Scotland’s booming cruise passenger total is expected to reach one million next year, nearly a decade ahead of previous forecasts.
The prediction came as one of the world’s newest cruise ships paid its maiden visit to Edinburgh, complete with planetarium and a “snow grotto” in its spa.
More than 900 passengers who arrived in Newhaven on board Viking Jupiter will help swell Scotland’s total to at least 920,000 this year.
However, industry body Cruise Scotland said the annual growth rate of around 15 per cent would see the total top one million in 2020, nine years ahead of past expectations.
It said ports across the country were attracting more ships while many were spending significant sums on improving facilities to expand further.
They hope to lure more traffic as the world’s cruise ship fleet expands, with 127 more vessels due to be added to the 300 in service by 2027.
Allison McGuire, the group’s marketing director, said: “Every port keeps growing and growing, and northern Europe is enjoying increasing popularity. It was originally expected Scotland would get one million passengers before 2030, but that could now be next year.
“People are changing their mentality towards cruise destinations. They don’t just want beaches and palm trees. There is huge potential for growth here.”
Capital Cruising, part of Forth Ports, was also upbeat despite Edinburgh being still unable to berth vessels.
It has to rely on passengers being transferred by tender shuttles, unlike ports with the largest number of passengers, such as Invergordon and Lerwick.
Rob Mason, its head of cruise, said: “Our cruise business is thriving and our passenger numbers are growing each year. We are the only operator to offer the closest cruise connection to Edinburgh.
“We have invested significantly over the past few years to provide the most direct access for liners of all sizes.”
Norwegian cruise line Viking launched its first ocean ship four years ago, with the 47,800-tonne, ten-deck Viking Jupiter becoming its sixth in February. It plans to accelerate expansion of the fleet to 17 by 2025.
A total of 95 per cent of the passengers aboard the current cruise are from the United States.
Viking UK managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith said: “As well as featuring on many of our itineraries, Scotland is an important market for us for outbound travellers.”
Its vessels will make a record number of Scottish visits this year, including 61 to Edinburgh, among a total of 912 visits by all cruise lines.
The Viking Jupiter is virtually identical to its sister ships, with a few extra features such as being one of the only vessels afloat with a planetarium.
The 26-seat venue hosts 3D star shows and talks, while its resident astronomer also leads stargazing nights on deck.
For those prepared to get even colder, the ship’s “snow grotto” offers passengers a freezing glass-walled room filled with snow on the opposite side of the spa to the steam room.