The UK’s love affair with cruising

September 23, 2014

For the UK, cruise holidays are a labour of love.

For the UK, cruising is a long-held passion that harkens back to the height of the British Empire, when the Royal Navy ruled the seven seas. Britain has had a rich and storied maritime history – for an island as tiny as ours, it couldn’t really be any other way – so it’s not surprising that we still feel a strong connection with the ocean.

It was as long ago as 1822 when what we know today as P&O was founded as the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company to become the world’s oldest cruise line. In the intervening years, the function of ships at sea may have changed (from trade and travel for the point of getting from A to B to a more leisurely activity), and ships have certainly got much bigger, but our desire to sail oceans, seas and rivers is just as strong.

Brits abroad

In fact, visitor numbers to the UK are as strong as ever, with Britain once again Europe’s biggest cruise market in 2013, according to figures from the Cruise Lines International Association. They found that 27 per cent of the continent’s 6.357 million recorded cruise passengers last year were from the UK. With this in mind, the only surprising thing is that last year was the first ever time that shores witnessed more than one million embarkations.

The number of passengers (including Brits and overseas passengers) setting off on a cruise from a UK port grew by ten per cent last year to stand at 1,062,000. At the same time, 866,000 arrived at one of its 51 ports last year, again a substantial rise of 20 per cent to 866,000.

As Andy Harmer, director of CLIA UK and Ireland, says: “Momentum has returned to the UK cruise market in 2013 with significant growth in passengers numbers and especially in embarkations from our home ports – both of which are impressive achievements when set against a backdrop of an economy that has proven slow to recover.

“The cruise industry’s continued confidence in the UK market is clearly demonstrated by the increasing number of ships that will sail from British ports in the coming years, and we believe this marks a key point in the continuing growth of the UK cruise market.”

Wish you were here

So where is it that Brits love to go? The Mediterranean tends to be the most popular destination for UK cruises, thanks to a combination of its proximity and amazing weather. In fact, CLIA figures suggest that some 644,000 British passengers chose a Med cruise in 2013, while the second most popular area was Northern Europe, accounting for a further 531,000 travellers. The region that includes Scandinavia has become much more popular in recent years and, in fact, saw a 20 per cent rise in the number of Brits visiting last year.

European river cruises are another big market, with trips along the Rhine, Danube and Moselle rivers accounting for a large number of UK cruise visits.

Looking to the future

It’s certainly an exciting time for the UK cruise industry, with two massive new ships set to make their debuts in Southampton early next year. Spring sees the arrival of P&O Britannia, the cruise line’s largest ever ship, and at much the same time Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, a Quantum-class vessel. Both will be large ships, although Anthem of the Seas boasts the weight advantage, at a hulking 167,800 tonnes to 141,000 tonnes. It remains to be seen which will be received with the strongest fervour by the UK market, but early bookings are looking strong across the board right now so it’s sure to be a relatively even contest.