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Another view of Liverpool waterfront

Another view of Liverpool waterfront

Yesterday I posted about my visit to Liverpool Cruise terminal on Wednesday and focused on the terminal’s history and how it handles day calls. Today I’m going to focus on how the terminal handles cruise turnarounds, and about future plans for the terminal.

Although the terminal was constructed for cruise day calls only, it was, I gather, always hoped that a way could be found to use it for turnarounds. In the end the impetus for this came from Fred Olsen. They had previously done cruise turnarounds from Liverpool, but from Langton Dock in Bootle, and using their smallest ship, Black Prince. Langton Dock is connected to the river via locks, and the problem was the potential difficulty of getting a larger ship through these locks. At the end of the 2009 season Fred Olsen retired Black Prince and replaced her at Langton Dock for 2010 with the much larger Boudicca (28,000 GRT as against 9,500 GRT). After a few cruises with Boudicca Fred Olsen decided that getting her in and out of Langton Dock was too fraught with potential problems. These were not actual risks to the ship or passengers, but issues such as possible delays if the winds were too strong – the clearances through the lock were much tighter for the larger ship and required calmer conditions, and if those couldn’t be achieved then cruise schedules could be disrupted. Fred Olsen therefore took the decision that they would fulfil the already-planned program of cruises from Liverpool for 2010 and 2011 but that they would withdraw from Liverpool after the 2011 programme. This was widely seen as a heavy blow – here’s a link to a story about it in the Liverpool Echo at the time the announcement was made (2010); and here, to balance the picture, is a link to the announcement they made in 2012 to say they would return in 2013.

To be fair, Liverpool always knew that using the new terminal for cruise turnarounds was going to be essential, but there was a problem – they were prohibited from doing so as a result of conditions attached to the public funds that had been used to construct it. Eventually Liverpool settled the issue by repaying a significant chunk of the grant, and obtained approval to do turnarounds in early 2012. Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) started the program of cruise turnarounds from the terminal in 2012 and Fred Olsen returned with Boudicca in 2013. This year (2015) they have Black Watch doing a full season of cruises from the city.

The requirements for turnarounds are very different from those for day calls and the demands on the terminal are different. The ship has to be restocked; baggage has to be both unloaded and loaded; car parking for arriving passengers has to be available, and of course departing passengers need to have their cars returned to them; and the arriving passengers have to be checked in to start their cruise. The capacity of the terminal is limited and whereas it can handle in excess of 3000 passengers on a day call, the absolute limit for turnarounds is not much more than 1000. In practice the number being handled is less than that since there are no ships doing turnarounds yet with a passenger capacity over 1000. Even with those numbers the process has to be careful managed.

The three images above show the terminal laid out for a day call. On a turnaround day, however, things look rather different. First, the terminal space has to be used as the baggage hall for returning passengers, so all the chairs, checkin-desks, booths, etc, are all packed away and the space left empty to be used as the baggage reclaim area. Once all the returning passengers have disembarked and all the luggage collected (hopefully….) the space will be empty, and at this point the terminal staff go into hyperdrive mode and set up the chairs, the check-in desks, booths, refreshment stands, etc, to handle the passengers for the outbound cruise. One upshot of all this is that disembarkation has to be completed before any arriving passengers can be accommodated; there is nowhere to put them, their luggage or their cars until all the disembarking passengers and their luggage, cars, etc, have disappeared over the horizon. If an embarking passenger arrives early they have to be politely told that they must return later. In practice this generally works well but problems can arise if the returning ship is delayed. A ship that docks at 11 o’clock instead of 7 o’clock is bad news for everybody, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Angie Redhead, Cruise & Terminal manager, told me that handling arriving passengers’ cars and coaches isn’t a problem in practice. Most passengers embarking at Liverpool are from the North West and therefore will not have travelled far, so it’s not unusual for them to be dropped off at the terminal by relatives or friends rather than having driven themselves. It may also be the case that the passenger demographic that uses Liverpool is at the older end of the age spectrum, so again they are less likely to drive themselves. Nonetheless it’s not unusual for up to 100 cars to need to be parked, and for this valet parking is done – the passengers drive to the cruise terminal and hand their car over to a driver who takes it to an off-site location. There may also be a handful of coaches arriving, possibly organised by the cruise line, but these can be handled easily – the parking area in front of the terminal can handle that number easily and they are unlikely to all arrive at the same time. As with all other cruise terminals around the country, passengers hand over their luggage when they arrive, and these are scanned and then loaded onto the ship by dockside staff. As for supplying the ship, there is access to the pontoon via a vehicular linkspan so it’s possible for an HGV or a large van to get right down to the ship. In fact, several such vehicles can be accommodated on the pontoon at the same time.

I got a strong feeling that, as with day calls, the potential problems associated with the nature of the site had been fully researched, and suitable solutions identified. Angie and her staff then implement those solutions and manage them carefully. As with day calls, everyone is aware that if there are problems with the administration of the terminal and its facilities, the passengers will complain to the cruise lines; if this happens too often the cruise lines could decide that Liverpool had too many problems which weren’t being dealt with properly and could take their business elsewhere. There is therefore a huge incentive for all of the staff involved in the running of the terminal to manage it properly and resolve any problems that occur promptly and effectively.

What about the future? Angie told me that there it is intended to replace the current temporary terminal with a new one capable of handling cruise turnarounds for at least 3000 passengers, by 2018. Essentially, all the facilities – passenger handling, car handling, and so on – will need to be tripled in capacity. This may or may not be in the same location as at present – several different options are being studied and costed by external consultants, each of which offers different benefits and different costs, and eventually the city council will pick one. There is a driver for all this – the lease on the present site expires in 2018. Of course, leases can always be extended so I don’t think that the end of the lease is an absolute cut-off, but I got the feeling that it’s been identified as a target to aim for, as long as a suitable solution has been identified and funds made available far enough in advance to make 2018 a realistic possibility for a new terminal. I also gathered that it won’t be possible to get the cruise lines, especially cruise lines who don’t presently do turnarounds at Liverpool, to commit in advance to use an enlarged terminal with appropriate ships – that’s not how they work. Liverpool will have to build its new terminal first, as an act of faith. “If you build it, they will come” as the film had it, but Angie made it clear that no-one’s talking about unreasoning, blind faith. There are solid reasons to believe that an enlarged terminal would be viable, operationally and financially.  By 2018 Liverpool will have over 10 years experience with the current facilities for day calls and over 5 years’ for turnarounds, so they will have proved to the cruise lines that they know how to do the job. Angie was also confident that the business to support a 3000 passenger ship – or ships – running year-round cruises from Liverpool can be generated from the North West alone, or from regions nearby, and I’m tempted to agree with her. We, for example, prefer to cruise in bigger ships which at the moment Liverpool can’t handle for turnarounds, and it’s as much because of that as anything else that we haven’t looked at Liverpool as an embarkation port. But the right itinerary on the right ship could well tempt us – Liverpool is after all the closest cruise terminal to where we live.

I greatly enjoyed my visit to the Liverpool Cruise terminal. I came away with the view that it was a well-managed professional operation, run by people who bring to it skills, experience and commitment, and above all that unique Liverpool spirit. I hope they do well in the future – I think their plans are reasonable and achievable.

My thanks once again to Angie Redhead at the Liverpool Cruise terminal.

Angie - and friend - in front of Horizon

Angie – and friend – in front of Horizon

2 Responses to “A visit to Liverpool Cruise terminal: 2 – turnarounds and the future”

  1. Good morning Tom. That’s a pretty comprehensive piece on Liverpool’s cruise terminal.

    You identified the real problem with not being able to do serious ‘turnarounds’ in your previous post.

    It really is a tidal problem and I’m afraid there is no answer to that. Can anyone really imagine those articulated food supply trucks even attempting to get up or down that slope.

    All very well for the small vans and mini buses with disabled passengers but definitely not practical for the big boys.

    I’ve just returned from QM2’s Anniversary voyage that called at Liverpool. They gave us a brilliant welcome and it was a Fab Day visit.

    Liverpool should stick to what they do best, showing off their city…


    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Richard.

      I believe that the supply trucks use the linkspan that leads down to the Isle of Man ferry area – I think there’s a connection along the pontoon from there – and that may be a longer linkspan, hence less gradient. Also, given that a ship will be in port for 9 or 10 hours, it will see a complete tide change and it ought to be possible to limit the trucks to times when the tide is higher, thus limiting the gradient. But you make a good point, and it will all take some management.

      There are certainly significant challenges at Liverpool. But I think it is do-able, and I wouldn’t want to underestimate the desire of local people to make it happen. In fact that’s true of Liverpool in general these days.

      PS – I was interested to see from your QM2 Anniversary voyage post that some passengers disembarked and embarked at Liverpool.

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