Belfast enjoying growth as cruise turnaround destination

Tuesday, August 29, 2023 - 09:41 by ce-press

In the past decade Belfast has established itself as a cruise destination, hosting most of the world’s largest and best-known cruiselines.

Cruise Belfast, the partnership between Belfast Harbour and Visit Belfast, works with excursions partners, agents and service providers to deliver a seamless, first -class service for cruiselines and their passengers. “This destination support, together with our customary warm welcome has earned Belfast its position as one of the most popular cruise destinations in Europe,” says Jenni Barkley, communications and corporate responsibility manager Belfast Harbour.

Four years ago, Belfast Harbour invested £500,000 (€582,932) and opened the first dedicated cruise terminal on the island of Ireland. Following this, in 2021 Cruise Belfast invested in a 215m2 extension of the existing terminal building to enhance capacity, responding to growing demand from cruiselines. This additional area has facilitated baggage handling, scanning and passenger processing for turnarounds, as well as traditional passenger entertainment on transit calls.

This year has seen Belfast Harbour welcome the two millionth cruise passenger to Northern Ireland since the first call in 1996. This was at a time when the region’s fledgling tourism industry was finding its feet, but in the quarter century since then, the industry has grown exponentially.

By the end of the 2023 season, Belfast will have welcomed more than 150 calls from 57 ships representing 32 different lines, including 13 ships which will have called to the city for the first time.

Belfast has seen more than 1,160 cruise calls by vessels from 75 different cruiselines to date including some of the biggest cruiseships: Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas and MSC Virtuosa.

In 2022 Belfast Harbour delivered seven partial turnarounds in collaboration with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and other North Irish Sea ports as part of a multi-port embarkation offering.

This was followed in the same year by a full turnaround for Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager’ which saw almost 1,000 passengers processed in Belfast. Luggage scanning, health screening and a seamless check-in process were all conducted within existing shoreside facilities at the port’s dedicated cruise terminal, a 10-minute drive from the city centre.

With the potential capacity for up to 3,000 passengers to embark and disembark in Belfast, Belfast Harbour can provide the necessary space and facilities in which to process the passengers and luggage.

In June this year, almost 4,000 passengers embarked or disembarked Oceania Cruises’ Riviera as it undertook two turnarounds in the month. Belfast Harbour also facilitated a further six partial turnarounds, with Ambassador Cruise Line (ACL), offering a ‘no-fly’ cruise option to hundreds of local cruise passengers getting on and off vessels in their home country.

Bob McGowan, head of operations ACL, says: “It’s been brilliant to be able to offer Ambassador guests a turnaround option in Belfast, where the friendly turnaround staff, the wonderful hospitality and, of course, the warmest of welcomes are second to none. Our relationship with Belfast Harbour has been easy and stress-free since the moment we first started working together. Nothing is ever a problem for the team, and we look forward to continuing our partnership in the months and years to come.”

With Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport on the port’s doorstep and direct connection in to Dublin Airport, which is just 90 mins away, the Belfast Cruise terminal is well connected and offers tourists from a number of countries an alternative destination from which to begin or end their cruise journeys, with many people now taking advantage of the city’s hotel accommodation and all there is to do in Northern Ireland at either end of their cruise.

Michael Robinson, port director Belfast Harbour, says Belfast is now well and truly on the radar for international cruise operators when setting their schedules. “As we continue to develop our offering, it is great to see both local and international guests having the option to start their cruise in Belfast and spend time here before or after itinerary.

“There has been huge investment made in the local cruise industry by Belfast Harbour and our partners, and this has paid dividends. Northern Ireland has much to offer visitors as a destination, as well as great connectivity and air routes, making it an ideal jumping off point for cruise guests exploring the UK and northern Europe.”

Looking to the future, Belfast Harbour has major plans to expand port facilities to accommodate the growth in cruise trade and support other complimentary sectors such as offshore wind. The proposed new berth, which will be 1,115ft (340m) in length, will help meet demand from seasonal cruise trade into the city and enable even more visitors not only to spend a day in Belfast, but also to make it the start and end of their journey.
Belfast enjoying growth as cruise turnaround destination
Gary Hall of Belfast Harbour and Mary Jo McCanny of Visit Belfast with Lea Goodsell, the 2mth passenger (c) Visit Belfast

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