A vessel from the National Geographic fleet is more commonly seen in the fjords of Norway and Antarctica, but from this September holidaymakers will be able to journey aboard the National Geographic Orion on a tour exploring the coasts of England and Wales.
The journey includes a packed itinerary where passengers will have the opportunity to visit Snowdonia National Park, Wales’ famed Bodnant Gardens, experience the maritime culture of Fishguard, and the flora and fauna of the Pembrokeshire coastline.
“We’ve seen a real increase in explorer vessels visiting our shores,” says head of Cruise Wales, Suzanne Thomas. “This particular cruise is the result of a National Geographic familiarisation visit last year to see what Wales had to offer as a cruise destination. We have such beautiful coastlines, not to mention spectacular wildlife. It will be a privilege to share the best of what Wales has to offer with National Geographic’s passengers.”
Calls such as this are a sign of the huge growth in cruise tourism, which Wales has experienced in more recent years.
“Our cruise market is continuing to grow at a healthy pace,” Thomas says. “It is one of the fastest growing sectors year on year and has been highlighted in the tourism strategy for Wales as a key way of developing the tourism industry in Wales.”
Thomas believes that this success comes down to a number of factors. “We work with many outside stakeholders, especially the cruise lines, and are always looking into various infrastructure developments to cater for their needs,” she says. “What we’re doing so far seems to be working. I hope that both the cruise operators and passengers are impressed with our offering and will want to return again in the future.”
Initiatives such as the Fishguard Friendly Faces team – a local group who are at the port to welcome incoming ships and provide information to passengers who want to travel into town – undoubtedly help.
And for the 2020 season, plans are well underway for a proposed multi-user berth development at Holyhead port – part of Cruise Wales’ ongoing initiative across all of its ports to accommodate the larger cruise vessels and handle more passengers.
Looking ahead, Thomas and her team hope to build on their achievements so far by coming up with even more exciting onshore excursion opportunities and continuing to listen to the needs and wants of the visiting cruise lines to ensure they’re keeping up with the latest passenger trends.
“We’re always testing new tour offerings and finding ways of combining multiple attractions so that passengers can make the most of their stay,” says Thomas. “We pride ourselves on having strong working relationships with the cruise lines and having the ability to offer a diverse array of excursions. There really is something for everyone.”