My round-Britain/Ireland cruise aboard Holland America’s Westerdam, which concluded yesterday, was one of the best voyages I’ve taken in years. And while the ship was superb (especially the food and service), what made it so special was the itinerary. We revisited some of my favorites (Belfast, Guernsey, Dublin, Edinburgh) and got to experience some new places, too (Newcastle, Waterford, Holyhead, Glasgow).
As an experienced cruiser to the Mediterranean (east and west) and the Baltic, what puzzles me about round-Britain/Ireland cruises is that they’re not more popular than they are. Rarely do cruise lines offer more than a handful of these voyages every year (as opposed to full season and full year schedules in other European regions). Ports here have every bit as much to offer as those on Med. and Baltic routes.
In a hotly debated story on The Scotsman this week, it would seem that one reason that British Isles itineraries lack the hot-popular factor that other regions enjoy is a lack of infrastructure and inspiration by ports, with Edinburgh in particular coming under fire. Certainly the fact that a city of such stature as Edinburgh (which incidentally was voted “most popular” U.K. port by Cruise Critic readers) requires all ships larger than small ones to anchor at S. Queensferry and tender passengers on to land, is a big disappointment (and frankly a huge time-sucking hassle for passengers and cruise line crew alike).
You can tell from shore excursion menus which ports are starting to understand that cruise travelers are no longer limited to the traditional “newly wed and nearly dead” cliché. Those that offer family-oriented tours (families are the largest growing niche in cruising) or active, recreational opportunities (cycling trips in Holyhead and Glasgow’s Loch Lomond were highlights of our trip) get it – cruise ships are increasingly roping in an incredibly varied type of traveler.
There were some incredibly warm and welcoming moments by some of the ports. In Newcastle, passengers returning back to the ship were greeted with local cheeses to sample. Upon arrival at Greenock, the port for Glasgow, kilt-wearing chaps greeted passengers with an effusive hello and a handshake. And in Holyhead, a harpist played at the pier all afternoon – and offered a memorable, and haunting, send-off. Contrast that with your welcome at places in the Med. (when was the last time you got a hearty greeting at Civitavecchia, Barcelona, Naples, Pireaus?) Or even on Baltic cruises (when was the last time your ship’s send-off came with local music and snacks?)
Clearly, cruise ships are valued in the British Isles. And from a passenger perspective, the itinerary possibilities are beautifully varied (nature in the Orkneys, shopping in Guernsey, culture in Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow, gorgeous scenic cruising past the Isle of Skye that rivals the fjords of Norway and Chile, and history — everywhere!). Not only would I happily cruise around the British Isles anytime — I also plan to revisit places (Inverness is top on the list) that I was introduced to via a cruise stop.
As well, a story in today’s Times seems somewhat timely on this issue. David Cameron says that half of all Britons need to take their holidays here — in order to foster economic recovery. His quote in the paper is pretty stark and reminds me that in spite of some successes, ports in the British Isles need to try harder when it comes to attracting and enhancing cruise visits: “For too long tourism has been looked down on as a second class service sector. That’s just wrong.”
Indeed, traditionally, British Isles cruises were aimed mostly at Americans. But as cruise vacations continue to gain steam among British, European, Asian and Australian travelers, what do you think should be done to increase cruising’s popularity in your own neck of the woods?