Pól Ó Conghaile: Could Dublin become a 'Home Port' for the world's biggest cruise ships?
Dublin is seeking to become a 'turnaround' port for cruise ships by 2020, writes our Travel Editor.
This Tuesday, a cruise ship taller than Liberty Hall will dock in Dublin.
The 333m MSC Splendida, a vessel so large it has to reverse into the Liffey, will arrive around 7am. If you've never seen a ship this big, pop down. It's jaw-dropping.
This season, Dublin Port will host some 113 cruise calls - including Celebrity Silhouette, Disney Magic and National Geographic Orion.
Cruise tourism is growing at 20pc a year, the Port Company says. By 2020, its Alexandra Basin Redevelopment Project will allow the world's biggest ships to dock in Dublin (including Royal Caribbean's new, 362m Harmony of the Seas).
The behemoths will be able to berth as far upriver as the East Link - a sight that will add a whole new wow-factor to the cityscape.
Little by little, cruise stereotypes are being smashed. 35,972 Irish people took cruises in 2015 - up 14pc on the previous year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Clearly cruising isn't for everyone, but there's a lot more to it than buffets and blue rinses.
That makes the prospect of Dublin as a Home Port, where ships start and end journeys as opposed to simply visiting, all the more exciting. Such 'turnaround' ports attract more bed-nights and business, not to mention providing an option for local holidaymakers who don't wish to fly.
Dublin's coastal location, new cruise marketing agency and the city's hosting of the Cruise Europe Conference this June give it a head-start on other European cities. Challenges loom (most obviously, a shortage of hotel rooms), but this voyage has definitely begun.
MSC now has an Irish website (msccruises.ie), as do Royal Caribbean (royalcaribbean.ie) and Celebrity (celebritycruises.ie), indicating just how seriously these giants are taking the Irish market. It's always worth checking Irish tour operators for deals, however - particularly for the Med in winter months.
Clickandgo.com has flights plus seven nights on MSC Splendida (above) from €499pp out of Barcelona between December and March, for instance. See e-travel.ie, sunway.ie and cruisescapes.ie for other deals. NB: All prices subject to availability.
John Galligan (jgt.ie) is a Dublin-based travel agent who has made cruise holidays and bucket list trips a speciality. Deals for 2016 include a Rocky Mountaineer rail tour and five-star Alaskan cruise. Departing August 19, the 17-day trip is priced at €4,899pp and senior staff will accompany you throughout (the cruise ship is Holland America's MS Nieuw Amsterdam).
If you fancy departing from Dublin, Hapag Lloyd's Europa 2 (above) - rated one of the world's best small cruise ships - has a nine-night sailing to Hamburg in July from €4,631pp.