Purbeck day trips back on itinerary for cruise ship tourists

Visitor attractions in Purbeck, including Swanage, Corfe Castle and Lulworth, may benefit from thousands of extra tourists in 2023 as cruise ships start to arrive back in pre-Covid numbers at Portland in Dorset.

While Corfe Castle and Lulworth are established cruise ship excursions on the way to Stonehenge, international cruise ship passengers are also being offered the chance to take a heritage steam train from Corfe Castle to Swanage and spend time visiting the town.

Flying Scotsman at Corfe on Swanage Railway

Steam trips from Corfe Castle to Swanage will be offered to cruise passengers for 2023

Swanage experience could be offered across 21 ships

The German-based Aida cruise line, owned by parent company Carnival Cruise Line, is offering the Swanage Railway ‘Victorian’ experience across all of its six ships that are due to drop anchor in Portland in 2023.

However if it proves popular it could be offered across all of Carnival Cruise Line’s other companies, which includes Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, and Cunard.

This year it has 21 of its ships due to dock in Portland with a potential 50,000 guests.

Robert Patterson from Swanage Railway

Robert Patterson, chair of Swanage Railway, welcomed the ‘fabulous’ news

“It is brilliant news for Swanage Railway”

The news delighted chair of Swanage Railway Robert Patterson, who said the return of the cruise ships could have massive economic tourist benefits for the heritage line:

“It is brilliant news for Swanage Railway, and something we have been angling for over a number of years as part of the railway’s business plan – perhaps all of our efforts have finally paid off!

“If we can forge a stronger link with the cruise liners, then the volume of customers from the ships might be in the hundreds and we can offer them an unforgettable experience like champagne in a Pullman car.

“I expect that the most popular trip out of Portland will be Stonehenge and Salisbury, but hopefully the cruise ship visitors can be attracted by more exciting things than a circle of stones!

“It will probably be a slow burn which could take off after a while, but the important thing is getting a foothold in the market and spreading news of the quality experience we offer by word of mouth. That would be fabulous!”

Corfe Castle is looking forward to welcoming lots of cruise ship visitors again

“Great to welcome people from all over the world again”

Tracey Churcher, National Trust general manager for the Isle of Purbeck, said:

“After the disruption of the pandemic, it’s great to be able to welcome people from all over the world to explore Corfe Castle.

“We have an exciting programme of events running this year, and as we are open virtually every day, there is always something on for visitors to enjoy, including the chance to visit a beautiful historic village with some great independent retail.

“As a conservation charity, every visit also helps to care for this 1,000 year old historic castle for future generations to enjoy.”

The Disney Magic has been a previous visitor to Portland, seen here in 2019 in 2019

Disney Magic cruise liner visited Portland in 2019

Disney Dream is scheduled to drop anchor in Portland

In total, there are 56 liners already confirmed to visit Portland through the 2023 season, with a potential record number of 132,570 tourists on board.

It is expected that by the time the season ends in mid November 2023, the total number of visits will be well ahead of the 62 ships and 112,000 tourists welcomed in 2022, and great news for the Purbeck tourist industry.

More than a dozen different cruise line companies have ships already booked in to Portland port for this year including Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, MSC, Celebrity Cruises, TUI, Phoenix Reisen and the Norwegian Cruise Line.

Even the huge Disney Cruise Line ship the Disney Dream with a potential 4,000 people on board is scheduled to drop anchor at Portland on 16th September 2023.

Peaceful Lulworth Cove attracts 500,000 visitors every year

Lulworth Cove – mile upon mile of beautiful coastline

“Tourism is worth £1.8 billion to Dorset economy”

Councillor Laura Beddow, who represents West Purbeck on Dorset Council and whose area includes Durdle Door and Lulworth is keen to see responsible tourists returning to the county. Laura, who is also Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for culture, communities and customer services said:

“We welcome enthusiastic, considerate tourism and the chance to share our lovely area. In Dorset, we are lucky to have mile upon mile of beautiful countryside, coastline and picturesque towns and we want to care and protect our county for the future. 

“That’s why we are encouraging everyone to be responsible travellers when visiting Dorset and to support sustainable tourism. Even the smallest things can make a big difference, so we’re asking everyone to promise to love Dorset in order that we can all enjoy it now and for future generations.

“Tourism is worth about £1.8bn to Dorset’s economy, so we are keen to support Dorset’s visitor economy and aid recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

“But we also need visitors to behave responsibly and balance the needs of the environment, the economy and our communities.”


The MSC Virtuosa is heading for Portland in April 2023


Water slides and swimming pools are exciting attractions on MSC cruise ships

Cruise sales are returning to pre-pandemic levels

Cruise ships have been criticised in the past for their poor record on pollution, greenhouse gas emission and ‘over-tourism’, the impact they have on coastal communities with huge numbers of tourists arriving for the day.

But Antonio Paradiso, UK and Ireland managing director of MSC Cruises, whose ship the MSC Virtuosa will be the largest to dock in Portland in 2023, said that his company was tackling all of the environmental concerns while bringing benefits to the Purbeck economy.

Antonio said:

“At MSC Cruises, we have introduced itineraries that visit the beautiful coastline of Dorset and Cornwall helping to boost tourism in those areas. Our cruises are proving to be very popular with UK guests and we have seen sales return to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Sustainability is a key focus for MSC Cruises and we have been addressing sustainability on several fronts to reach our net zero emissions target by 2050, from cleaner fuel to energy efficiency measures and advanced water and waste management systems on board. 

“Later this year our brand new ship, MSC Euribia, will be based in the UK all year round. I am delighted about this as it is set to be a truly innovative ship and the second ship in the MSC fleet to be powered by liquified natural gas fuel, the most sustainable fuel currently available at scale.

“We’re seeing a huge appetite for stress-free no fly cruises from Southampton and I think this is partly attributed to the fantastic onboard offering MSC Virtuosa provides guests along with the brilliant destinations she visits, both in the UK and further afield.”

Durdle door on Lulworth Estate

Durdle Door is a popular excursion offered by most cruise ships

It’s suggested that cruise ship passengers take a stroll along Swanage Pier

Chance to visit Swanage and the ‘original pier’

The first cruise ship due in at Portland this spring is the AIDAbella, a German 13-deck ship with more than 1,000 cabins which will have an expected 2,050 guests on board.

When it docks at 8 am on Tuesday 7th March, 2023, it will offer nine guided tours, three of which will take guests to local tourist sites, including to Swanage by steam train.

The excursion guide suggests taking in the charm of the town for 90 minutes with a ‘stroll on the original pier’. It’s hoped this is an error in translation rather than suggesting clambering over the ruins of the old Swanage pier which is now mainly submerged under the sea!

Alternatively, there’s a five-hour excursion to Corfe Castle to explore the castle ruins and have lunch in the village, or a tour to Durdle Door for a two-hour walk along the Jurassic Coast to Lulworth Cove with a meal at the bay.

Cruise ship in Swanage Bay during lockdown
Cruise ships in Swanage during lockdown

During 2020 and 2021, cruise ships became part of the view from Swanage during lockdown

Cruise ships became an attraction in Swanage during lockdown

While not usually spotted in Swanage, cruise ships did become a familiar sight during the Covid lockdowns, with several large cruise ships anchored off Swanage Bay for many months, becoming something of an attraction.

At one point, there were half a dozen ships visible in the bay, which included Arcadia, Jewel of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.


Trips to Stonehenge include a stop at Corfe Castle by popular demand

Visiting iconic sights is a holiday highlight

Cruise ship guests are also served by private hire companies who also take trade to local towns, including Stonehenge Tours, which has been running private tours for groups of up to 16 people at a time out of Portland for several years, making stops at Corfe Castle and a local pub before heading for Salisbury.

George Kendrick from Stonehenge Tours said:

“Our service is designed for customers whose ships dock at Portland and is always very popular – visitors have read so much about iconic sites like Corfe Castle and Durdle Door and seeing them is often a highlight of their holiday.

“We have been running tours since 1998, we were early pioneers of transfer tours and although our niche is Stonehenge we have always had prehistoric and archaeological experts on staff to be able to give real insights into places like the Jurassic Coast and Corfe Castle.

“Like so many firms in tourism, we have had a terrible time over the last few years, 2020 was a write-off when there were no cruise ships, 2021 never really restarted and international travel was mostly off – it was horrendous.

“But we survived and 2022 was much better. There are signs that 2023 will see a big increase in both cruise ships and international tourists wanting to see the best that England has to offer.

“There are already a few dates in May and June where we are at full capacity, but we have taken on a couple of extra drivers and looking to put on a few larger vehicles – I expect we will take several hundred people to Corfe Castle over the summer.”

The cruise industry is the fastest growing sector in tourism and according to the industry is expected to exceed pre-Covid passenger numbers and revenues by 2024 and and grow to 12 percent above pre-pandemic levels by 2026.

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