THE Port of Southampton has welcomed a major cruise ship on her maiden call to the port.

The Sun Princess – one of the biggest cruise ships in the world at the time of construction – stopped at Southampton during a 98-day voyage from Japan.

Each visit by cruise ship passengers is said to be worth around £2million a year to the city’s economy.

A traditional ‘plaque and key’ ceremony took place on board the cruise liner to mark her first call to Southampton, which is Europe’s leading cruise ‘turn around’ port.

Port director Alastair Welch and general manager Craig Barbour took part in the traditional exchange with the ship’s captain.

The plaque and key ceremony is a tradition for all vessels on their maiden call to the port.

It has its roots in the medieval history of Southampton, when visiting ships bringing business to the city were given the keys to the city walls. The term ‘plaque and key’ originated during the 1300s.

Princess Cruises’ Sea Princess is 261 metres (856ft) long and can accommodate up to 2,000 passengers at full capacity.

Described as the lead ship of her class, she was built in 1995 in Italy, at which time she was the one of the biggest in the world. The Sun Princess was the ship on which the television show Love Boat: The Next Wave was shot in the late 1990s.

Southampton was added to her itinerary for a one-off transit call this season.

She is on a 98-day voyage which started in Toyko and will end in the Japanese city of Kobe, and was heading to Dublin after her call in Southampton.

Port director Alastair Welch said: “We are delighted to welcome the Sun Princess on her maiden call to Europe’s leading cruise turn-around port. She is one of 11 cruise ships making their maiden call to the port this year which is great for the port and the city.”

Transit calls provide an opportunity for international passengers to pay a short visit to the city and take in its maritime heritage.

Southampton typically welcomes around two million passengers a year into the port, generating an estimated £2million for the city’s economy on each visit.

The 11 cruise ships making their maiden voyage to Southampton this year compares with eight last year.

The summer is set to see Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, Cruise & Maritime’s Vasco De Gama and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Riviera all making their maiden voyages to Southampton.

Autumn will see the arrival of the World Explorer, Norwegian Encore and MSC Grandiosa.

Port operator ABP has invested in expanding the port’s cruise infrastructure to cater for the growing cruise industry.

Southampton remains the UK’s number one cruise port.

ABP’s wider Southampton operation contributes an estimated £2.5billion to the UK economy every year and supports 45,600 jobs.