Portland cruise ship season opens with high hopes

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PORTLAND — The city’s ship is coming in.

Again, and again, and again, through early November.

Portland is expecting a very successful year for cruise ship visits, with 84 arrivals bringing as many as 97,000 passengers, according to City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

In 2014, 74 visits brought 82,000 passengers to the city.

Fifty-one of this year’s ships are expected to berth between Sept. 1 and Nov. 4.

September marks in earnest the arrival of larger cruise ships, including Sept. 9, when the Carnival Splendor and Summit brought a total of 5,000 passengers and 2,100 crew members to the city. The two ships are scheduled to arrive again on Sept. 23.

From May 30-Aug. 31, five five ships with capacities of  more than 1,000 passengers visited. This month, 17 arrivals have passenger capacities of more than 2,000 visitors, including two scheduled visits by Liberty of the Seas, with more than 3,600 passengers, four by the Carnival Splendor, carrying almost 3,000 passengers and one by the Caribbean Princess, with almost 3,100 passengers.

In October, 14 visits by ships with passenger capacities of at least 2,000 are scheduled.

The ships are also bringing increased revenues to the city, with an estimated $864,000 projected for the current fiscal year, up from $849,000 last year and $815,000 the year before, according to city financial data.

Fees assessed per visit include a head tax and berthing, water, sewer, security and gangway fees.

Data provided by Grondin estimates each visit can cost the city about $1,200, in expenses, including providing security, a docking pilot, and operations staff at the Ocean Gateway and Portland Ocean terminals.

Once on land, cruise ship passengers can take bus trips to Freeport, Kennebunkport, Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, and Mt. Washington and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, all arranged by the cruise lines, Cruise Portland Maine Executive Director Bob Leeman said.

Ships stay in port an average of eight to 10 hours, Leeman said. An impact study commissioned by Cruise Portland Maine last year showed passengers on average spend $100 per visit, but the spending is spread around the region.

“All the bus drivers, tour guides and buses are locally owned and employed,” Leeman added.

Old Port business owners also keep tabs on arrivals, even if the economic impact of a visit may depend on how close a store is to the terminals.

“(Passengers) do spend a lot of time, and they spend a lot of money,” said Sarah Weeks, who works at Ports of Call, a gift shop at 83 Commercial St.

The shop specializes in Maine-made goods, and Weeks said there are residual benefits from the cruise ship visits.

“I have a lot of people who come in during the summer who had been here on a cruise,” she said.

Elena Morrow-Spitzer, proprietor of Maine’s Pantry at 111 Commercial St., said her shop has been at its current location for seven years, and said she has seen business increase every year.

“I’m never going to complain about cruise ships coming, I think it’s a good thing,” she said Sept. 3.

Morrow-Spitzer said customers typically buy smaller items they can carry as gifts and souvenirs, rather than larger gift baskets.

But she also said city or cruise officials could do a better job educating passengers about what they can carry on board, including food in sealed and closed containers.

“We sell a huge amount of fudge, we just put it into sealed containers to abide by the rules,” she said.

Weeks and Morrow-Spitzer said they keep track of the cruise-ship schedule, as does Marie Stewart-Harmon of Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine at 35 Exchange St.

But Stewart-Harmon said it seems that the farther away from Commercial Street an Old Port business is, the less likely passengers are to wander in.

“It can be a really interesting creature,” she said of the cruise ship trade. “(Exchange Street) is not so far and the street is beautiful.”

Leeman said tour buses are now stopping at the corner of Union and Commercial streets when returning to Portland, so passengers can explore businesses while walking back to the ship.

Even on Commercial Street, Weeks said nothing is predictable.

“I can never predict from ship to ship and year to year,” she said.

Stewart-Harmon said her store may get a bigger boost from customers on “leaf-peeper” bus tours.

Morrow-Spitzer agreed.

“Six or seven buses in a day is like a cruise ship,” she said. “Those people all get off and walk around.”

Next year’s cruise schedule is also pretty well set, with 74 arrivals and a potential capacity of 110,000 passengers. The increase in projected passengers is due in part to to four expected visits by the Anthem of the Seas, with capacity of just under 5,000 passengers.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The small and large of Portland’s cruise ship industry: the 98-passenger Independence heads out to sea Saturday, Sept. 5, while the 2,000-passenger Grandeur of the Seas is docked at the Ocean Gateway terminal.“They do spend a lot of time, and they spend a lot of money,” said Sarah Weeks Sept. 3 about cruise ship passengers. Weeks works at Port of Call on Commercial Street near the ship terminals.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.