#CruiseBelfast – Discovery is to open the Belfast Harbour cruise season in late March with up to 750 passengers calling to the port out of a total of 110,000 visitors expected this year, writes Jehan Ashmore.
In 2013, Belfast Harbour handled around 60 cruiseships, a record for the port that represented a 45% jump in passengers and crew, up from 75,000 to 110,000 in just one year. It was estimated the associated spend generated more than £18m for the local economy and in opening up Northern Ireland in general as a visitor destination.
Once again, many of the leading cruise operator brands are calling to the harbour in 2014, among them; Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity, MSC, Thomson, Fred Olsen Cruise Line and Saga Cruises. In addition the port is to welcome several cruise callers for the first time, they are the FTI Berlin, Kristina Katarina, Louis Aura and the sail-assisted Club Med 2.
As previously reported, Belfast Harbour is building the first purpose-built cruise terminal in Ireland, which is to attract a wider global audience of cruise passengers using the £7m facility which is due for completion this year. Cruise ships will then transfer from Stormont Wharf in Co. Antrim, the main existing berth on the north side of the Lagan to the opposite bank adjacent to Alexandra Dock in Co. Down.
The new terminal, to include a 2.5 acre area for coaches and a welcome centre to showcase Northern Ireland, will also be within walking distance of Titanic visitor attractions - Titanic's Dock & Pumphouse, Titanic Belfast, SS Nomadic and the WWI battle-cruiser HMS Caroline which is to undergo restoration work.
The facility will handle all cruise ships currently visiting Irish Sea ports but is also designed to cater for 'next generation ships' capable of accommodating 4,500 passengers and crew.