Video: Inside floating boutique hotel docked in Belfast - why 151 cruise ships are docking in city
‘Our guests want something different,’ says captain
A floating boutique hotel arrived in Belfast yesterday with hundreds of passengers keen to explore the city after enjoying The Open Championship.
The 30,000-tonne Azamara Journey carries 690 passengers and nearly 400 crew members.
It is one of a record 151 cruise ships due to visit Belfast this year, bringing with them an estimated 285,000 visitors.
The luxurious liner boasts several high-end bars and restaurants, a cabaret theatre and even a rooftop pool for parties and a surrounding jogging area (taking 13 laps to run a mile).
Comparatively smaller than the mega liners now a common sight in Belfast Lough, the Azamara fleet has the advantage of being able to dock in many smaller ports.
A 12-day 'Intensive Ireland' cruise starts next year at the price of £2,521 and takes in Dublin, Belfast, Londonderry, Donegal, Foynes, Cork and Waterford.
On Sunday, around half the passengers on board used their stop in Derry to travel to Portrush to watch Shane Lowry win The Open.
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Getting to see his first ever golfing action was the Journey's Norwegian-born captain Johannes Tysse (52).
Speaking from the bridge, he said he left for sea at 16 and never looked back.
"I'm named after my grandpa and I grew up with stories of how he crossed the Atlantic through storms and it blew my mind," he said.
This year alone he will guide Journey around northern Europe, the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean followed by stops in Australia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Dubai.
A typical day for Captain Tysse involves a 5am wake-up call to guide the ship into port, followed by coffee on the gangway and a chance to chat to passengers as they disembark for the day.
"In the afternoon it's time for a nap as you're sailing late and you can't be up 18 hours in a row.
"Once we're away, you maybe show your face at a cocktail reception. Tonight I'm hosting a dinner at a table of 10 guests." He said there was a huge demand for tours around Ireland and the UK.
"Most of our guests have done the Caribbean and the other mass-market areas so they want to see something different. We also spend more time in ports - tonight we leave Belfast at 10pm but many of the bigger ships would typically go by 5pm."
The Azamara website calls Belfast "a historic city undergoing a 21st century transformation". Titanic Belfast is listed as one of the top attractions as well as the Belfast murals, described as "somewhat troubling freelance works that give an insight into the Troubles".
Having survived the rain in Portrush, Cathy Johnson (61) and Mary-Louise Allen (62) from Michigan said a trip to a traditional Belfast pub was top of their list.
Cathy said: "When I think of golf I think of St Andrews so I was initially disappointed to hear The Open was in Portrush, but it's been really lovely.
"People were so friendly and it was a really well-run event.
"Now I just want to enjoy the Irish experience of going to a pub and I want people to talk because I want to hear their accent because I think it's fascinating."
Mary-Louise added: "We want to see how you live. You can see all the visitor attractions but I like hearing what people do and how they spend their day.
"The green of the countryside is also how we envisage this area and we weren't disappointed. We were just enjoying taking pictures of all the sheep and the mountainside."
Linda (74) and Bill Sheaff (75) from northern California have family roots in Armagh.
The couple took a guided bus tour in Derry and have planned the same for Belfast.
Bill said: "That showed some of the trouble between Catholics and Protestants - it was eye-opening.
"Getting to see it for yourself instead of hearing about it on the news is quite different."
Linda added: "Ireland has been on our bucket list. We've done a lot of travelling and really we feel beyond the stage of hanging out on a beach. I don't get the bathing suit out any more so Ireland was my cup of tea."
Bill added: "You also don't see the history on the beach, you see it in the big cities, so we like to go to places like this."