sir, give us until 10:00 ok ?" There's a really convenient Starbucks just across the street, so after a coffee break we went back and were on board within a very short time. So I guess the bottom line for me regarding ease of embarkation is to get there as early as possible. Oftentimes we create our own chaos that can easily be avoided. Can't wait til September !!!

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Galveston needs either some new off-site parking parking options to open up or rental car facilities to start working on cruise departure day. Once you start to get some competition going, prices will come down.

I agree Matt. The "official" port parking used to have plenty of open spaces, but with four ships here now they are almost full. Some hotels on the Island offer packages that include cruise parking and a shuttle to the port.

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