Ireland's first cruise terminal opens in Belfast
Ireland's first ever cruise berth and terminal is making docking in the city "a piece of cake", the captain of the first ship to dock there has said.
Captain Domenico Lubrano Lavadera of the Princess Cruises Crown Princess vessel was speaking at the opening of the £500,000 facility on Airport Road West yesterday.
The Belfast Harbour investment, part-funded by Tourism NI, will be the first dedicated cruise terminal in all of Ireland.
It features a visitor information centre with digital and audio-visual technology showcasing attractions here, and will be managed by Visit Belfast.
Shipping containers emblazoned with scenes of tourist attractions around Northern Ireland line the entrance to the facility, where ample space is available to service coaches, shuttle buses and taxis.
Joe O'Neill, Belfast Harbour's chief executive, told the Belfast Telegraph that the terminal, which was originally built for the offshore wind farm sector at a cost of £50m six years ago, will now allow Belfast to welcome two to three vessels per day.
He said: "Cruise calls to Belfast are now up to 148 calls in 2019, an increase of 31% on last year, and this investment in a terminal facility will enable us to offer the anticipated 285,000 cruise visitors a positive welcome and first impression of the region."
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Mr O'Neill said the terminal offers the potential for Belfast to also become an embarkation port with an investment in new gangways and luggage scanners meaning Northern Ireland cruise-goers may no longer need to travel to other UK ports to board ships.
Already Cruise and Maritime has scheduled departures from Belfast for next summer.
The berth has also been dredged to accommodate newer and larger cruise ships, much to the delight of Captain Domenico Lubrano Lavadera.
"Belfast is, practically, a great logistic for a captain. The new berth gives us the opportunity to dock very easily," he said.
"In the old days we went to another dock where it was more complicated and dangerous. The new terminal gives the opportunity for people to have some shelter and the first impressions are good."
This year is not the first time Captain Lavadera has docked in the city. He first came to Northern Ireland in 1996 when Mr O'Neill began the Belfast Cruise Initiative. Back then the city welcomed two cruise calls and from 2003 visits reached double figures annually.
Mr O'Neill added: "We've since been increasing by 25% to 30% each year." John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland, said the terminal will help reach Northern Ireland's ambition of doubling the value of tourism here by 2030.