THE Port of Cromarty Firth is anticipating setting a fresh annual record, with more than 180,000 passengers expected to visit on 109 cruise ships this year, writes Ian McConnell.

It estimates that the cruise passengers will provide a boost of about £18 million to the Highland economy.

The Invergordon port highlighted the fact that it had achieved records last year, with 93 ships and around 170,000 passengers visiting.

The Port of Cromarty Firth noted that these cruise passengers would contribute to tourist attractions across the region, including Cawdor Castle, Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Jacobite Cruises, Glenmorangie Distillery, Inverness, and Strathspey Steam Railway. It noted that a tour of Rothiemurchus, in the Cairngorms National Park, would be a new offering in 2019. The port added that EcoVentures in Cromarty had recruited extra staff to cope with demand for its dolphin and wildlife boat tours.

The first cruise ship to arrive will again be the Astoria, docking on March 26 with 550 passengers. The cruise season will finish on September 24, with the Seabourn Ovation carrying 600 passengers.

Allison McGuire, cruise manager at the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “We have seen a steady increase in the number of cruise passengers visiting Invergordon over the years and 2019 will be no exception.

“This year we will continue to see some of the world’s largest cruise ships coming into the port, taking advantage of the deep water and incredible attractions we have to offer. This is really good news for businesses across the Highlands, and I look forward to welcoming new and returning vessels into the port over the coming months."