A wander round Southampton

A couple of weeks ago, I had a wander round Southampton. There were two cruise ships coming in, the brand new Norwegian Encore and the Cunard Queen Elizabeth, that I wanted to have a look at. Having only ever previously raced through Southampton on my way to embark or disembark a ship, I was curious about what I would find.

Arriving at Southampton Train Station

I arrived via Southampton Central train station which is well served with trains coming in from all over the UK, including London Waterloo. Signs above the platform marked ‘Cruise Ships’ pointed to the entrance. It’s a small station, I saw a manned ticket office but no tourist information to ask for further directions. Directly outside the main entrance is a taxi rank, and in my experience the taxi drivers will always know which ship is in which cruise terminals. I had no luggage so I set off on foot without checking where my ships of interest might be.

Southampton Cruise Terminals

Southampton has four cruise terminals. City, Mayflower, Ocean and QEII. City is nearest the train station and if your ship is berthed there then you will be able to see it as you leave the station. I walked over there and it isn’t far at all. You do have to cross two busy roads and negotiate the port gates and traffic where the pavements are a little hit and miss. There are pedestrian crossings but with heavy luggage it might be easier to get a taxi. A taxi to the City Cruise Terminal and the Mayflower Cruise Terminal have both previously cost me £5. Between the station and City Terminal are the Novotel and Ibis hotels. These hotels would be very handy for a pre/post cruise overnight stay. Next to the hotels is a shopping park for last minute essentials, and plenty of chain restaurants for the hungry.

Towards Ocean and QEII Terminals

I came out of the station and walked through the hotel car park onto West Quay Road, the main road along the docks. I had mistakenly assumed I would be able to see the cruise ships I was interested in from the road. When you are on deck on a 15 storey cruise liner you can easily spot ships in the other three Southampton terminals. When you are at street level, near the station, you can only see ships in City Terminal. I was out of luck, City Terminal was filled with container ships. Turning left I walked past Ikea towards Ocean and QEII Terminals.

I passed a large leisure complex, which had a cinema, restaurants, a nightclub and a casino. Further on, I came across Carnival UK’s Southampton office and two more handily placed hotels, the Holiday Inn and the fancy looking Leonardo Royal. I still could not get a clear view of the water to find my ships. Finally I spotted the Mayflower Park and the Isle of White ferry terminal and was able to get to the waters edge and have a good look.

Back to the Mayflower Terminal

By the time I reached Mayflower Park I was almost at Ocean Terminal. There was nothing there, nor in the QEII terminal further along. A quick check on Cruise Mapper showed that the Norwegian Encore was still in the English Channel passing Brighton. She wasn’t going to be in port for a few more hours at least. There were banners all over Southampton advertising her arrival, but I wasn’t going to get to see the Encore that day. What I could clearly see from Mayflower Park was the stern of the Queen Elizabeth. She was berthed in the Mayflower Terminal, back in the opposite direction.

It didn’t look that far and I set off back the way I came. I decided to stick to West Quay road even though walking through the port was a more direct route. There is another gate leading to City Terminal between the park and the Holiday Inn but a large sign proclaimed ‘no pedestrian access’. It’s a busy working port so I respected their sign. The weather was gray and I stopped at Ikea on the way to grab a bargain veggie hotdog lunch to raise my spirits.

Back at the City Terminal gate next to the station, I followed two travellers with a wheelie suitcase into the port. Pavements were coned off and being rebuilt and it was not easy to pick a sensible path towards the Mayflower Terminal. I could see the Queen Elizabeth but she was still alarmingly far away. Passing huge industrial buildings and towers of shipping containers as the weather got worse and rain looked more imminent, I realised it was not a pleasant place for a stroll.

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
Cunard Queen Elizabeth taking using a panorama camera setting

After a long walk I finally arrived at the Mayflower Terminal, along with my friends with their wheelie case. As they embarked the ship, I took pictures of the Queen Elizabeth. I last met her in the much more picturesque port of Olden, Norway, during the summer. The photo opportunities from outside the Mayflower Terminal were no match to the fjords. There was a lot of port infrastructure between me and the great Queen and I couldn’t get enough distance to get the whole ship in one shot. I’ve gotten some great pictures of cruise ships in my local cruise terminal, the Port of Tyne, but sadly Southampton was not such a great location for me.

I wanted to see the Queen Elizabeth before she relocated to Australia, the Far East and Alaska for the next two years. Such an iconically British ship was leaving Britain for so long and I wanted to know more. As a cruise holiday enthusiast I wondered what was driving this move, economics, variety, a change in demand for destinations? I didn’t get answers but I did say goodbye.

It started to rain and I headed back to the train station to go home.

Wandering round Southampton – what I learned

Always be aware that there are four cruise terminals in Southampton, check which one you are headed to before arrival. Having to retrace my steps made me sad, if I’d been wheeling a suitcase I would have cried. Walking from the station to City Terminal is very achievable. Walking to Ocean or Mayflower from the station is doable but with luggage I would always get a taxi. The QEII terminal is far far away from the station.

Southampton is full of shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainments. There is plenty to do if you are spending a night there before or after a cruise.

Ship spotting opportunities are great with all four terminals being occupied on busy days during the summer. Sailing out of the Solent on the pool deck of a huge liner you can get some great shots. However from ground level, at the port, without proper preparation or access, I really struggled. Maybe some local knowledge would change that, so if you know better places to get photos of ships in Southampton, please leave me a comment.

I have wandered around many cruise ports, including Civitavecchia in Italy which you can read here.

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