The port of Southampton is the UK's busiest cruise port, and is well served by rail routes from across the country. As well as UK-based lines such as P&O Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and Cunard; US lines such Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean also only offer sailings from Southampton.
There are four separate cruise terminals along two miles of the city’s waterfront. From west to east these are: the Mayflower, City, Ocean and Queen Elizabeth terminals -- so it's worth checking which one your cruise ship departs from. The Mayflower Cruise Terminal (Berth 106) and the City Cruise Terminal are accessed via Dock Gate 10; while the Ocean Cruise Terminal (Berth 46/47) and Queen Elizabeth II Terminal (Berth 38/39) are reached via Dock Gate 4.
A few general tips:
Keep in mind any lengthy connections
Don't be put off from using interchange stations such as Birmingham and Wolverhampton as they have lifts at mainline platforms.
Try to avoid routing via London from stations in the north to Southampton if at all possible -- nobody wants to get caught up at Paddington, Euston or St Pancras during rush hour!
The unwary traveller can easily be duped with the bewildering array of train options unless they do their homework. This simple guide to getting to your cruise by train will hopefully ensure a hassle-free rail journey to Southampton.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 12:04 p.m.
Timings: Trains from Birmingham New Street depart at four minutes past each hour during the day. These services also call at Leamington Spa, Banbury, Oxford and Reading.
Duration: 2 hours 37 minutes
Train Line: Virgin Trains
Tip: Consider buying a railcard (such as a Senior Railcard or a Two-Together Railcard) for great savings.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 11:22 a.m.
Timings: There are trains departing Bristol Temple Meads at 22 minutes past every hour during the day. These trains also call at Bath Spa.
Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes
Train Line: Great Western Railway
Tip: Splash out on first class if you're travelling at weekends as there are some great deals offered by Great Western Railway.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 10:30 a.m.
Timings: There are trains departing Cardiff Central at 30 minutes past every hour during the day. These trains also call at Newport and Bristol.
Duration: 2 hours 34 minutes
Train Line: Great Western Railway
Tip: Advance booking on the direct services can save a bundle.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 8:51 a.m., or ideally the day before your cruise.
Timings: There's only one practical option from Edinburgh Waverley, which leaves at 8.51 a.m. (on a Virgin Train service) to Wolverhampton where there's a tight nine-minute connection to catch a CrossCountry service that arrives in Southampton Central at 3.41p.m. -- this is pushing it if your ship departs at 5pm.
Duration: 6 hours 50 minutes
Train Line: Virgin and CrossCountry
Direct? There are no direct services and many of the alternative routings involve multiple changes.
Tip: Go the day before and spend the night in Southampton.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: This calls for either an early start or taking it easy and heading south the day before your cruise.
Timings: There are two possible options to get from Glasgow Central to Southampton in time to board your ship the same day but these involve an early start and a tight connection. The very early one-change service is the 05.50 Virgin Trains service from Glasgow Central to Wolverhampton where there is a 10-minute connection onto a CrossCountry service that arrives in Southampton Central at 12.41. The other option is the 08.00 Virgin Trains service from Glasgow Central to Wolverhampton where there is a tight 8-minute connection onto a CrossCountry service that arrives in Southampton Central at 14.41. As these are different train operating companies there is no obligation on their part to hold an onwards train if the preceding service is running late. Also bear in mind that you will have luggage and there may well be a change of platforms which might mean taking your bags up and down stairs.
Duration: 6 hours 41 minutes
Train Line: Virgin Trains/Cross Country
Tip: Get your cruise off to a relaxing start and head south the day before. Check with your cruise line or travel agent as they often have specially-negotiated deals with hotels in Southampton.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 9:20 a.m.
Timings: There is only one relatively convenient one-change option that departs Leeds at 9:20 a.m. on a TransPennine Express service that arrives at Manchester Piccadilly, where 14 minutes later a CrossCountry train departs for Southampton which arrives at 2:40 p.m.
Duration: 5 hours 21 minutes
Train Line: TransPennine Express and CrossCountry
Tip: There are other, slightly faster, options but these involve either two or three changes -- not ideal when you have luggage.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 9:04 a.m.
Timings: Taking a London Midland train from Liverpool Lime Street at 9:04 a.m. gets you into Birmingham New Street, where 16 minutes later a CrossCountry service goes direct to Southampton arriving at 1:41 p.m.
Duration: 4 hours 37 minutes
Train Line: London Midland and CrossCountry
Tip: Separate tickets from Liverpool to Birmingham then Birmingham to Southampton are often a cheaper option.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 11:05 a.m.
Timings: There are fast direct trains at 5 minutes and 35 minutes past each hour during the day.
Duration: 1 hour 14 minutes
Train Line: South West Trains
Tip: Buy snacks at Waterloo as the on-train buffet prices are extortionate.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 9:27 a.m.
Timings: Trains depart Manchester Piccadilly at 27 minutes past each hour during the day. These trains call at Stockport, Macclesfield, Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford.
Duration: 4 hours 14 minutes
Train Line: CrossCountry
Tip: Take advantage of advance fares which are available up to three months prior to the date of travel.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 9:35 a.m.
Timings: Travellers in the North East are limited to only one hassle-free option -- the 9:35 a.m. direct cross-country service from Newcastle Central, which arrives at Southampton Central at 3:17 p.m. This train also calls at Durham, Darlington, York, Doncaster, Sheffield and Derby.
Duration: 5 hours 42 minutes
Train Line: Virgin Trains
Tip: This train is often very busy so seat reservations are recommended.
Time you need to leave to make your cruise: 9:00 a.m.
Timings: There are no direct train services between Norwich and Southampton so connections need to be made at London. The fastest option is the 09:00 Greater Anglia service to London Liverpool Street which arrives at 10:55 a.m. You then need to take the Underground or a taxi to London Waterloo and would be able to catch the 12:05 p.m. South Western Railways service to Southampton Central which arrives at 1:22 p.m.
Duration: 4 hours 22 minutes
Train Line: Greater Anglia Trains and South Western Trains
Tip: If you have the Uber app on your phone then when you arrive at London Liverpool Street simply arrange for a handy Uber car to take you and your luggage south of the River Thames to Waterloo Station.