The Port of Kiel, Germany, has achieved a significant milestone this year by welcoming over one million cruise guests for the first time within a single season.

Despite a decrease in the number of cruise ships compared to last year, an increase in ship size has propelled the port to this new record.

Cruise ports worldwide have recorded record visitor numbers in 2023. Over the weekend, the Port of Kiel in Germany confirmed that it had reached the one million cruise guest milestone for the current 2023 cruise season. 

The total tally of cruise ships that have docked at Kiel this year stands at 198, with 24 more expected to visit in the coming months. 

This data comes on the heels of the port’s busiest season ever in 2022, where 243 calls were made, bringing 835,000 passengers to Kiel. The 2023 season, although seeing just 222 calls, has surpassed the previous records in terms of guest numbers.

Disney Dream Docked in Kiel (Photo Credit: Seehafen Kiel GmbH & Co. KG?

Kiel ranks among Northern Europe’s most frequented cruise ports and serves as a gateway to the Kiel Canal. This well-traveled and picturesque waterway enables cruise ships to navigate inland waters while shortening the journey to the Baltic Sea. Originating at the River Elbe, the canal spans approximately 61 miles, culminating in Kiel.

Seehafen Kiel GmbH (Seaport Kiel) expects the current level of cruise ship arrivals and cruise passengers to remain reasonably stable over the coming years. 

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“Cruises have gained in popularity, and our cruise partners are recording good booking figures. That makes us happy. The fact that we are welcoming one million cruise passengers in Kiel for the first time this season is, of course, something special.”

“This year, we are expecting a record year. For the next few years, we expect the cruise business to stabilize at a similar level, which we are also very well able to handle with our terminals and operational processes,” says Dirk Claus, Managing Director of Seehafen Kiel GmbH & Co. KG.

While the port has received some resistance from locals over the growing number of cruise ships visiting Kiel, the port is one of the greenest in Europe. Over 30% of all calls have been emission-free due to a strong focus on shore power capabilities. 

While the number of calls decreased slightly in 2023, the number of guests has increased, which can be attributed to much larger cruise ships visiting the port of Kiel this year. 

Visiting ships include those from German cruise operator AIDA, such as the 6,654 guest Excel-Class AIDAnova, AIDAbella, AIDAluna, and MSC Cruises’ newest cruise ship, the 181,541 gross tons, 6,334 guest MSC Euribia, which all called over the weekend of September 16 and 17.

Nieuw Statendam in Kiel (Photo Credit Seehafen Kiel GmbH & Co. KG)

Other cruise lines have also been making increased calls to Kiel and the Baltic Sea region, selecting Kiel more frequently as a port of call. Companies such as Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are increasingly joining European mainstays AIDA and MSC. And, just a month ago, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream made its maiden call to the port.

Although the Baltic region’s cruise industry took a big hit when the hugely popular St. Petersburg was taken off itineraries, several Baltic ports have taken up the slack. Besides Kiel, ports such as Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; Copenhagen, Denmark; and the UNESCO World Heritage site in Tallinn in Estonia are becoming increasingly popular. 

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