2019 could be a record year for Irish cruise holidays, despite choppy waters at Dublin Port writes Pól Ó Conghaile
We're gonna need a bigger boat.
Having been At Your Service all over Ireland, after leading Grand Tours as far afield as Vietnam and India, Francis Brennan is finding his sea legs.
Francis Brennan - All Hands on Deck, a three-part TV series that sees the hotelier sail the Baltics with Princess Cruises, starts on RTE One this Sunday, October 20.
The series sees Francis tend to 3,660 guests on board the Regal Princess by stepping into the shoes of Entertainment Director, Hotel General Manager and Maitre d'.
"I was very nervous but I just got stuck in," he says.
"My approach was that I was simply working on a floating hotel so I did it all – room service, made attempts at cooking pizza and I started by bringing passengers on an orientation tour.
"There’s just so much going on all the time, from early morning to late night entertainment. Of course I had a few obstacles to overcome and at one point, for the first time in my life, I was actually speechless.”
The series comes as a new survey by CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, shows Irish travellers have taken 20pc more cruise trips this year than last.
Cruise holidays rose from 20,000 to 24,000 between January and June, putting 2019 on course to be "the strongest year yet for the Irish cruise sector," it says.
The figure may even be an underestimate, several tour operators believe.
"Cruising now accounts for 50pc of our business with significant interest and growth in expedition cruising, cruises from Ireland and short duration or mini-cruises," says Alan Lynch, Managing Director of Cruiseescapes.ie.
"Trends are leaning towards a younger customer as they find that cruising is not just for the blue rinse brigade," he adds. "You can do anything from party all night to attend lectures on your favourite subject."
Mary McKenna, Managing Director at Tour America and Cruise Holidays, says both businesses "are showing much higher growth than 30pc" in cruise this year.
The reasons for that? Cruise lines are marketing more in Ireland, short cruises and family cruise lines are on the rise, and social media interactions with younger customers are growing, the tour operator believes.
"The number of cruises being sold is definitely on the increase," agrees Dublin-based John Galligan, another specialist travel agent.
Departures from Ireland have stoked interest among "new-to-cruise" customers, he says, "particularly with the value lines like CMV".
"At the same time, the Irish cruise client is maturing and becoming more discerning," Galligan adds. "We are seeing a growing trend of trading up."
Despite the boom, and an assembly line of new ships, however, Irish cruise tourism faces a challenge in the near future as Dublin Port plans to halve cruise ships visits from 2021 to 2023 to facilitate development works.
CLIA, Celebrity Cruises and the All-Ireland Cruise Ship Action Group (AICSAG) have all expressed their concern at the news, which is expected to see a drop in cruise calls from 160 to 80 each year from 2021 to 2023.
The decision will "devastate" Irish tourism, Niamh McCarthy, Chief Executive of Excursions Ireland and spokesperson for AICSAG has said.
For its part, Dublin Port has told the Irish Independent that the move is necessary to facilitate "complex construction projects" and that it would be possible to grow the business again in future.
It's our first time travelling with two kids under five, but as we pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and retire to our balcony (armed with cheese and crackers freshly snaffled from the buffet) to wave bye-bye to the Pigeon House chimneys, my husband and I both agree that this is the most stress-free start to a holiday we've ever had.