BAR HARBOR, Maine — The ship Queen Victoria made its first-ever visit to Maine’s busiest cruise ship port Wednesday, prompting local officials to throw a welcome party for the luxury passenger vessel.
It is tradition for cruise ship ports to officially welcome ships to town when the vessels make their inaugural local visit, and each year in Bar Harbor one such ship often gets an official reception. The town has had more than 90 cruise ship visits each of the past two years and 73 such visits in 2006.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the town wanted to commemorate the Queen Victoria’s visit in part to thank the Cunard cruise ship line for helping to introduce the cruise ship industry to Bar Harbor. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2, which was retired from service at the end of last year, was the first cruise ship to stop in Bar Harbor in the early 1980s.
“Cunard has been coming to Bar Harbor since 1981,” Fogg said Wednesday on a cruise ship tender after taking a tour of the luxury liner. “We wanted to honor the three-decade relationship.”
Cunard got a similar honor in 2004 when its larger Queen Mary 2 made its inaugural visit to Bar Harbor. Thousands of people are estimated to have flocked to the shores of Frenchman Bay when the 1,132-foot-long QM2 first pulled up offshore of Mount Desert Island.
Fewer people may have turned out Wednesday to see the 964-foot-long Queen Victoria, which stopped in Portland the day before, but the official local reception was no less enthusiastic than the one the QM2 received five years ago. Fogg, local dignitaries, members of the Legislature and aides to Maine’s elected federal officials were on hand to greet Capt. Ian McNaught and present him with plaques, a book about Acadia National Park, jars of blueberry jam and other small gifts. After the brief presentation, state Sen. Dennis Damon and McNaught cut a cake decorated with the ship’s blue-hulled logo and passed out pieces to onlookers.
McNaught, who visited Bar Harbor last year aboard the QE2 before it was retired, said the Queen Victoria is making its second visit to North America. Launched in December 2007, the ship’s first trans-Atlantic trip was last year when it sailed around the globe, he said.
Aside from the crowds and vessels the cruise ship industry brings to town, its most significant impact is on the local economy. According to various studies, each cruise ship passenger is estimated to spend between $80 and $100 a day when in port.
At that rate, the Queen Victoria’s 2,000 or so passengers are presumed to have spent between $160,000 and $200,000 in Bar Harbor on Wednesday before they headed north to Halifax, Nova Scotia. With more than 90 cruise ships expected to visit Bar Harbor this year — most of which are anticipated to bring more than 1,000 passengers each — the industry is estimated to inject millions of dollars into the local and state economies each summer.
Deborah Vickers, manager of Sherman’s bookstore and gift shop, said Wednesday that cruise ships definitely boost business at the Main Street shop. She said that, if a large ship is in port and the sun is out, approximately 40 percent more people walk through the front door than usual. Tourist business may decrease elsewhere in Maine after Labor Day, she said, but cruise ships help keep it going strong in Bar Harbor into October.
“The more cruise ships, the more people [we get],” Vickers said.
According to local harbor master Charlie Phippen, 96 ships have been scheduled to visit Bar Harbor this summer, but some of the smaller vessels that tie up to the municipal pier have had to cancel because of rough weather.
As part of Wednesday’s local events, there were live music performances in downtown Bar Harbor and a vintage car rally on Cottage Street. A group of officials and local business leaders also was given a tour of the ship, which has a library, several restaurants and clubs, a ballroom, a spa and fitness center, a casino and a full-sized performance theater.