A tugboat gushing dual fountains of water greeted the Nova Star ferry Thursday as it cruised into Portland Harbor, its arrival signaling the return of ferry service between the city and Nova Scotia after a four-year hiatus.

In contrast to the raucous reception it received when arriving in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the cruise ferry’s arrival in Portland was met by a relatively small and subdued crowd. Fewer than 50 onlookers turned out to watch the ship as it pulled into port at Portland’s Ocean Gateway Terminal.

Among them was Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who joined a small throng of media watching the ferry dock.

“This is history, to restore the ferry service,” Brennan said. “It really puts the ‘port’ back in Portland.”

Unlike his counterpart in Yarmouth, Brennan did not dance a little jig as the vessel approached the harbor. He did acknowledge, though, that restored ferry service will help raise the international profile of Portland. The service is expected to make a much greater splash in the economy of Yarmouth, where several hundred people turned out Tuesday to welcome the ferry at the end of its 10,000-mile trek from Singapore, where it was built.

Some people pulled their kids out of school to watch the ship’s arrival and join in the fanfare. The Nova Star blew its horn as the ferry approached the Yarmouth terminal, sparking cheers from the crowd on a nearby wharf while a fife and drum corps played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada.”

There was no such fanfare in Portland.

Durham couple Al and Nancy Miller were among the few onlookers waiting in the terminal to watch the ferry pull into port for the first time.

“I had to go to the dentist, and she needed to get her blood work done, and then we figured after that we would come here and see the ship,” Al Miller said.

Although the couple said they were curious to see the new ferry, Al Miller said they had no immediate plans to buy tickets.

Another onlooker, Maureen Amundsen, mother of Nova Star Cruises President and CEO Mark Amundsen, said she was there to support her son.

Ferry service between the two ports, which started in the mid-1800s, ended in December 2009 after the cancellation of a Canadian subsidy for the Cat, a high-speed ferry operated by Bay Ferries Ltd. that had been losing money. Nova Scotia officials have agreed to a $21 million subsidy over seven years to support the Nova Star service.

The ferry, which measures almost 530 feet long and has the capacity to transport 1,215 passengers, was built in Singapore in 2011 but never put into service. Once regular service begins May 15, the ferry is expected to make the 212-mile journey daily through Nov. 2. Fares will range from $79 to $139 one-way, with additional charges for vehicles.

The ferry will depart from Portland at 9 p.m. and arrive in Yarmouth at 8 a.m. Return service departs Yarmouth at 10 a.m. and arrives in Portland at 7 p.m. Prices for one of the ferry’s 162 cabins range from $79 to $249.

While it’s docked in Portland, the vessel will be inspected by the Coast Guard and fitted with casino games and other equipment before heading to Boston, where it will be christened May 12. The ferry will return to Maine on May 14 to start daily ferry service the next day.

Representatives of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland are invited to tour the Nova Star on Wednesday. No public tours have been scheduled to date.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson