Capital cruising

Cruise operations in Central London and at the Port of Tilbury are now organised under one umbrella, offering unrivalled choice and expertise.

Viking Star passing through the Thames Barrier River city – cruise ship passengers enjoy the sights of London.

Cruise passengers: the numbers just keep on rising. In its ‘2019 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook’, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecast that 30 million people would take a cruise holiday this year, an increase of 6% on the 28.2 million of 2018.

In a little aside – the CLIA report also highlighted ‘Instagrammable Cruise Travel’ as a number one trend, with cruise passengers keen to post their diverse travel experiences. It has to be said: What could be more ‘Instagrammable’ than London, with its history, culture, Royal traditions and iconic landmarks? London is recognised as a ‘must visit’ destination for many cruise passengers, and it doesn’t disappoint.

London also offers choice. Cruise ships up to a maximum length of 229 metres can transit all the way upriver and through the Thames Barrier to moor at Greenwich, next to the Cutty Sark; at Tower Bridge, alongside HMS Belfast; or at George’s Stair Tier. The prospect of mooring right in the centre of London is an obvious attraction.

Further downstream, the Port of Tilbury’s historic London Cruise Terminal handles a regular stream of cruise ships, many of them heading out on round- Britain, Scandinavian and Baltic itineraries.

An important development in 2018 has brought the two options under one umbrella, providing cruise lines with a single point of contact, and combining unrivalled expertise and knowhow.

A five-year contract for management of the Central London Cruise Moorings was put out to tender by the PLA, and awarded to a joint venture between the Port of Tilbury and MBNA Thames Clippers. The two partners now have responsibility for the smooth day-to-day operations of three moorings at Greenwich Ship Tier, Tower Bridge Upper and George’s Stair Tier, all on behalf of the PLA.

“We were awarded the contract in April 2018 and welcomed our first ship in May,” says Port of Tilbury senior development manager Steve Lyons. “Passengers are transported from and to their vessels via one of Thames Clippers’ catamarans. We handle both day visits, in which passengers enjoy a variety of excursions in London, and full turnarounds; we also handle Royal Navy vessels and superyachts in central London.

“Our joint venture with Thames Clippers is a very successful marriage and 2018 was a very successful season. We handled over 100 ships in the year.” The Tilbury and Central London facilities handled just short of 170,000 passengers between them in 2018 – Tilbury alone saw a 12% increase in passenger numbers. “2019 is looking promising, with a similar number of vessels,” says Steve Lyons.

Head turning vessels that called in 2018 included the Silver Cloud and the Viking Sea, Viking Cruises being the most frequent users at Central London Cruise Moorings

“There are clear synergies between the two cruise locations, and both the Port of Tilbury and Thames Clippers bring extensive knowledge and knowhow to the operations.”

The cruise season at Central London Cruise Moorings generally stretches from March to September. The length restriction for ships is 229 metres, the longest that can pass through the Thames Barrier. Head-turning vessels that called in 2018 included the Silver Cloud and the Viking Sea – Viking Cruises being the most frequent user of the moorings.

The PLA’s pilotage team includes a number of dedicated river pilots who have been through specialist training and have the extensive knowledge of the river required to guide vessels such as the 228-metre, nine-deck Viking Sea (and her sister vessels) to its moorings.

At Tilbury’s Grade II Listed London Cruise Terminal, the cruise season is year round and even includes short cruises to visit the Christmas markets in Europe during December.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages is the largest user of the terminal; in June 2019, CMV’s new vessel, the Vasco Da Gama, will make its inaugural call into Tilbury. Norwegian Cruise Lines will be calling at Tilbury for the first time, with four bookings for 2019 – these will be the second largest vessels ever handled at the terminal, following TUI in first place. Viking Cruises is another major caller.

London Cruise Terminal was built in the 1930s – the building itself and its unique floating landing stage have provided the historic backdrop for numerous films and television programmes. It is famous for being the departure point for thousands of British people emigrating to Australia and elsewhere before affordable air travel became an option.

Mein Schiff 3 Record breaker – 293-metre long Mein Schiff 3, the biggest cruise ship ever to visit London International Cruise Terminal.