Belfast Harbour has been named the best port of call in the UK and Ireland for cruise ships. The accolade was awarded by a global panel of cruise experts as part of the 2019 Cruise Critic Editors’ Pick Awards.
It follows a record-breaking 2019 cruise season for the city with 146 cruise calls and 280,000 visitors. The judges were particularly impressed by a £500,000 investment by Belfast Harbour and Tourism NI in the island’s first dedicated cruise terminal which was officially opened in July.
The welcome facility, which includes a Visitor Information Centre managed by Visit Belfast, also boasts new facilities for coaches and taxis, and an easily accessible deep-water berth to accommodate larger cruise ships. The judges also praised the location of the terminal for providing “easy access to the city’s world-class attractions, such as Titanic Belfast in the city's famous Titanic Quarter”.
Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said: “With our partners Visit Belfast we’ve worked hard to market Belfast Harbour and Northern Ireland under the ‘Cruise Belfast’ initiative as one of the best cruise destinations in Western Europe. We’ve also invested in a new terminal with the support of Tourism NI to encourage further growth in this strategically important sector. Considering the quality of other destinations in the UK and Ireland, we’re delighted to win the award”.
If you had left Belfast twenty years ago (as many did) you would remember the city as having turned its back on the River Lagan. Not so today. The waterfront has developed beyond imagination with of course, the magnificent Titanic Belfast, the Marina and many office and apartment blocks, river cruises and maritime festivals. Belfast Harbour is Northern Ireland’s leading gateway and key economic hub for trade and tourism, handling more than 70% of the region’s seaborne imports and exports. The 2,000-acre Harbour Estate hosts more than five million annual visits, including 1.5 million ferry and cruise ship passengers. It’s home to a vibrant mix of 760 businesses working across multiple sectors, to include marine logistics and heavy engineering, commercial and residential real estate, retail, financial and IT services, tourism and leisure, media and creative industries.
And helping feed the economy is the successful cruise tourism sector which encourages new tourist and leisure projects, and further enhances Belfast’s reputation as a leading destination, including within the cruise market.
Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast, added: In the 20 years since Visit Belfast was established, we have worked with Belfast Harbour to attract cruise visitors to the city and region, and the result has been an enormous increase in the number of visitors and ships coming to the city. In total, Cruise Belfast has brought 784 ships to the city since 1999, and in the last five years alone, cruise visitor numbers have increased by 135%.
John McGrillen, Tourism NI Chief Executive, commented: “This is a great achievement for Belfast’s international visitor reputation and is a result of major investment in the cruise tourism market which saw the opening of our first dedicated cruise terminal in July. The new terminal can accommodate bigger cruise ships bringing visitors from key markets across Europe and ensure that once they are here, they are easily able to access all of our world-famous attractions and hospitality.
The awards are based on Cruise Critic editors’ impartial cruise expertise which draws upon first-hand experiences and industry knowledge. Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor, Cruise Critic said: “The desire for more experiential holidays, especially amongst younger travellers is certainly helping to boost the UK cruise sector. There is more choice than ever before in ocean, river and expedition cruises as a result of an array of exciting new ships launched this year and next. Whether you are cruising as a multi-generational family, a couple or solo, there really is a cruise for everyone.”
In addition to its record-breaking cruise season, Belfast Harbour also welcomed several firsts during 2019. These included the visits of ‘Disney Magic’ and SAGA’s first ever new build vessel, the ‘Spirit of Discovery’. The port also welcomed 6,500 visitors and crew onboard the ‘MSC Meraviglia’, the largest ship by passenger capacity to ever visit Belfast. The Harbour has also invested in new facilities to market Belfast as a cruise embarkation port. Cruise & Maritime has already scheduled departures from Belfast for next summer including Norwegian Fjord and British Isles itineraries.