With the improved cruise terminal and more cruise lines than ever, are now offering Lisbon departures.
I willingly admit that I am a fan of cruises, they offer a lot of value and pleasure. I have favourite cruise lines, more of that later, but flying to Barcelona, and I have done this quite a lot, involves an extra hotel night and local taxi trips etc. Rome is further, and although the cruise line will pick you up at the airport, it’s a 60km plus coach ride to Civitavecchia. That’s not a big deal, but how much easier to drive to Lisbon, park up and board.
One of the great attractions of a cruise is the level of service and support. Unlike airlines who are doing everything possible to reduce service, the cruise companies are doing everything possible to improve it. The airlines are focused only on getting ‘bums on seats’, cruise companies start at what most airlines would call ‘first class’, and them work up! In fairness they have you as a guest for a lot longer, but they want you back, and service and value for money is important to them.
Further from the Med
The advantage that ports like Barcelona and Rome is that they start in the Mediterranean, so no lost cruise time getting there. However, if you depart from Barcelona, you will frequently get a day at sea arriving in Rome about 35 hours later. A Mediterranean cruise departing from Lisbon can reach the med, via Gibraltar straits, in about 40 hours, a ‘day at sea’.
If a cruise is heading West then there is no loss of time. Destinations are vast, Madeira, Casablanca, Tenerife, Ponta Delgado and cross Atlantic to places like Miami, known as re positioning cruises. My research showed at least well over 200 cruises departing Lisbon this year. Although not as many cruises as depart from Barcelona or Rome, there is no shortage of choices destinations or cruise lines.
The economic impact of the cruise port
There seems little doubt that the cruise port brings important revenue to Portugal, especially to Lisbon. Last year the port broke all records. “Considering that in 2022, 45,276 passengers embarked at the port of Lisbon, we are talking about approximately €17 million of direct economic impact generated just by the people who started their journey in the Portuguese capital,” said Carlos Correia, the chairman of the Lisbon port authority.
There seems to be a distinct difference between embarking passengers and those visiting as part of their cruise. I struggle to see any great value from residents boarding a cruise in Lisbon. It’s highly unlikely that they will have used a hotel or even a local restaurant. Drive (or train) to the port and board. Visitors from other countries who choose to depart from Lisbon will have used hotel accommodation, restaurants etc.
For passengers visiting the port as part of their cruise, the value must be much greater. Lisbon is a beautiful city with a lot to see and do. There are very few local tours costing under 100 Euros per person, most last about four hours. There is an enormous offering of Tuk Tuk tours which must upset the local taxi drivers. Last year broke all records with 327 cruise ship calls. World Travel Awards named Lisbon as “Europe's Leading Cruise Port 2022”
Where revenue is created is in berthing fees. It’s not for the Tuk-Tuk drivers or the local coffee shops or restaurants. Cruise ship operators pay the port a fee based on ‘per passenger’ irrespective of whether they embark or not. The larger the cruise ship, the greater the fees. Lisbon charges around 13 Euros per passenger for the use of the terminal and baggage handling, more for the weekend. That’s only the start. There is a docking fee, based on the gross registered ton, pilots fee, Port labour rates, per hour (security, custodial, check in, maintenance, etc).
The port of Lisbon has reported numbers for cruise ship calls and cruise passengers from/to the Portuguese capital in 2022, according to a statement. The port surpassed a hundred turnaround calls for the first time, welcoming 103 cruise calls and 88,292 passengers.
Which cruise line to choose?
With the option of cruising from Lisbon, the choice is good but not every cruise operator is yet using Lisbon extensively. Cruise lines come in many different guises, from the luxurious to the basic, and from enormous ships carrying 6,000 plus passengers to the smaller ‘exclusive’ ships carrying anything between 2,000 and 3,000.
The cruise lines who have announced Lisbon departures include Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Lines, MSC. A good travel agent will be able to advise.
We tried MSC Yacht Club last year, impressive. Although MSC is a middle of the market price range cruise line their Yacht Club is impressive and exclusive. Celebrity offers an ‘exclusive’ extra luxury service called ‘The Retreat’, all suites, private dining, lounges and sun decks, plus butler service, 24/7 free internet and much more. I hope to review this service later in the year as Celebrity are my favourite cruise line.
Norwegian (NCL) offer premium service known as ‘The Haven’. Not all their ships have a private dining room for Haven guests, so check that out. Check out reviews as well, they vary in their ‘enthusiasm’ for the service.
Royal Caribbean are brand leaders for value and facilities, but at the moment they don’t seem to offer any departures from Lisbon. That may be due to the size of their ship. Six thousand plus passengers may be more than Lisbon can offer, as yet.
Personally, I find the possibility of boarding a cruise in Lisbon a very attractive idea. It’s clear Lisbon are working on the same idea. For residents in Portugal, this has been a long time coming and is very welcome.
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.