SOUTHAMPTON is expecting a record number of cruise ships to make their maiden calls to the port this year.

The port is due to see 14 first visits from cruise vessels – an increase from 11 in 2019.

First-time visitors will include P&O Cruises’ Iona, due to make her first visit to Southampton on May 9.

The port will also host three naming ceremonies, including one for Celebrity Cruises’ newest vessel Celebrity Apex on March 28, and one for Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess on June 30.

Alastair Welch, regional director at ABP’s Port of Southampton, said: “We’re really pleased that an increasing number of cruise ships are making the Port of Southampton part of their cruise itineraries .

“Cruise is an ever-growing industry and we’re immensely proud to be hosting three naming ceremonies this year and playing a significant part in the launch of a new cruise vessel.”

On Saturday, July 4, the port will host the naming ceremony of Iona as part of P&O Cruises’ week-long Ionafest celebrations. The floating festival will see Iona hosting music artists, DJs and comedians as it sails to the Norwegian Fjords from Southampton.

Iona will be P&O’s first liquefied natural gas powered ship. She will sport a grand atrium offering uninterrupted views of the sea through glazed walls three decks high. A ‘SkyDome’ on the top two levels will offer a space for relaxation and evening activities.

Celebrity Apex is due to arrive on March 23 ahead of her naming ceremony.

The Port of Southampton is expecting around 500 cruise calls during 2020 and is Europe’s leading cruise turn-around port, welcoming two million passengers throughout the year. Every cruise call is said to generate £2million for the economy.

Each cruise vessel on its maiden call is officially welcomed to the port with a traditional “plaque and key” ceremony.

The ceremony’s roots lie in Southampton’s medieval history, when visiting ships bringing business were given the keys to the city walls.

The cruise industry has seen huge growth in recent years, with passenger numbers rising from 17.8million in 2009 to 30m in 2019, and the industry generating around 45billion US dollars in revenue.

Nearly 30 ships are due to make their debut around the world in 2020.