PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s 2015 cruise ship season came to an end this week as the Seven Seas Navigator made the final port stop in the state, helping set a record for annual cruise ship visits for the largest city in Maine.
Portland, Maine’s second-busiest cruise ship port, had 84 visits this year, according to Bob Leeman, marketing director for Cruise Portland, the city’s marketing arm for the cruise industry. That is 10 more visits than the 74 Portland had in 2014 and four above the previous high, he said.
“We had an outstanding season,” Leeman said. Cruise ship companies and passengers, he added, “love it here.”
If not for foul weather that prevented nearly two dozen scheduled visits from occurring in Bar Harbor, which is the state’s busiest cruise ship port, 2015 may have been a record year for cruise ship visits along the entire Maine coast. This past spring, more than 400 total cruise ship visits were expected at all Maine ports.
Charlie Phippen, the harbor master in Bar Harbor, said Wednesday that the Mount Desert Island town had 117 of the 140 visits that had been scheduled between early May and late October of this year. All but one of the 23 cancellations, he added, were due to inclement conditions on the water.
Portland has a relatively well-sheltered harbor and deepwater piers along its waterfront where large cruise ships can dock, but in Bar Harbor, the harbor is fairly exposed and large ships have to anchor in Frenchman Bay and then bring passengers ashore with tender boats. Bar Harbor and the Maine Port Authority are looking into the possibility of redeveloping the former Cat ferry terminal on Route 3 into a cruise ship pier to make it easier for passengers on large ships to disembark.
The number of ship visits this year in Bar Harbor is 10 fewer than the record of 127 visits set in 2014. The estimated number of cruise ship passengers who stopped in Bar Harbor this year is more than 146,000, Phippen said.
The final cruise ship to visit Bar Harbor this year came and went on Oct. 27. The ship Saint Laurent, which was scheduled to visit two days later on Oct. 29, “canceled their visit due to heavy weather,” the harbormaster said.
Ship visits statewide may not have risen this summer, but the economic impact of the industry continues to expand in Maine, according to a trade industry organization.
Data for 2015 are not yet available but in its annual economic report, Cruise Lines International Association indicated that direct spending in Maine by cruise ship companies and passengers contributed $47 million to the state’s economy in 2014, representing an increase of $800,000 from the prior year. Of that $47 million, $26 million is believed to have been spent on wages that supported an estimated 755 cruise industry related jobs in the state.
The report indicated that, on average, cruise ship passengers spend a little more than $120 in each port that they visit. This would mean that passengers spent nearly $11.2 million in Portland, which had a total of nearly 98,000 visitors this year, and $17.8 million in Bar Harbor.
The number of visitors in Portland this year is approximately 16,000 more than the number of passengers the city hosted in 2014.
Portland is expected to have fewer ships visit in 2016, but more cruise ship passengers, according to Leeman. So far only 74 ship visits are scheduled for next year, but more larger ships are expected, Leeman said. At this point, Portland is expected to host 113,000 passengers in 2016.
Bar Harbor has 116 visits scheduled so far for 2016, which is projected to bring nearly 160,000 passengers to town.
According to Phippen, the number of cancellations in Bar Harbor this year was unusually high. Of the 23, 16 were by smaller cruise ships that usually tie up at the town pier, he said.
“It was a spike [in cancellations], that’s for sure,” Phippen said.
The smaller vessels operated by American Cruise Lines and Blount Small Ship Adventures, which are between 160 and 215 feet long, avoid the trip into Bar Harbor when waves get to be around 4 to 6 feet high, he said. In those cases, they sometimes dock in Bucksport and then take passengers by bus to Bar Harbor for the day.
Phippen said six of the large ships that canceled stops in Bar Harbor this year did so in late September or October because of weather conditions that prevented them from bringing passengers to shore. The seventh ship, the Maasdam, canceled a stop in July because it was having engine problems, he said.
Cruise ship visits to Bar Harbor have increased steadily since 1990, when the town welcomed only 22 total ships. The most recent year before 2015 in which a record for ship visits was not set in Bar Harbor was in 2011, when it had 106 — one fewer than the prior year.
Ed Glaser, Rockland’s harbor master, said Thursday that 28 visits involved ships that either tied up to or had their tenders come and go from the city’s pier this summer. An additional 15 or so visits were by smaller ships tied up at Journey’s End Marina, located in Rockland off Tillson Avenue, for a total of more than 40.
“This is the most we’ve ever had,” Glaser said. “It’s become a big part of the maritime industry in Rockland.
Glaser added that among the 40-plus visits were five large cruise ships that dropped anchor in Rockland this summer — not including the Seven Seas Navigator, which had to cancel its scheduled Sept. 30 visit. Among those that did make a daylong stop in Rockland was the Brilliance of the Seas on Sept. 20. The Royal Caribbean ship can carry up to 2,100 passengers and a crew of 929.
Glaser said local businesses aren’t the only entities that benefit from the increased foot traffic cruise ships bring. The cruise companies pay the city for use of the pier when they are in port, which resulted in about $18,000 in municipal revenue from the smaller operators and about $60,000 in revenue from the larger cruise lines.
He said he is not sure that more ships will visit Rockland in 2016. Typically, the city gets only two or three visits from large ships each summer and fall, he said.
“I think it was an anomaly,” he said of getting five large-ship visits this year. “[But] we will see more growth [in ship visits] eventually.”
Eastport had seven cruise ship visits this summer, one fewer than the eight that were scheduled, according to staff with the Eastport Port Authority. The Pearl Mist visited four times and the Grand Caribe visited three times, bringing estimated totals of more than 1,100 passengers and more than $137,000 in passenger spending to Maine’s easternmost city.
Other ports that had cruise ship visits this year, all of them from smaller vessels, include Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Belfast, Bucksport and Castine.