Northern Ireland

Demand surges for cruise ship visits to Belfast as another luxury liner docks in the city

Almost 20 years ago just two cruise ships docked in Belfast. This year alone 77 luxury liners will sail into the city. Suzanne McGonagle had a whistle-stop tour of the latest ship to arrive

The Caribbean Princess at Belfast Harbour 
The Caribbean Princess at Belfast Harbour 

WHILE many of us may have tried to move on from the upheaval the Brexit referendum triggered, it was still the hot topic of conversation with cruise ship passengers arriving in Belfast this week.

"It's my first time cruising in Europe....but then with the Brexit decision, I didn't know if that would change things," one passenger from the United States joked.

Another visitor from Quebec said "It's all everyone has been talking about onboard, who knew we would be cruising in the UK when everyone decided it was time to leave," he said.

Unaware their voyage on the high seas would coincide with the UK's decision to leave the EU, the 3,200 passengers onboard the MS Caribbean Princess have been enjoying a tour of cities around the UK.

Regardless of the Brexit decision, the ship safely docked in Belfast on Thursday after leaving its first port of Southampton and sailing to Guernsey, Liverpool, Cobh and Dublin.

Not only was the sheer size of the latest cruise ship to visit the city enough to draw attention, but so too was the numerous accents that could be heard from those disembarking.

A multitude of visitors of 44 different nationalities, from countries such as Mexico, Canada and China, were among those onboard.

It is the latest luxury liner to arrive at Belfast Harbour, which this year alone will play host to almost 145,000 cruise visitors from all corners of the globe.

A far cry from the late 1990s when just cruise ships chose Belfast as a location to visit in 1999.

As one of the largest ships operated by Princess Cruises, the luxury liner can accommodate up to 3,600 passengers, catered for by 1,100 crew members.

This particular ship is calling ten times in 2016 meaning it will bring 48,220 people to the city this year alone.

And while the majority of visitors decided to hop off and see what Belfast had to offer, for those who decided to stay onboard, there was no shortage of things to do.

The ship boasts 900 balcony staterooms and a deck of mini-suites, countless bars and restaurants, an 850-seater movie theatre and even a wedding chapel.

Seven showrooms and lounges, five pools, spa, gym, entertainment halls, library and dozens of shops all add to the sheer scale of the cruise ship.

The piazza is the heart of the ship and is where most passengers mingled, with an unlimited supply of food and drink of offer, as the dreary Northern Irish weather took hold out on deck.

For anyone, and there were a lonely two, willing to ignore the rain showers there was a choice of freshwater pools. The central calapyso pool appeared the most superior, especially for watching movies under the stars with popcorn and blankets.

Guests working up a sweat in the gym were treated to views of the city, while others tucked into lunch at the buffet restaurant where wine, tapas and fresh sushi awaited - all part of the 24 hour food operation.

The kitchens also cater for the 1,200 staff, who hail from countries such as Serbia, Indonesia and Greece.

For those wanting to tie the knot while onboard, there's the wedding chapel on deck 16 with the captain on hand to officiate over the service and a webcam for family and friends to watch the happy couple online.

Among the passengers was Roger Halfpenny from England, who said he thought the ship "was built for the American market".

"The Americans don't take any nonsense, they like good quality," he said.

"They look good food, they like good entertainment."

Derek Gardiner from Wales agreed that the "food is excellent and the entertainment is excellent", but added that the "tours are expensive and the actual shuttle bus charges are expensive".

Bob Talley from Las Vegas said it was his "first time cruising in Europe".

"I've never been a ship around Europe before," he said and joked that with the recentBrexit decision, "I didn't know if that would change things".

Giles Morin from Quebec enjoyed his visit into Belfast and said he had done "a quick tour of the city, it's very welcoming".

However, he said he was intrigued by the Brexit referendum.

"It's all everyone has been talking about onboard, who knew we would be cruising in the UK when everyone decided it was time to leave," he said.

"And everyone I have met so far all voted to remain, but yet you're leaving the EU."