As Norwegian Epic Arrives, Southampton Dreams Big

June 22, 2010

Today sees the port of Southampton in the cruising spotlight once again, with the arrival of Norwegian Cruise Line's 153,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic -- the most anticipated ship of 2010. And local businesses are making no bones about the fact that when it comes to cruise ship calls, they want more, more, more.

Southampton port is already the busiest in the U.K., with some 360 ships on the calendar this year. Each visit is worth around £1.25 million to the city, so it's easy to see the attraction. But now, says Ray Facey, chairman of local business network Cruise Partnership Southampton, the city wants to step it up a notch to entice holidaymakers to stick around.

Southampton: What Could Be Next?

"So many people here have an interest in cruising," he explained to Cruise Critic. "We want to remain the UK's number one and take on even bigger ports, like Barcelona. One thing we want to do is make the city more attractive for cruise calls, and make sure passengers come back here to visit. At the moment, 95 percent of our business is turnarounds."

How exactly does Facey's organization, which counts companies from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean to South West Trains and local taxi firms as its members, plan to do that? Facey says he dreams of signs all over the docks saying "Southampton, Cruise Capital of Northern Europe," as well as a fifth cruise terminal and even a dedicated overpass to funnel traffic straight to the port.

"I want to make sure people are welcomed, with guides, shuttle buses into the city and buses to local attractions in the area, without treading on the toes of the cruise lines and their excursions," he said. "It is beginning to kick in. Southampton has the best-preserved city walls in Britain after York. We have shopping, the Titanic Museum, historic Winchester and the New Forest."

But, There Are Challenges

Southampton port, operated by Associate British Ports (ABP), is privately funded -- which means any infrastructure improvements have to come from private money, not the government. "And we are competing with massive projects like Barcelona port, funded by grants, and even Liverpool, which had EU money," said Facey.

Now, Facey says, there is a possibility that the local tourist board will close because of lack of funding -- and despite the fact that cruising provides more than 2,240 full-time jobs to the city, local people are not sufficiently engaged with the industry. Facey believes this could be because the docks are slightly removed from the city centre. "Southampton is looking for an identity," he told us. "But cruising is its identity. Ships go all over the world with 'Southampton' as part of their name."

It's true that even among the converted cruise passengers, the city doesn't really stand out as a must-see destination. In our poll this week about your favourite UK ports, Southampton didn't score particularly well, being thrashed by Edinburgh and soundly beaten by Belfast, Cork, Liverpool and Dublin.

What changes would make Southampton more appealing to you as a port of call, or for a pre- or post-cruise getaway? Tell us!

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

Fan Cruise Critic on Facebook!

Follow Cruise Critic on Twitter!