Bar Harbor on pace for record cruise ship total

Posted Sept. 18, 2010, at 5:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Intermittent stormy weather has been having an effect on cruise ship visits to Maine’s busiest cruise ship port, which likely will result in fewer visits than the 120 that had been expected for the 2010 season.

Hurricane Earl, which at one point was projected to pass near the Maine coast, caused a handful of cancellations earlier this month. This weekend, concerns about possible swells from Hurricane Igor resulted in the town taking up its float ramps on the eastern side of the municipal pier. The Independence, a small cruise ship that usually ties up to the pier when it visits Bar Harbor, canceled its scheduled Sunday visit because the ramps had been removed.

But according to harbor master Charlie Phippen, the outlook for Bar Harbor’s cruise ship season remains good. There have been nine cancellations so far this year, which puts Bar Harbor on pace to host 111 ships by the end of October. Of those nine cancellations, only one was for a big ship. The rest were for visits by ships that, like the Independence, are small enough to tie up to the town pier, he said.

“We’d have to get a lot of cancellations not to get our busiest year ever,” Phippen said.

Phippen said Saturday that adverse weather could end up boosting Bar Harbor’s cruise ship visits, too. He received an inquiry a few days ago from Holland America, which owns and operates the 1,350-passenger ship Veendam, about whether the ship might be able to stop in Bar Harbor on Sept. 22. Phippen, who said the date is available, said the ship is scheduled to visit Bermuda around that time but may change its itinerary because of Hurricane Igor.

Around midday Saturday, Igor was located about 400 miles south of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. It was headed north-northwest and expected to curve toward the British Atlantic territory.

Bar Harbor, which had only 22 cruise ship visits in 1990, had its highest number of cruise ship visits in 2008 with 97, while last year it had 92. Bar Harbor is expected to host nearly 145,000 cruise ship visitors this year, which according to economic studies likely will bring between $10 million and $15 million in direct cruise ship passenger spending to the Mount Desert Island area in 2010.

Fall is the busy time for cruise ships in Bar Harbor, which is expected to host more than 70 visits between Sept. 1 and Oct. 29. With that many visits, there often is more than one ship in town at the same time.

Norwegian Dawn and Costa Atlantica, each of which can hold more than 2,000 passengers, dropped anchor in Frenchman Bay on Thursday. Friday was a rare three-ship day in Bar Harbor, with the smallest of the three being the 382-passenger Silver Whisper.

Sept. 23 could be Bar Harbor’s busiest cruise ship day of the year. Norwegian Dawn, Crystal Symphony and Eurodam — which have a combined passenger capacity of nearly 5,300 passengers — all are expected to appear in Frenchman Bay that morning.

Portland, Maine’s second-busiest cruise ship port, is expected to host 45 visits and more than 70,000 cruise ship passengers this year, according to CruiseMaineUSA, a cruise ship marketing organization. The ship Jewel of the Seas, which can carry more than 1,200 passengers, is expected to visit Rockland on Oct. 4, while smaller cruise ships, each carrying up to a couple of hundred passengers, have been making ports of call at other sites along the coast.

One of those ships, the 120-passenger Spirit of Oceanus, was scheduled to stop in Eastport on Sept. 23 and in Bar Harbor on Sept. 24. Those visits have been canceled because the ship recently was sold to new owners, according to Phippen and cruise industry reports.

According to Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise ship industry contributed $29 million in direct spending to Maine’s economy and generated more than 500 jobs in the state in 2008.

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