PORTLAND, Maine — The number of cruise ship passengers visiting Maine ports is set to rise again this year, reflecting a surge in visits from new vessels and added stops in Eastport and midcoast destinations.
Figures tabulated by the group CruiseMaine indicate the number of cruise ship visits to Maine ports will top 400 for the first time in the decade-plus that visits have been tracked, with the number of passengers expected to rise about 2.5 percent from 2013 — to 265,113.
In 2012, with 258,697 passengers aboard 318 ships, an industry study estimated direct spending totaled $45 million.
The largest increase in passengers will come through Portland while Eastport will see the largest percentage increase over last year.
The maiden voyage of the Pearl Mist, which leaves Baltimore on Wednesday for an 11-night “Maritime New England Cruise,” will bring 840 more passengers through Eastport than in 2013. It’s one of many new ships that will make a stop in Maine this year.
“It’s going to be great for the community and for the shop owners and the restaurants,” said Natalie Brown of the Eastport Port Authority.
The port will see a total of five cruise ship visits this year, matching 2012. But the ships will be carrying about 200 more passengers than two years ago, a trend that CruiseMaine executive director Amy Powers said is boosting passenger counts for the state overall.
“We don’t think that ship visitation will go up more but the number of passengers that each ship is carrying is getting larger,” Powers said in a telephone interview.
The latest cruise ship figures align with broader projections for an increase in tourism this year, according to a travel forecast from AAA Northern New England.
Visits by the the Pearl Mist and others represent Maine’s slice of traffic from new additions to the global cruise ship fleet. A total of 16 new cruise ships was set for completion this year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade industry group representing cruise lines that make up about 95 percent of global cruise capacity.
Globally, the trade group projects the total number of cruise ship passengers will grow by 400,000 this year, to 21.7 million, in part supported by a resurgence in luxury cruises.
The Pearl Mist is also booked for four stops in Bar Harbor and five stops in Portland.
Other maiden voyages stopping in Maine include Amadea Shipping Co.’s Amadea, Seabourn’s Quest, Crystal’s Serenity, RCCL’s Legend of the Seas, Oceana’s Insignia and Holland America’s Eurodam.
Overall, those new visits are expected to contribute to a nearly 25-percent increase over last year in cruise ship stops at Maine ports. An estimated 404 cruise ship stops are booked this year compared with 318 last year, according to CruiseMaine figures. From 2011 to 2013, those numbers did not count visits to Castine, which added 30 stops to the statewide 2014 count.
The second-highest statewide count for cruise ship visits was in 2010, when 343 ships stopped in Maine ports.
The statewide increase in passenger visits — which count each passenger’s stop at each port — includes higher counts in Portland, Rockland, Bath, Belfast, Boothbay Harbor and Camden, while the total passengers expected through Bar Harbor are projected to decrease by about 6,000, despite visits from four more ships. The higher counts in midcoast ports are due largely to an additional six sailings of the 49-passenger American Glory.
Bar Harbor remains the state’s busiest port, however, and the drop this year represents just 3.5 percent fewer passengers than in 2013. It is expected to host 165,176 visitors in 2014, more than half of the state’s total share of cruise ship visitors.
September is set to be the busiest month for traffic, with 107 ships coming through Maine ports. October will be busiest for Bar Harbor, with one-tenth of the state’s seasonal traffic — 44 ships — making a stop.
Portland, the state’s second-busiest port for cruise ships, expects a more than 10 percent increase in passengers and a 23-percent increase in cruise ship visits, up to 74 from 60 in 2013.
That comes alongside the reintroduction of a ferry service to Nova Scotia, which is being marketed as more of a cruise than shuttle between the province and Portland. Powers said she doesn’t expect operation of that service to have an impact on cruise traffic in the future.
“This is a very different experience and time commitment than the Nova Star product,” Powers wrote in an email. “We encourage diversity of products and are happy to see the Nova Star providing the connection between Maine and Nova Scotia as has been tradition for many years.”