Europe is slowly but surely preparing for the arrival of hundreds of cruise ships that will be sailing around the continent this summer. Many ports expect the busiest season to date this year, including the Scottish port of Lerwick. 

Lerwick is the capital of the Shetland Islands and an increasingly popular hotspot for cruise ships and expedition cruises. With abundant wildlife and history, the Shetland Islands are one of the most popular cruise destinations in the United Kingdom, with over 140 cruise calls scheduled this year. 

Despite its stunning beauty, the Shetland Islands remain rarely visited due to the remote location, somewhere halfway between Norway and Northern Scotland. Yet, Lerwick, the main port, along with the surrounding islands, is becoming an increasingly popular feature on cruise ship itineraries from the major cruise lines and smaller expedition cruise lines. 

This year, Lerwick is gearing up for its busiest cruise season to date. The season’s start was marked by the arrival of Ambassador Cruise Line’s Ambition on Saturday, March 30. Ambition is the first of 149 cruise ships scheduled to visit the Shetland Islands through mid-November. 

Melanie Henderson, Lerwick Port Authority’s Cruise & Marketing Manager: “The cruise industry’s contribution to Shetland’s tourism sector continues to go from strength to strength.”

Cruise ships significantly contribute to the local economy by creating employment opportunities and generating income for residents.

“The number of ships arriving significantly contributes to the local economy, providing employment, keeping the attractions and venues busy, and providing important footfall for local businesses,” Henderson said.

To warmly welcome visitors, the port authority has implemented a comprehensive meet-and-greet service. This initiative includes teams on the quaysides to greet passengers as they disembark, whether directly from berthed ships or by tender from larger vessels anchored offshore.

Cruise Ships in the Shetland Islands (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

The service is complemented by shuttle buses facilitating easy access to and from the town center, along with special receptions for vessels making their maiden voyage to Lerwick.

Henderson: “We are looking forward to another great season working alongside everyone involved to host guests from all over the world to experience our local hospitality and all that Shetland has to offer.”

It remains uncertain whether guests will be subject to an additional cruise ship tax, a levy proposed by the local government in January this year. Despite discussions, the plan appears to have been quietly set aside without further action.

The 2024 cruise season in the Shetland Islands will go from strength to strength in the coming months. While March has just the one call from Ambition, in April Lerwick will host eight cruise ships. From May, the season will kick into high gear with 39 calls, followed by 39 calls in June.

Holland America Ship Lerwick, Shetland Islands (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

From July, the port will be slightly less busy with 29 calls, followed by 17 calls in August, and 16 in September. October and November will have just one call each from AIDAsol and Le Commandant Charcot respectively.

The season will see 11 maiden calls, and feature a mix of smaller luxury cruise ships, such as Regent’s Seven Seas Splendor, expedition cruise ships, such as the former Crystal Cruises expedition ship Silver Endeavour, and larger cruise ships, such as Norwegian Star, Jewel of the Seas, and the 139,072 gross tons MSC Preziosa

One of the biggest events of the year will be the arrival ofMSC Virtuosa on May 20, the largest cruise ship in history to call to Lerwick. The Meraviglia-Plus class cruise ship is 181,541 gross tons and can host 4,842 guests at double occupancy.

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