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Cruises returning and bringing more tourists to port towns

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Posted at 5:17 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 15:25:37-04

GALVESTON, Tx. — People are hungry to see their towns come back to life with summer travelers, and now that cruises are starting to sail again over the holiday weekend, it seems travel is fully back on.

If you visit Galveston, Texas, it’s easy to see: summer vacation is in full swing, even before the cruises take off.

“Right now, it’s just packed. It's wall-to-wall people,” said the Port of Galveston CEO Rodger Rees.

Travelers are enjoying and family businesses are thriving.

“I don't even know how this place can get any busier, but I think it's going to be great,” said Gracie Bassett, who runs Gracie’s gift shop with her family.

“My parents have had Gracie’s for 24 years, and they've been in retail for 29 years,” said Bassett. “I've just grown up in the store.”

They worried COVID-19 would cut this family legacy short, but this stop for trinkets and treasures never went quiet.

“Because Galveston is so close to Houston, it's one of the fourth largest cities in the country. People were able to drive, and they just wanted to get away from the craziness of COVID, so they'd come to the beach,” said Bassett.

Her family has been so busy, they were able to expand and open a second shop right down the street. But, the success here is a stark contrast to the emptiness just blocks away.

“From the cruise business standpoint, we really we really have been injured,” said Rees. “We've, we lost about $44 million in revenues over the last 16 months.”

Galveston’s biggest attraction has been docked for more than a year. The businesses supporting the cruise industry almost sunk, too.

“We were always sitting idle and that was really hard on us,” said Jason Hayes, who owns several cruise parking lots in Galveston.

The business he’s built with his mom since 2003 barely survived. He said he’s always saved money for a rainy day and was thankful he could lean on that over the last year.

“We didn't turn off our Comcast. We didn't stop our insurance on our buses,” said Hayes. “We kept paying our bills. If we have known that we're going to be out of business for 16 months, you know, I probably would have sold my buses.”

But this man, much like this town, lives and breathes cruising. He even got married on a ship.

“That's what we do. That's who we are. We're cruise ship parking family,” said Hayes.

That love kept his hope alive that the ships would return.

“We can feel it. It's in the air. People are gearing up. People are calling. People are excited,” said Hayes.

Cruises are set to take off all throughout July, with more ships docking in Galveston in the months ahead.

But, this time off from cruising showed travelers across the nation: there’s more here than just a port.

“What proves that is when you go out and see the cars and you see Oklahoma, you see Michigan, you see Kansas, you see Iowa,” said Rees, of the tourists here from different states coming just to enjoy the beach.

“Galveston is so rich in history and it's a little bit like, you know, a small New Orleans, it's got a lot of character. So, you know, there's a lot of upside potential here,” said Rees.

Because even when the cruises come back, these families still want travelers to come and stay in the place they call home.