The biggest cruise liner to visit New Zealand is headlining a record number of ships to come here during summer.

The arrival of Celebrity Solstice on Tuesday signals the official start of a bumper international cruise season but one tourist body warns that if facilities don't keep pace with the size of ships, the near half billion dollar industry could suffer.

"We know there is a growing trend by the cruise lines to use larger ships and without the right infrastructure Auckland could start seeing a decline in the number of visits from ships, meaning fewer passengers, GDP and jobs," said Auckland Tourism, Events and
Economic Development visitor and external relations general manager Steve Armitage

The 169,000-tonne Ovation of the Seas arrives in December and is the biggest ship ever to visit New Zealand.


It is too big to berth in Auckland and passengers will be tendered to shore by smaller boats.

A record 33 ships will be cruising New Zealand waters until the end of next April - a significant increase on the 28 ships which visited during the same period last year.

Between them, the ships will make more than 600 calls to ports around the country.

The visits will include close to a dozen maiden port calls for cruise lines at destinations including Stewart Island, Wellington and Kaikoura, as well as more than 60 inaugural port calls for individual ships.

Last season cruise ship visits injected $484 million into the economy.

In Auckland, Ateed says last season the sector provided a $220 million boost to the Auckland economy, up 15 per cent on the previous season.

During the season there will be 104 ship visits into Auckland over the next eight months, said Armitage.

"On several occasions throughout the season Auckland will have at least two cruise ships in port at the same time, including four cruise ships in on the same day in February.''

Royal Caribbean is bringing in Ovation of the Seas. The cruise line's managing director in Australia and New Zealand, Adam Armstrong, said there had been infrastructure work and dredging at several ports to allow the ship to berth.

About $180,000 had been spent strengthening the pier at Dunedin's Port Chalmers.

''By and large the ports are ready,'' he said.

There was a risk the megaships would go elsewhere because unlike other parts of the tourist industry the assets are movable.

''We can move if the facilities aren't good enough or there are geopolitical issues but New Zealand is safe and it has good infrastructure for getting people on tours and in ports,'' said Armstrong.

Ovation will enter New Zealand waters for the first time at Milford Sound on December 21, before berthing in Dunedin on December 22 and Auckland five days later on the first of three different voyages around this country.

Royal Caribbean's ships will make 134 calls to New Zealand ports and their mainly Australian passengers will spend more than $43 million.

The Auckland waterfront agency Panuku is due shortly to lodge consents to build a ''mooring dolphin'' off the end of Queen's Wharf. The pontoon-type structure will allow longer ships to berth there but won't be in place until next summer.

Cruising in

$484m - the value of cruise to the NZ economy last summer.
600 - the number of port calls this summer.
33 - the number of ships, up from 28 last summer.