From doorstep to cruise ship holiday in two hours flat

It was no surprise to hear last week of a boom in cruising direct from the UK.

On a recent holiday we settled into our cabin in Southampton just two hours after leaving home.

With two young children, that was the easiest possible start to our holiday - and we could look forward to a short return journey at the end of the cruise too.

Contrast that with another cruise this year - where we had to spend three arduous days of airport delays, overnight flights and cheap stopover hotels to bring our tired and grumpy children home after flying off abroad.

Home and away: The Queen Mary 2 is among the cruise ships that sail from Britain

Home and away: The Queen Mary 2 is among the cruise ships that sail from Britain

Cruising from home is clearly less like a hassle, more like a holiday. There has been a massive 20 per cent jump in 'convenience cruising' in one year, meaning British passengers sailing from and returning to the UK.

Bill Gibbons of the Passenger Shipping Association explained: 'The UK cruise industry is growing despite the recession. A record

1.55million Brits will have taken a cruise in 2009 and about a third of them will be sailing from UK ports.'

And cruise expert Alistair Gill, chairman of Gill's Cruise Centre, says the boom is 'down to cost, convenience and comfort'.

He adds: 'Cruises from the UK are often cheaper as there is no flight to pay for, there is no waiting around at the airport at either end and passengers can take their time to get settled on board before the main itinerary begins.

'And without airline restrictions, they can take as many bags as they like.'

You can now cruise to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Baltic or the Atlantic islands from the UK - or even take a three-month world cruise.

The main disadvantage is that ships have to sail for several days to reach their 'target cruising area', and this may involve crossing the Bay of Biscay towards Spain and the Mediterranean or crossing the North Sea to Norway or the Baltic.

Both of these routes are traditionally avoided for being too rough, but passengers are increasingly relying on the greater stability of modern cruise ships and the distracting facilities on board to see them through.

Most ships leave from Southampton, but Dover and Harwich have new cruise terminals and cruises also now depart from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Oban, Poole and Portland.

There will be even more ex-UK cruises in 2010. Three big new ships will launch and operate from Southampton: Cunard's Queen Elizabeth, P&O's Azura and Celebrity's Eclipse.

Will there be enough demand for all these extra cruises from the UK? The Queen Elizabeth's maiden voyage next October sold out in 29 minutes - the fastest-selling voyage in Cunard's 170-year history.

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