Thomson Celebration cruise liner at Southampton docks _320
ONE of the world’s biggest holiday operators is to base a luxury cruise liner in Liverpool during the city’s year as European Capital of Culture.
Thomson Cruises is adding the Mersey as a home port during autumn next year, with the 1,300-capacity Celebration offering luxury journeys to ports such as Morocco.
It is the first time the company has used Liverpool as a starting point for its cruises as part of its drive to cater for growing demand from holidaymakers from Merseyside and North West.
Last night, David Selby, head of Thomson Cruises, said: “We delighted to announce that we are expanding our UK programme by adding Liverpool to our range of UK ports in 2008.
“We have a very loyal client base in the North West and not all prefer to fly to their chosen cruise ship.”
It will mean a record 30 cruises, carrying around 50,000 passengers, starting in Liverpool during 2008 to destinations such as the Amazon, Greenland and the Mediterranean.
Thomson is joining Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and cruise operators Page and Moy and Saga who are all stepping up their 2008 programmes from the Mersey.
Cruise liners, including the QE2, will be calling at the new cruise liner berth alongside Princes Dock during 2008.
Liverpool council leader Warren Bradley said last night: “Thomson’s decision is great news for the city.
“It’s a massive boost to tourism, and brings home the fact that our cruise liner terminal is fast becoming a reality. The terminal is a vitally important development not only for the city, but for the region and will have a huge impact on our future as a world city. Liverpool is an outward-looking, vibrant dynamic city which is attracting more and more visitors.
“As well as the record cruise departures from the river, we already have more than 25 cruise liners expected to be tying up in Liverpool each year by 2009, bringing a new influx of tourists attracted to the city’s outstanding attractions and providing a massive boost to the economy.”
Martin King, director of tourism at the Mersey Partnership said last night: “Thomson is one of the world's biggest travel companies, and it's a mark of their confidence in Liverpool that they are planning to base a cruise ship here as part of their 2008 programme.
“They will be very welcome. Their decision also sends out a strong message to the rest of the global cruise industry about Liverpool as a cruise port, a unique visitor destination and a fantastic gateway to the rest of England's NorthWest.”
Since the closure of the old Princes Landing Stage, Liverpool’s cruises have departed from the unglamorous Langton Dock near Bootle.
This is because that dock contains the necessary facilities, such as baggage handling and customs and immigration controls.
There was growing optimism last night that some of the cruises may start from the Pier Head cruise liner berth, particularly if facilities can be opened on the new £19m landing stage.
Last night ,Richard Martin, cruise manager at the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company said: “The commitment of Thomson as an addition to cruises out of Liverpool reflects the growing recognition in the industry of the port’s close proximity to a huge potential cruising market.
“We are delighted with this latest enhancement of Liverpool’s cruise trade which began in 1992 with just three sailings during the year.”
Fred Olsen has gradually increased its cruises out of Liverpool’s Langton Dock and this year is offering a programme of 17 scheduled sailings. This is to increase next year to a record 20 sailings.
The new cruise facility was due to be opened in the next few days, in readiness for the arrival of its first port of call visit on July 29 by the Holland American Lines’ Maasdam as part of a Voyage of the Vikings Cruise.
But delays due to bad weather mean it will now drop anchor mid-river and bring passengers ashore on a Mersey Ferry.
A number of Royal Navy vessels due in July and August will also now have to tie up in the dock system instead of the new landing stage.
A city council spokesman said: “The new cruise liner facility is on course to be completed on time for the official launch in September, which will coincide with the arrival of the QE2 to Liverpool.
“The latest engineering work involves towing the pontoons for the terminal from Canada Dock to be attached to piles sunk into the river bed, creating a 350-metre landing stage allowing the world's biggest liners to once again berth in Liverpool.
“The towing work was expected to take place between June 23 and 28, but was dependent on tidal and weather conditions. Because of the recent exceptional bad weather, this has been delayed until later this month to coincide with the next favourable tides. The project has been planned to cater for these adverse conditions.”
The Thomson Celebration will arrive in Liverpool on October 10.