Southampton is known internationally as the major cruise port in the UK – but its neighbour along the Hampshire coast is stealing some of the limelight this year by hosting the maiden voyages of two ships during the busy British summer season.
Portsmouth will send off passengers on the inaugural sailings of Viking Cruises’ Viking Venus on May 22 and Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady on August 6. The new Tradewind Voyages tall ship, Golden Horizon, will also sail a ‘dress rehearsal’ round trip from the port along the south coast on June 22 and a trade and media cruise to Harwich on June 28 ahead of its official inaugural voyage on July 1.
A Virgin Voyages spokesperson said: ‘Portsmouth has such a rich seafaring history, so it just made sense to start the story of Virgin Voyages from this island port city. We look forward to giving a hearty “ahoy” to the people of Portsmouth when we set sail in August!’
The south coast city – nicknamed ‘Pompey’ – has been known for centuries for its naval base, which is still home to Nelson’s flagship Victory. But in the last ten years it has grown its cruise credentials rapidly with millions of pounds of investment.
Ships from lines such as Viking, Hurtigruten, Ponant, Noble Caledonia and Phoenix Reisen have been sharing the harbour alongside huge Royal Navy warships and regular ferries to the Channel Islands, France and Spain.
New port director Mike Sellers joined in 2016, followed three years later by Ian Diaper, the head of operations.
Mr Diaper said: ‘I’ve been in the industry for over 40 years, working with the biggest brands, and I knew Portsmouth had potential straight away. It’s close to the main shipping channels and has its own dedicated motorway junction, which boasts great connection to the major transport network.
‘But it also has an incredible waterfront with world-class attractions. As a management team, and a local authority, we knew together this provided something special for both transit and turnaround calls, but investment was needed to realise the vision.
‘Firstly we had to increase the size of ships we could accommodate comfortably, so we extended our cruise berth in June last year. Within a week of completion we had welcomed the largest ship the port had seen, Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, and then the ships kept getting bigger and more frequent.
‘We were able to provide repatriation for P&O Cruises’ Aurora, look after a number of Viking’s ships at one time, and also crew returning from the British Antarctic Survey. Word was spreading throughout the cruise industry about Portsmouth port.
‘The team is focused on making sure we have the very best procedures in place. This included the first port independently verified for its Covid-19 health protocols.’
Mr Diaper added: ‘We provide the ideal location and experience for small to mid-size luxury, boutique and expedition vessels. With our multi-million cruise transformation plans well underway we know we can meet the guest expectation, which in the future also includes a terminal extension with an exclusive cruise lounge.
‘This year could be our busiest to date. As well as welcoming Viking Venus, Golden Horizon and Scarlet Lady, we have our loyal customers Noble Caledonia starting up in August and Fred Olsen operating turnaround calls from the autumn.
‘We have no doubt we can provide an exceptional service and a complementary addition to cruise in the UK to help look after ships up to 300 metres long. It is anticipated we could rise to more than 150 calls by 2023/24.
‘Our journey so far has been proving we can do things well and do things right, and it’s all heading in that direction.’