This year will see a quantitative leap in the development of cruisers arriving at the Port of Bilbao. It is forecast that for 2008 some 40 cruisers with a capacity for almost 40,000 passengers will berth at the Port’s new facilities. The season begins in April and ends in November.
At the present moment, Bilbao is a port that is consolidated on the routes of the great cruiser companies. For example, eight Fred Olsen cruises are scheduled to call, while four more will proceed from RCCL, Cunard and P&O.
With regards to vessels, there are two which will make four calls: the Fred Olsen Black Watch and the mythical Queen Elizabeth 2, belonging to Cunard Lines. In fact, this year, the Queen Elizabeth 2 ends her life as a cruise vessel to be converted into a luxury floating hotel at Dubai. The longest vessel will be the RCCL Constellation (294 metres) while P&O’s Ventura at 116,000 Gross Tonnage, will have the greatest capacity (3,100 passengers).
In addition, this season Bilbao will be the turnaround port for three vessels from two different cruise companies.
In accordance with its continuous improvement for the terminal, the Port Authority bas built there a promenade for public use, increased the lighting, adapted the existing gangway, and bought a second, Likewise for baggage control of passengers ending or commencing their cruise at Bilbao, a walk-through metal detector and a baggage scanner have been installed, Altogether, there has been an investment of 12.5 million euros in infrastructures and berthing improvements.
In 1997, the Guggenheim Museum was inaugurated and in that very year, the first cruise vessel docked in the Port of Bilbao. Throughout these ten years, nearly 200 vessels from some 40 companies and carrying about 132,000 passengers have berthed.
Since February 2006, cruise vessels have had their own exclusive berth, close to a beach and a leisure port at the beautiful seaside town of Getxo. The cruise terminal is connected to the motorway network and only 15 minutes away from both Bilbao and its international airport. Its fine geographic location means other places in northern Spain are quickly accessed, as in the cases of La Rioja, San Sebastian, Santander and Burgos.
From the wide range of excursions that cruise tourists are offered, half of the passengers opt to visit Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum, while 22% prefer to visit the Biscay Coast, dotted with picturesques fishing villages, biosphere reserves, and one of the oldest Parliament in Europe, at Gernika.
Other highly demanded trips are those to the Rioja wine cellars. On the way, the stopover at Vitoria to visit the splendid cathedral, whose magnificence inspired Ken Follet´s “World without end”.
San Sebastian, where Queen María Cristina used to spend her summer holidays. And France is just a hop away; the splendid city of Biarritz, summer resort of the British monarchy of the XIX and XX centuries.
A return to medieval times will be experienced visiting the ancient historical city of Burgos.
These are the outstanding examples of why the Port of Bilbao has so much potential as a cruise hub. Bearing this in mind, both the Port Authority and everyone involved in tourist promotion are working non-stop to offer new products to the sector.