Carnival Cruise Lines aims to double UK passenger numbers this year as its newest ship Carnival Splendor launches the company’s first Northern Europe programme out of Dover.

At the naming ceremony for Carnival Splendor in Dover, president and chief executive Gerry Cahill said the cruiseline’s “fun” ships were perfect for the UK market.

He said: “Our sister brands are trembling because we want to come to the UK. It’s a great market for us which is why we are positioning ships here.”

Carnival Splendor is now operating the company’s first season of ex-UK Northern Europe cruises.

Next year the cruiseline plans to double the number of ex-UK sailings with its 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty ship based out of Dover. It will operate round trips from Dover to the Baltics from May 9 until August 25, and a one-off western Mediterranean cruise from Dover to Rome on September 6.

Cahill said the cruiseline, which has an average passenger age of 40, had yet to decide on capacity for 2010 for ex-UK cruises but added: “There’s a decent chance we will continue to grow in the UK. We are natural for this marketplace.”

To demonstrate its commitment to the UK, the 3,006-passenger 113,000-tonne Carnival Splendor was named by its new godmother Myleene Klass, classical musician, in front of a 450-strong UK crowd in Dover, including agents. “I’d like to thank agent partners because they have helped us double our market from the UK,” said Cahill.