This represents a 12.6% increase compared to last year for the UK's top cruise port although the number of ship turnarounds will be the same as 2006.
'We will once again have 247 ships using our facilities but the jump in passenger headcounts clearly shows the growth in capacity being placed in the UK market,' Port of Southampton's assistant port manager, Ray Facey, tells Seatrade Insider.
To facilitate the continued growth in cruise traffic, Associated British Ports (ABP), owner and operator of the port, is investing £9m in the expansion and enhancement of City Cruise Terminal, supported by a new seven-year agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The expanded terminal will open in April, in time for the inaugural season of RCCL's 3,800-passenger Navigator of the Seas.
'We are doubling the size of the City Terminal, opened in 2003, including an extension of the lounge, the addition of two overhead gangways and more parking spaces,' says Facey. The 370mtr long berth will be able to handle both Voyager- and Freedom-class ships and will be ready to welcome RCI's second Freedom-class ship, Liberty of the Seas, which arrives in Southampton on April 22 for a four-day series of inaugural events before heading to Miami.
Liberty will be a good test for the port as next year Independence of the Seas will spend the summer operating cruises from the City Terminal. Facey notes 'there may be some fine tuning needed to cater for that operation but essentially everything will be ready this year.'
The Queen Elizabeth II Terminal and Mayflower Terminal, the home berths for Cunard and P&O Cruises, respectively, are also gearing up to handle new tonnage with Queen Victoria arriving for her naming this December and P&O Cruises' Ventura debuting in spring 2008.Other homeporting customers include Fred. Olsen and Saga Cruises.
And with the fast-growing UK cruise market predicted to reach 2m passengers by 2010, another dedicated terminal is clearly in ABP Southampton's sights. 'We are not far off the one million passenger a year milestone and customer demand for more capacity is driving us to consider a fourth facility,' remarks Facey, who confirms plans are well advanced.