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Having forked out up to £8k, passengers' first glimpse of Belfast is less than inspiring

By Claire McNeilly

They say first impressions last - but let's hope that's not the case for those on board the Azamara Journey which berthed at Stormont Wharf last Tuesday.

On a damp, dull day, the dreary working dock was far from a welcoming sight with its industrial landscape comprising grey outbuildings, defunct sites and rubbish tips.

Not exactly the first thing you want 694 visitors - many of whom had forked out over £8,000 per person for a British Isles cruise that included this 14-hour stop-off - to see.

But if that was bad, the vista from the gangway wasn't much better for those disembarking towards a lone white tent located opposite a line of portable toilets in an uninviting car park.

Some guests will have booked excursions with the cruise liner - and they don't come cheap; according to the Azamara brochure, a Titanic Dining Experience will set you back £306, while it's £76.60 for the Giant's Causeway package.

Others will have pre-booked independent tours, and there's also a shuttle service for travellers from the pier every 30 minutes from 8am, with the last return trip leaving the city centre at 8.30pm.

The only other option is to jump into one of the waiting black cabs, as they're the only ones allowed to pick up in that area.

A handful of people - although rather few on the Tuesday we were there - chose to stay on the luxury vessel rather than brave what Northern Ireland has to offer. It wasn't hard to see why. There are several on-board restaurants and bars to choose from - and with all the food on offer, it's no surprise that the average person puts on half-a-stone during a cruise holiday.

The heated swimming pool is another tempting distraction or, if a spot of pampering is more your scene, why not pop upstairs to the cruise ship's spa for some rest and relaxation?

Then there's the fitness centre, and a steam room for soothing tender muscles after a workout. Alternatively, if you're feeling lucky you can nip into the on-board casino.

The Azamara Journey - which is "absolutely for the couples market" as we were told - certainly looks the part. Hopefully, with a new terminal on the way, so too will Belfast.

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