Portland Port has hailed a record year for cruise calls but said the shuttle service from ships is ‘under constant review’ following problems throughout the season.
The cruise line business at the port has continued to grow since the port invested £26m on a deep-water berth to increase its capacity and capabilities, allowing ships of up to 350m into the port.
As a result of these large vessels docking at port, roads had been left in chaos following the shuttle bus picking up the thousands of passengers near the roundabout on Spring Road in Weymouth.
One resident described the situation as ‘hell’ after more than 130,000 holidaymakers made their way through the county, the largest number in the port’s 27-year history.
The busiest call saw the port play host to the largest double cruise day of the season in October when the Norwegian Star, with 2,269 passengers, and the MSC Euribia, with 5,227 passengers, both called in. This saw a total of 7,496 passengers pass through Weymouth.
A total of 56 ships made their way to port over eight months from April to November.
It is estimated that the visits have made a contribution in excess of £10m to the local economy, including local shops, bars and Jurassic Coast hotspots, along with day trips to Stonehenge and Bath.
This figure is on top of the shuttle bus, support services and salaries to the port’s financial outgoings.
The first call of the season was the AIDAbella on Tuesday, March 7. This was followed by Holland America Lines’ MS Zuiderdam on Saturday, April 15 and Hurtigruten’s MS Otto Sverdrup on Sunday, April 16, which both made inaugural visits.
The deep-water berth was christened by the MSC Virtuosa on Friday, April 28 with 5,015 passengers. This was the most aboard any ship until she returned with 6,025 passengers on Thursday, October 26.
Other ships to make inaugural visits were the Oceania Vista, Oceania Riviera, Disney Dream, MSC Euribia.
The final cruise call of the year was the AIDAmar, who also made her inaugural visit to the port on November 14 when she arrived with 2,134 passengers.
In a busy year, Portland Port also hosted trade association Cruise Britain’s annual summer gathering for the first time.
The gathering saw leaders from the cruise industry come for the major national event, held in partnership with Princess Cruises.
In terms of nationality, the guests visiting Portland came from a wide range of countries.
Leading the way were the more than 50,000 visitors from the USA. This was followed by more than 24,000 Germans, 20,000 from the UK and just under 10,000 from Canada.
Ian McQuade, Portland Port’s commercial general manager and chair of Cruise Britain, said: “Our record season shows how Portland continues to increase in popularity as a cruise destination."
Mr McQuade said that the location is so close to the English Channel on the Jurassic Coast, making it an ‘attractive transit port’ for sightseeing holiday makers.
“We’re grateful for the support of all of those who made 2023 such a successful year and helped us inject more than £10m into the local economy while raising the profile of the area and its many attractions,” he added.
Planning for the 2024 season is already underway, according to Mr McQuade. The port has cruise calls planned for 10 out of 12 months next year, starting in February.
He said: “The cruise calls don’t just fall into our laps. We have to work hard to attract the cruise lines and then even harder to ensure that we provide excellent service when they are in port.
Mr McQuade highlighted the work of the shuttle bus, as well as some of the problems facing the service. He said: “Our complimentary shuttle service taking passengers into the nearby town of Weymouth is hugely popular and very much appreciated by our cruise visitors but remains under constant review to ensure it operates in the best way possible."
He went on to thank the Dorset Volunteer Ambassadors for the work they do, as well as saying that the port ensures guests receive a memorable farewell with music on the quayside, before a three-gun salute by volunteers from the Nothe Fort Artillery.
“Next year looks set to be another busy and successful season in the development of the cruise industry in Dorset and we look forward to sharing more details about our exciting plans in due course,” he added.