(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- As competition for lucrative homeporting business heats up between Britain's coastal cities, All Leisure Group (ALG) -- which owns Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises -- has rocked the boat by announcing Portsmouth as the base for its 2011 no-fly cruises from the south coast.
Neighbour Southampton, the choice of the vast majority of cruise lines, doesn't even get a look-in -- ironic, given that Lord Sterling, chairman of Swan Hellenic and Hebridean, was for years in charge of P&O Cruises, which had and still has a massive presence in Southampton.
We're not talking a huge volume of cruises from ALG, but it's still an interesting move. Portsmouth has a magnificent naval history and is the home of three iconic ships: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose. Its road and rail infrastructure are comparable to Southampton's. Also, a new passenger terminal is under construction, planned to open in spring 2011 (pictured) -- and, like Southampton, Portsmouth's surrounding affluent neighbourhoods generate a significant number of cruise passengers. In fact, in recognition of this, Swan Hellenic will be offering free coach transport to Portsmouth from various nearby cities.
All three lines in the group will feature ex-Portsmouth sailings next summer, although specific details of each cruise programme have yet to be released. Here's what we know so far:
Swan Hellenic's Minerva will be based in the city for a short series of ex-UK cruises before setting off on its usual programme of roaming Europe for the summer.
Voyages of Discovery's ship, mv Discovery, will start the 2011 season with a series of short cruises from Portsmouth before returning to its usual UK base of Harwich for a series of longer no-fly cruises.
And tiny Hebridean Princess, which usually sails from Oban in the far north of Scotland, will also offer a short, dedicated programme from Portsmouth.
Stay tuned; we'll let you know as soon as more itinerary details are released.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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Battle of Britain's Homeports: Cruises to Sail from Portsmouth
April 6, 2010