The Norwegian Dawn is moored in Portland Harbor on Thursday. The cruise ship was the first of 100 or so expected to visit the city this season, carrying about 152,800 passengers and 62,200 crew members. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

This year is expected to be one of the busiest on record for cruise ship visits to Maine ports.

The first ship to visit the city was the Norwegian Dawn, a 2,224-passenger ship with 1,000 crew members, which docked in Portland last Thursday and is scheduled to return this Thursday. On Sunday, the Grandeur of the Seas, a 1,950-passenger ship operated by Royal Caribbean, arrived in Portland.

Overall, city officials expect 100 ships with about 152,800 passengers and 62,200 crew this year, although that number is likely to change as the season wears on. Still, that’s almost 14,000 more passengers and crew than stopped in Portland last year.

Cruise companies are scheduling stops for bigger ships that carry more passengers in Portland, and Port Manager Kathy Alves doesn’t see that trend changing. The only limiting factor will be capacity – it can’t handle vessels larger than the Anthem of the Seas, a nearly 5,000-passenger ship due to visit the city five times in September and October. The city is booking cruises out to 2022, she said.

“The demand for Portland is still strong, we are not seeing it level off,” Alves said. “We will continue to see growth as we can handle it.”

Statewide, Maine’s 12 cruise ship ports are expected to welcome 430 ships with almost 467,000 passengers and 193,000 crew. More than half of those passengers will land in Bar Harbor, long the most popular cruise ship destination in the state.

If estimates hold, Maine would see a 17 percent increase in passengers over 2018. But it is unlikely that the year-end numbers will match early season projections, said Sarah Flink, executive director of Cruise Maine, the organization that promotes Maine to cruise operators. Typically the year-end passenger numbers are lower than estimates because of canceled bookings or weather that forces ships to alter schedules and call off port stops.

“It would look like we are going for a huge bump, (but) what will probably end up happening is a small increase,” Flink said. “It will probably be our biggest season ever but not in such a big way that it will be a noticeable difference than last year.”

Portland is not the only city where capacity is becoming an issue, Flink said. The overwhelming majority of Maine’s cruise traffic arrives in September and October and places like Portland and Bar Harbor are beginning to hit the ceiling of what they can reasonably accommodate in those two months, she said.

Growing cruise visits outside that season presents other challenges. Coastal towns are already crowded with tourists and locals during the height of the summer, making it difficult to add thousands more cruise passengers to the mix. That leaves May and June, which can have hit-or-miss weather, or even winter, a season becoming more popular among cruise passengers, Flink said. The regional organization that promotes cruises in New England, Atlantic Canada and Quebec is now pitching a winter cruise schedule to companies, she said.

“We are, as a region, dipping our toe into becoming a four-season destination.”


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