Dozens of ports of call dot the coastlines of the United States. Stopping at one is a highlight of any cruise. There’s a romance about it: you dock at some far-flung locale, disembark, and soak in the local flavor of a place like Honolulu, San Juan or – maybe someday – South Padre Island. Or, so local leaders hope. A report issued by SPI Cruise Group finds that the Island is well-positioned to be the first new U.S. port of call in a half-century.
Dennis Stahl, mayor of South Padre Island, thinks his city already has a big potential, with existing infrastructure and vacation activities that would allow it to start receiving thousands of cruise passengers.
“During summer months we are very, very busy,” Stahl says. “But from late September all the way to May is kind of off-season here. There’s spring break, there’s the winter Texan season, which is kind of January and February, but there’s a long off-season. So this gives us an opportunity on a day of the week to have a ship come in for the people to experience the ecotourism, any types of water activities they would like to.”
Besides activities related to ecology and beach fun, South Padre Island and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer to tourists, according to the mayor.
“We offer some wonderful ecotourism,” Stahl says. “We have the world famous Sea Turtle Inc., we have a wonderful birthing center. Across the cossway we have the Lighthouse Square in Port Isabel, we have a great zoo in Brownsville, and I could probably name about 30 other things that would be of interest to potential cruisers.”
A floating dock and a welcome center would cost $24 million to $30 million, according to local media. To finance the project, Stahl says that a specific bond will be issued and the city would also consider imposing port charges that would be assessed on a per-passenger basis.
Galveston, one of the busiest cruise ports in the country, is only 411 miles away from South Padre Island. For Stahl, that proximity is not a disadvantage.
“A lot of cruises take off from there, as well as from New Orleans and Gulfport,” Stahl says. “I can see that the first stop on the first night for cruises into what we call the Western Caribbean may very well originate in Galveston.”
Although some might argue that it would make more sense to invest in diversifying the city’s economy, rather than doubling down on tourism, Stahl believes in the strong touristic infrastructure that South Padre Island already has in place, with local business, restaurants, tour operators and fisherman.
“There’s a lot of different ideas on the island,” he says. “But tourism is our business, it’s not like we are going to put up some kind of factories or something else on the island. It’s like having a factory that’s ready to do business but only be in business – real business – for a small portion of the year. I’d like to be able to utilize the entire infrastructure that we have here for more of the year.”
Written by César Lopez-Linares.