EASTPORT, Maine — It may be six months away, but the residents of Washington County are already knee-deep in preparations for a cruise ship arrival at Eastport.
With only one ship arriving this year, The Oceaness, which is sailing a round trip from Singapore, will be the only cruise ship to dock in Eastport this year, arriving Sept. 24, and events are being planned to demonstrate the city’s determination to bring more ships, passengers and money to the Down East area.
What the ship’s 200 passengers will find this fall, according to Eastport Experience committee members who met this week, is a huge party.
“We will be telling the story of this place while passengers are moving, zigzagging, through the downtown district,” said Linda Godfrey, shore planner. “They are coming here for a genuine experience.”
Godfrey said Eastport is in the midst of a renaissance.
“If these ships had come here a few years ago, they would have found 19 empty buildings downtown,” she said. But the newly re-energized district, a hugely popular center for artists, will be the highlight of the trip.
Booths or vignettes — what Godfrey calls stage sets —will give visitors a glimpse of coastal Washington County. The Passamaquoddy Tribe will be represented with drummers, basket makers and dancers. People from Machias will be in costume to share the Revolutionary War history of the area. Lubeckers will tell the story of rumrunners and smugglers. Pirates, the English occupation of Eastport, harnessing the Bay of Fundy tides, and industries such as boat building and the creative arts will be displayed.
Godfrey said there also would be displays and visits to the area’s natural wonders, such as whales and the Old Sow whirlpool.
Local foods will take center stage, with samples provided to passengers and an evening lobster dinner on a beach.
“It will be kind of a living diorama,” Godfrey said. Musicians, artists and people in traditional costumes are all expected to be walking through the crowds and performing. Passengers will be able to board working scallop draggers and lobster boats to get a deeper understanding of the working waterfront.
After dark, Eastport Strings will entertain, along with other local musicians, and all local stores and restaurants will remain open until the ship sails away around 11 p.m.
Committee member Steve Ftorek said research shows that 30 percent of all cruise passengers return to key locations.
“If they come back, they’ll stay at local B&Bs, eat at the restaurants, spend money, and all that has a ripple effect on the local economy,” Tess Ftorek of Eastport Experience said.
Eastport Experience also is working with the Calais Chamber of Commerce and the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce on the project.
A key part of the planning is the committee members’ hope that the variety of events will entice others to visit Eastport and join the festivities.
Godfrey said the program and events could be adapted for bus tours, Exploritas, formerly Elderhostel, programs and special group visits.
“These vignettes can also be taken to the Calais International Festival, to Machias Blueberry Festival. This can move far beyond Eastport and really tell the Down East story,” she said.
The last cruise ship to visit Eastport was in 2007 and a similar welcome was organized. Some of the guests filled out surveys, which gave organizers a glimpse into the success of their event.
Commentators included Todd from Santa Fe, N.M., who wrote, “More cruise ships should come here — genuinely friendly townspeople, fantastically friendly place,” and Bob and Madelon of South Carolina who wrote, “What a great representation of Maine and the exceptional quality of the people who live here. It was beautiful and exhilarating. We plan to come back.”
“This is what we want to build on,” Godfrey said.
“We are actually positioning ourselves to host larger ships,” Ftorek said earlier this week.
“This is a tough market to get into,” said Ftorek, who left Maine this week to attend a cruising trade show in Florida. “We’ve been working on this for 10 years. We need to give those ships a reason to stop here. A lot of those ships are already just sailing right by here.”
Godfrey said Eastport Experience is not looking to reach out to communities beyond Washington County for displays on the day the ship arrives.
“We are not looking to recruit food vendors, T-shirt vendors, balloon sellers outside the community,” she said.
But they are seeking musicians, artists, groups who want to set up a booth or stage.
“We need people to come forward with their ideas,” Godfrey said. “We’d like the UMM Ukulele Club to appear, the Machias Tambourine Ladies, jugglers, artists.”
At the committee’s meeting this week, members focused on some details: the Garden Club is going to overhaul a downtown park, luxury portable restrooms will be ordered, local guides will be sought, and a recording of the event will be provided to ship visitors.
The next meeting of the planning committee will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, at The Boat School in Eastport.
Anyone who wants to participate, create a vignette or perform may contact Godfrey at 853-2574.