A record number of cruise passengers are expected to sail into Lerwick Harbour this year, reinforcing the popularity of the Shetland Islands as one of Scotland’s top destinations.

The prospect is revealed ahead of the industry’s leading international conference and exhibition, Cruise Shipping Miami, at which Lerwick Port Authority is again exhibiting on the Cruise Scotland stand (636), from 15-18 March.

The Port Authority’s Deputy Chief Executive, Victor Sandison, said: “The combination of more and larger vessels expected this year, the promising mix of repeat visits and first-time callers, and an increase in passengers will make for another great record-breaking season.

“The port is looking forward to its highest number of visitors and cruise ships and the biggest tonnage of vessels yet, including the largest so far.”

The season will begin on 10 May with the arrival of National Geographic Explorer, on the first of three visits, and the peak month will be July, with 19 calls.

With 50 visits booked to date – two more than the record set in 2003 and matched in 2005 - around 29,000 passengers are expected, compared with the previous record of 26,000 in 2006.

The record of 984,603 gross tonnes of cruise shipping, set last year, is due to be broken again, topping the million-mark for the first time at 1,218,272 gross tonnes. The season is scheduled to end on a high note on 28 September, with the 108,806 gross tonne Grand Princess the largest yet and topping Costa Magica (102,587 gross tonnes) which called twice in 2009.

Grand Princess will be one of eight vessels on maiden calls this year, the others being AIDAaura, Ocean Countess, MSC Poesia, Seabourn Sojourn, Gann, Costa Luminosa and Norwegian Sun. Both the Norwegian Sun and Grand Princess will be on transatlantic repositioning cruises in the late autumn.

Shetland lies at the crossroads of the North Sea and Atlantic and is famous for its seabird colonies, marine life, beaches and cliffs, Scandinavian and Scottish heritage, and locally produced foods and crafts.