A massive cruise season for Dunedin is set to start today and tourism operators think the city is up to the challenge.

Sun Princess arrives in Port Chalmers at 7.15 a.m. today, signalling the start of cruise ship season expected to bring 87 cruise ships to the city with a total capacity of 250,000 people.

This includes December 22 when two ships - one of them the largest cruise ship to visit New Zealand, Ovation of the Seas - are set to arrive, making it the city's busiest day for cruise ship visits.

Port Chalmers

Port Otago general manager commercial Peter Brown said the total passenger capacity for the season represented an almost 40% increase on last season's passenger numbers.

The biggest challenge this year was the size of the ships coming and the number of days when two ships were in port.

This included December 22 when about 8500 passengers were expected to cross its wharves.

The city was constantly seeking to improve its offering and he believed it would be up to the challenge.

''That will be an interesting day, but I think Dunedin is really well-placed to handle the volume of passengers.

''We are expecting the bus shuttle operations to run more smoothly this year,'' he said.

The port had made a ''sizeable investment'' to improve its facilities for this season, which was an indication of how important cruises were for Port Otago and the city.

This included the construction of a permanent facility to house disembarked passengers as they waited to head into the city and depart for tours, which would be available from the end of this month.

The facility would house an information centre, a lounge area with free Wi-Fi and toilet facilities.

It was also in the process of installing six new bollards, which could each hold 150 tonnes as opposed to the previous 70 tonnes, and two ''breast line'' bollards so it could accommodate much larger ships.

This work started three months ago and would be completed by December 22 for the arrival of Ovation of the Seas.

Cadbury World manager Kylie Ruwhiu-Karawana said the magnitude of the increase would place pressure on the ''whole city''.

Her main areas of concern were around how passengers were transported in to the city, especially on the busiest days and alternative

Tours were all ready sold-out on some of the busiest cruise ship days , with it becoming increasingly common for savvy cruise ship passengers to book attractions ahead of time.

Dunedin iSITE visitor centre manager Louise van de Vlierd said it was pressing ahead with preparation for the season.

The difference this year was the number of days where two cruise ships were in town and the number of very large ships visiting, Ms van de Vlierd said.

She was especially pleased with Port Otago's new facility which would be a ''big step up''.

Source: odt.co.nz