Maine is on track to have a record number of cruise ships and passengers sail into ports this year, and Portland officials are considering an expansion of the cruise terminal to grow traffic further.

About 380,275 passengers are expected to come to Maine in 2017, a 36 percent increase from last year, said Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaine. Maine ports expect 423 ships, 62 more than in 2016.

“We are doing fantastic. We have more than we can handle right now,” Powers said.

An extended season explains some of the increased traffic, she said. The season started six days earlier than last year and ends four days later. The first ship visited Bar Harbor in late April and the last one comes into Portland on Nov. 2.

The first large ship of the season will arrive in Maine ports this weekend. Grandeur of the Seas, with a capacity of 2,000 passengers and almost 800 crew, will dock Sunday in Portland and Monday in Bar Harbor.

Last year, about 77 ships docked in Portland and the city hosted 100,000 passengers for the first time. This year, 103 ships are scheduled to come into port, bringing about 125,000 passengers and 50,000 crew, the city said.

“This will be our biggest season,” said Bob Leeman, marketing manager for Cruise Portland, the agency that oversees cruises.

CATERING TO A YOUNGER CROWD

Most of the large cruise ships arrive in Portland in September and October and bring an older crowd. But the city has been able to attract more summer visits this year, and Cruise Portland is offering family-friendly programs designed to attract younger passengers, Leeman said.

Although there is no formal proposal, city officials have been discussing options to expand the cruise ship terminal at Ocean Gateway to accommodate bigger ships with more passengers. Ocean Gateway was built almost a decade ago, in part to accommodate large ships. Last year, the nearly 5,000-passenger Anthem of the Seas became the largest cruise ship to sail into Portland. It is expected to return at the end of August.

City Manager Jon Jennings said that based on conversations he had with cruise company executives this winter, cruise traffic into Portland will continue to grow and the city needs to plan to accommodate more and larger ships.

“What I learned is Portland is an important destination for Northeast routes, they want to come here,” Jennings said in an interview. “As we have seen this dramatic growth in the cruise ship industry focus on Portland, we have to look into the future.”

Officials have only had conceptual discussions about possible expansion, but the idea would be to increase the berth capacity for ships and find a better way to transition passengers from the ship to shore, Jennings said.

“It is about identifying needs and beginning to think about how we might remedy those needs,” he said.

Bar Harbor is the state’s largest cruise ship port and expects to welcome 163 ships and nearly 229,000 passengers this year, a 44 percent increase from 2016, according to CruiseMaine.

TACKLING GROWTH IN BAR HARBOR

Like Portland, Bar Harbor is looking to the future as cruise ship traffic grows there. Residents this month will vote on zoning changes that could pave the way for a new cruise ship dock at a disused ferry terminal. A terminal would allow ships to dock in Bar Harbor without having to ferry people between the ship and shore, as is done now.

An alternate zoning change put forward by a citizen petition would limit the size of ships that could dock at the terminal and allow citizens to determine in a public vote the number of cruise ship passengers allowed in town.

Projected cruise traffic is also up in smaller ports such as Camden, Rockland and Boothbay Harbor, but down in other places, such as Bath, Belfast and Castine.

The growth of cruise traffic in Maine mirrors international trends. Almost 26 million passengers are expected to cruise this year, compared with 18 million in 2009, according to the trade group Cruise Lines International Association. About 65 new ships are on order to be built between 2017 and 2019, reflecting the growing interest in cruises, the organization said.

The cruise industry generated 755 jobs and $47 million in direct spending in Maine in 2014, CruiseMaine said.

Maine’s position between New York, Boston and other Northeast cities and the cruise destinations in the Canadian Maritimes, such as Halifax, Nova Scotia, makes it an attractive growth area for cruises, Powers said.

“The entire region is full of really high-quality tourism destinations offering authentic experiences,” she said. “It is very easy to sell as a vacation product.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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