Cruise Europe’s new member: Belfast

In 2015 Belfast welcomed a total of 59 calls to the port of which two were turnarounds bringing 1,800 passengers.

Both of these calls were from the Fred Olsen Cruise Line’s Black Watch and are part of the cruiseline’s strategy for regional embarkations. This is the third year Belfast has facilitated the embarkations at the former ferry terminal at Ballast Quay.

In total the port welcomed 120,000 passengers and crew during the year with first time calls from AIDA Cruises (AIDAcara) and Pullmantur (Horizon) as well as first time calls from Regal Princess, Ocean Princess, Mein Schiff 4, Celebrity Silhouette, Magellan and Le Soleal.

In 2016 all records will be broken at Belfast with 81 calls forecast bringing 150,000 passengers and crew. Next year will see a number of repeat visits from Princess Cruises, Cunard Line, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Fred Olsen, P&O Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line/Prestige, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Seabourn and Azamara Club Cruises. All in all virtually every major cruise brand is scheduled to call in Belfast during the year.

Belfast hopes to secure requisite statutory approval to allow work to commence on the development of the island’s first new dedicated cruise facility at the site known as D3. Work on the £15m (E13.8m) facility is due to commence in June, subject to all consents, with a nine-month construction period allowing the new facility to be ready in time for the busy 2017 season.

The scheduled works will see a 150m-long solid quay constructed, facilitating vessels up to 350m in length with draught of up to 9m. A welcome building is to be created providing tourist information services, taxi hire office etc. The proposed works at the entrance to the port will shorten the time the vessels have to spend travelling down the Victoria Channel, allowing for a much quicker arrival and departure from the port. The dedicated facility will provide the port with the capacity to handle up to four vessels in one day. It is 15 minutes by shuttle to the city centre.

At the moment vessels up to 350m in length and 9m draught can be accommodated at the Stormont Wharf deepwater facility, 11 minutes by shuttle from the city centre. We have other quays at Herdman Channel for vessels up to 200m length and up to 8m draught. There are also smaller berths for very small vessels (125m) at Albert Quay which is closer to the city. There is no anchorage service in Belfast.

A shuttle service can be arranged through the Visit Belfast office which has been managing this service for many years. It also provides welcome maps and personnel on the quay to offer advice and answer questions visitors may have.

“Our usual facility is a branded marquee which has worked well in the past and for turnarounds we use the former Stena ferry terminal at Ballast Quay,” explained Tony McAuley, business development executive Belfast Harbour Commissioners.

The Belfast and Northern Ireland tourism offer has changed substantially in recent years with significant investment in tourism product such as the unique Titanic Belfast museum (E150m) which was opened in 2012 and has already welcomed 2.5 million visitors. The new visitor centre at the UNESCO world heritage site at the Giant’s Causeway records in excess of 800,000 visitors very year – largely boosted by cruise excursions. In addition a number of new tourism products are being developed such as the renovation of HMS Caroline, the last remaining surviving vessel from the Battle of Jutland of 1916, and the Crumlin Road Gaol which was a working prison right up to the late 1980’s.

The port also has a very strong relationship with both the National Trust and National Museums to ensure the continued success of national treasures such as Mount Stewart stately home and gardens and also the royal family home at Hillsborough Castle being opened up to cruise passengers. The Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum continue to prove exceptionally popular with international visitors.

(Cruise Europe)