THE first cruise liner to dock at Portsmouth International Port this year was due to arrive this morning.
Classic International Cruises’ Athena was due into the port at 8am from a 40-day cruise from Australia, via Christmas Island, Singapore, Phuket, Piraeus, Barcelona, Tangiers and Lisbon.
Portsmouth is the ship’s final destination.
Passengers on board will be the first to use the newly-built terminal, part of a £16.5m upgrade of the port that is designed to accommodate both ferry passengers and cruise liner customers.
It is due to be officially opened on May 13.
Martin Putman, port manager, said: ‘We are delighted to greet Athena and her passengers and are proud that at the end of a long voyage they will be welcomed to the UK through our spectacular new terminal.
‘This is just the start of a busy season of cruise ship visits for us at Portsmouth International Port.
‘The changes we’ve made are already attracting more business from cruise ship companies.’
Athena was due to arrive with 250 passengers on board, most of whom are Australian.
The ship is a living piece of maritime history. It started life in 1948 as an ocean liner and after a full refit and refurbishment in 2004 became a luxury cruise ship.
Athena operates in Europe during our summer and from Australia during our winter.
Between now and the end of December there will be 34 cruise ships calling at Portsmouth.
All Leisure Group Limited, owners of the Swan Hellenic brand Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises will base three ships at the port for the summer.
Other visitors include the National Geographic Explorer, an expedition cruise ship and Fred Olsen’s Boudicca.
It’s a long way from when the port first started welcoming cruise ships in 2001.
Then it only had six during the season, but by 2009 that figure had leapt to 22.
This year there are 36 booked for 2011, including 28 turnarounds where passengers can begin their cruise.
And there are already 18 calls planned for 2012.
Polar adventure ship Ocean Nova run by Quark Expeditions calls at Portsmouth on Sunday, then on Saturday, April 23 the elegant liner Discovery departs on a 22-day châteaux, castles and gardens cruise.