BAR HARBOR, Maine — Despite some weather-related cancellations, Maine’s cruise ship season has finished with a record number of ships stopping at Maine ports, according to officials.
That number, and the amount of money the industry generates in Maine, is on pace to be even higher in 2009.
In all, there were 128 cruise ship visits in 2008 in Bar Harbor and Portland, the top two cruise ship destinations in Maine. Bar Harbor alone had 97 such visits, which brought nearly 135,000 cruise ship passengers into Frenchman Bay offshore from downtown Bar Harbor.
Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbormaster, said Wednesday that 108 local cruise ship visits were scheduled this year but that inclement weather caused 11 of those visits to be canceled. As a result, Bar Harbor’s cruise ship season ended on Oct. 21, about a week earlier than expected.
“It was all due to weather,” Phippen said of the cancellations. “Traditionally, the season ends in October. We’ve got 96 [visits] scheduled for next year so far.”
Bar Harbor had 91 cruise ship visits in 2007 and 73 visits in 2006.
Next year, Rockland is expected to get its first-ever large cruise ship visits. Grandeur of the Seas is scheduled to make a day-long visit on June 21 and Jewel of the Seas is expected to have passengers ashore on Oct. 4.
According to Nicole Clegg, communications director for the city of Portland, Maine’s largest city had 31 visits this year. Those visits brought 45,172 passengers to Portland this summer, Clegg said, but next year 38 visits are expected to bring a total of 70,840 passengers to Portland. That’s only eight more ships, she said, but the number of passengers is on pace to jump by 57 percent — mostly because there will be a higher number of large ships and fewer that carry only a few hundred passengers or less.
“Especially with economic times like this, to have a guaranteed number of tourists coming into the city is incredibly valuable,” Clegg said.
Portland had 23 cruise ship visits in 2007.
According to a 2005 study by the University of Maine, passengers spend about $100 a day in each port they visit, though many passengers get all their meals on board the ships. Cruise ships typically offer a wide selection of food to their passengers, who pay for their meals as part of the vacation packages sold by the cruise lines.
Based on that figure from the UM study, passengers spent an estimated $17.9 million in the Portland and Mount Desert Island areas between early May and early November. This estimate does not include money spent by the ships’ crew members or by the cruise lines themselves.
According to a study released last month by Cruise Lines International Association, the industry directly spent $24 million in Maine last summer, which in turn supported 381 in-state jobs that generated $12 million in income.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the cruise ship business has been a boon for Bar Harbor’s tourist season, which used to end around Labor Day. Now, thanks to cruise ships sailing into the bay to view the fall foliage, most seasonal businesses are keeping their doors open through Columbus Day or even Halloween. And studies show that one-third of cruise ship passengers are estimated to come back to Bar Harbor on their own as repeat visitors.
“It definitely helps,” Fogg said. “Cruise ships are pretty good for us up here in Bar Harbor.”