The ship that’s expected to provide ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, will have three restaurants and three bars, a casino gaming room, a fitness center and a duty-free retail shop, the operator said Monday.
But one key detail remains a mystery: the price of tickets.
That information will be released in the next two weeks, said Mark Amundsen, president of Nova Star Cruises, the new company that will operate the ferry service.
Amundsen spoke Monday at a news conference in Portland attended by Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood. Officials from both sides of the Gulf of Maine have welcomed the ferry service, which will operate from May 1 to Nov. 2 and will be the first passenger ship link between Nova Scotia and Maine since 2009.
“I think this ferry is going to be a great thing” for both Maine and Nova Scotia, LePage said.
Nova Scotia’s government announced last week that it had signed an agreement with STM Quest, a joint venture involving Quest Navigation Inc. of Eliot, Maine, and ST Marine Ltd. of Singapore, to operate the ferry. Nova Star Cruises, which will be based in Halifax, is the operating company of STM Quest.
LePage, who urged Nova Scotia officials last summer to select STM Quest, has offered to include the ferry in the state’s tourism marketing efforts and help the company obtain a $5 million line of credit.
Repeating the theme of his 2014 re-election campaign, LePage said, “We showed actions speak louder than words” in helping to secure the new ferry service.
STM Quest was the only bidder that had financial support from Maine, said Zach Churchill, who represents Yarmouth in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly and serves as minister of the province’s Department of Natural Resources.
While he is certain that LePage’s endorsement had an effect, Churchill said, the most important factor in the selection was that STM Quest has access to a new vessel that is the right size for the service and could be ready by 2014.
“This was the best vessel we could get that provides all the things we needed,” he said.
Nova Star Cruises provided new details Monday about the amenities it plans aboard the ferry.
The three restaurants will include a fine-dining option, as well as pub-style and buffet-style choices. They will range from 100 seats to 210 seats. One of the three bars aboard the ferry will be a sun-deck lounge.
In addition to the casino and store, the ship will have a theater and conference room, a fitness center, and a spa that offers massages, manicures and pedicures. There also will be a children’s play area.
The ferry will be similar to the Scotia Prince, a traditional overnight ferry that operated between Portland and Yarmouth from 1982 to 2004 and carried as many as 150,000 passengers a year at its peak, in the late 1990s.
The Nova Star has capacity for 1,215 passengers. It can carry a maximum of 336 cars or some combination of cars, trucks and recreational vehicles. At 528 feet, it’s 59 feet longer than the Scotia Prince, which carried as many as 1,120 passengers. But it has fewer sleeping cabins. The Scotia Prince had 250 cabins; the Nova Star will offer 163.
Amundsen said the company will add cabins for the 2015 season if there is enough market demand in the coming year.
The Nova Star will cruise at 21 knots, about 24 mph, and make the crossing in nine to 10 hours. It will leave Yarmouth at 9 a.m. each day and arrive in Portland at 5 p.m. It will then leave Portland at 8 p.m., arriving back in Yarmouth at 7 a.m. the next day.
Mood, the Yarmouth mayor, said Monday that she was so happy about the planned ferry service that she could tap dance at the lectern. She said the town is working hard to get its ferry terminal rebuilt by May. Canada’s federal government, which owns the terminal, has committed to spending about $3 million toward that work, Churchill said.
Nova Scotia will provide $10.5 million in startup costs for the service, and has pledged $1.5 million annually over seven years to market it.
Nova Star Cruises also is seeking a loan from a Maine bank, and George Gervais, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, has been helping the company in that process, said Jonathan Nass, a senior policy adviser for the governor.
Portland’s Ocean Gateway terminal will need a new gangplank, which is expected to cost about $1 million, Nass said. Mayor Brennan said he will ask the state to help pay for upgrades to the city-owned terminal.
Because national bus-tour operators plan their tours a year in advance, the ferry service won’t be able to attract those tours until 2015, said Don Haggett, sales director for Lafayette Hotels, which owns 22 hotels in Maine. However, there is plenty of time to market the service to smaller tour companies and individuals, he said.
The ticket prices will be a critical factor in attracting passengers, said Donna Hanson, vice president of The Maine Tour Connection in South Portland, which specializes in tours of New England and eastern Canada.
People who travel to Nova Scotia now have the option of driving 300 miles to Saint John, New Brunswick, and then taking a ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia.
Taking the ferry from Portland, rather than Saint John, can save people more than five hours of driving. Hanson said the new ferry also will give people a place to sleep overnight, an option that’s not available on the three-hour ferry ride to Digby.
But if the Portland-Yarmouth ferry is so expensive that people can save money by driving, that’s what many will do.
“They will go the highway,” Hanson said. “That’s the bottom line. Everybody is looking at the price.”
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: