Belfast Harbour has been named the best port of call in the UK and Ireland for cruise ships.

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 now 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.

“Cruise tourism fits with Belfast Harbour’s wider commitment to support the city’s development through the creation of an iconic waterfront for Belfast. A successful cruise tourism sector will encourage new tourist and leisure projects, and further enhance Belfast’s reputation as a leading destination including within the cruise market.”

Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast added:

“Throughout the last 18 months, the city’s waterfront has become a real solace for local people to walk, run, cycle and explore.  As a charity dedicated to preserving Belfast’s rich maritime heritage, Maritime Belfast Trust has worked tirelessly during this period to strengthen the outdoor experience with playful art and heritage installations, such as Soundyard and Riverbox. The Maritime Weekender is a fantastic opportunity to showcase our achievements and celebrate the re-opening of our attractions and hospitality businesses, in a safe, well managed, open-air environment.”

Ibe Sesay, presenter of Q Radio Drive, said:

“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%.

“Cruise is now a key contributor to Belfast’s tourism economy, and that is down to investment in infrastructure, and the commitment of our tourism industry partners to providing more and better products for visitors to enjoy while they are here.”

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 the 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. 

“Congratulations to Visit Belfast and Belfast Harbour for their hard work in building Belfast’s reputation as a leading cruise destination. We are continuing to work in partnership with them to deliver world-class experiences for the cruise market visitor both in the city and across the wider region.”

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 a number of 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. 

Belfast Harbour has also invested in new facilities to market Belfast as a cruise embarkation port.  Cruise & Maritime has already scheduled a number of departures  from Belfast for next summer including  Norwegian Fjord and British Isles itineraries.