Tag Archives: Guernsey

Can England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland Compete Against the Med?

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?

CSB

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Eye Openers in Guernsey

Having visited Guernsey’s St. Peter Port several times on cruise ship calls and loving it (it’s definitely on the list for a more in-depth, non-cruise-related holiday in future), I looked forward to yesterday’s call there on Westerdam. But this time I got a chance to learn about the island without actually setting foot off the ship!

This time, a bit of Guernsey came to Westerdam.

We had reached out to local journalists Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio, with an invitation to come onboard the ship for lunch, a tour, and good conversation. The afternoon delivered on all three counts.

From left to right, Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio

Some interesting tidbits:

*First, the complicated stuff and I only include this info because Mark tells me that Brits often don’t really get what Guernsey is all about:  Guernsey is one of England’s Channel Islands and a British Crown Dependency. Sark, Isle of Man and Jersey are among others. They’re not part of the U.K. – they’re a separate possession of the Crown.

*Remember “Bergerac”? The popular 1980s cop show was actually based in Jersey but gave the Channel Islands a big jolt as a tourist destination at the time. The basic gist of the series was, according to Wikipedia, “the blend of holiday locations, the island’s tax exile millionaire populace and, of course, some unsavoury criminals.” Our Guernsey journalists were stunned to learn from my Finnish husband that the show was such a huge hit in Finland that charter air and package tours were created to ferry Finns to the Channel Islands.

*Did you know that Guernsey’s big “crop” is money? It’s a banking mecca on the scale of Bermuda and the Caymans. The next big industry is tourism; horticulture’s on the wane but islanders do grow tomatoes and flowers (I’m told the gorgeously scented freesia is the most common flower)

*There was a spirited debate about Guernsey’s awareness among travelers. My husband, Teijo Niemela, who’s editor of Cruise Business Review (www.cruisebusiness.com), a cruise industry business to business magazine, and who joined us for lunch, really peppered the trio with questions about why the Channel Islands doesn’t market itself more aggressively to cruise lines.

*It’s almost as expensive to live here as it is in London! Claire, who’s shopping for a home, regaled us with tales of too-small, garden-less condos here that were more expensive than detached homes with big backyards in other parts of England. Island living is definitely London-esque, real estate-wise.

Shopping

*Speaking of shopping, one of the big selling points for Guernsey when it comes to cruise visitors is its variety and quality as a shopping destination (and its light tax position). It has a nice blend of high street chains and unique-to-Guernsey boutiques. But it’s a controversial issue. The Guernsey Press and Star (http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2010/07/19/the-high-streets-ship-fails-to-come-in/#ixzz0vd9SEZRH) reported recently that on a day with two ships (and 4,000 passengers) in port, the High Street was deserted; cruise shoppers did not materialize. On our visit, I noticed that many, many passengers returning onboard from their day ashore were carrying shopping bags (certainly saw more of these than on our Portland/Weymouth call).

Westerdam's Crow's Nest

On their part, neither Claire, Nicci or Mark had ever been on a cruise ship before and it was illuminating to see what caught their attention. One great comment from Claire on the pool deck, looking back towards the island: I’ve never seen Guernsey from this vantage point before! Other hits onboard for these first time cruisers included Holland America Line’s Explorations Café (the coffee bar/library/card room/Crow’s Nest bar), the lavish theater (easily as big as anything we have on Guernsey, Claire noted), and a tour of our cabin, a standard balcony that was roomier than they expected.

The weather, which was gloomy, spitting rain throughout the day, was definitely  more conducive to staying cozy and dry onboard! Ironically, just as Westerdam began to raise its tenders in preparation to heading back out to sea, the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly. Alas, it was too late to do passengers any good.

CSB

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