This past week’s arrival of a cruise ship with the largest number of passengers to visit Eastport is a prelude to a number of midsize vessels that will be coming to the island city this fall.
The Zaandam, a 778-foot Holland America Line cruise ship with 1,345 passengers and over 550 crew members on board, arrived for a day in Eastport on May 22.
“It was perhaps the most successful cruise ship visit the port has ever had,” said Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority. “All of the passengers gave rave reviews of Eastport, saying, ‘It’s a gem’ and ‘What a beautiful city you have.'”
He noted area businesses reported “a tremendous day” in sales, with Raye’s Mustard posting the best single day ever in economic activity. Other passengers inquired about buying property in Eastport.
“It was a big audition for us, and we nailed it,” Gardner said of the visit.
Destinations North America (DNA), which is now the coordinator for onshore activities by the passengers, rented buses and arranged for trips to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and Calais, along with whale-watching and walking tours. About 165 passengers went on the trips, while others got off to walk around the town.
Gardner says DNA brought “a level of professionalism” to the tours, which “went off without a hitch.”
“All of the people who got us here deserve the credit,” he said of the day’s success, mentioning in particular Tessa Ftorek, Chris Brown and Jett Peterson.
Visits scheduled for fall
During the May 15 meeting of the port authority board, Gardner noted that, while the port authority wants all cruise ship visits to go well, this visit was especially important, as it “may lead to a stronger relationship with Holland America in the coming years.”
The Zaandam is the largest cruise ship that Eastport will see this year, and Gardner points out that cruise ship companies like Holland America are looking at changing the ports they visit in Maine, which is being driven by the restrictions that Bar Harbor is seeking to impose on cruise ship passengers.
Last fall, the residents of Bar Harbor approved an ordinance placing a 1,000-per- day cap on the number of passengers that can disembark. Since a number of local businesses have filed suit challenging the ordinance, it has not yet taken effect.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, if we do this right,” Gardner said. “The changes in Bar Harbor are making Eastport that much more attractive to the industry.”
He noted the island city will continue “to remain the friendliest cruise port in Maine.”
Only three ports in the state — Bar Harbor, Portland and Eastport — can handle ships entering from other countries, since they offer customs clearance and have security plans approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, so a number of the lines that had been going to Bar Harbor are considering Portland and Eastport.
“We can’t take the mega-vessels — those are going to Portland — but we hope to extend the season and fill in the middle during the summer, when Eastport showcases its best.”
Midsize cruise ships in the 400-foot to 700-foot range have scheduled 13 visits to the city this fall. Among the lines that will be coming in September, October and early November are Hurtigruten, whose vessel the Roald Amundsen stopped by Eastport last year, Viking Ocean Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Ponant, American Queen Voyages, Windstar Cruises and Oceania Cruises.
Destinations North America took over arranging the tours for passengers in Eastport, as the local coordinators for the port authority, Chris Brown and Tessa Ftorek, have decided to step back.
“We’ve gotten out of the tour business,” said Gardner. “Other ports that host cruise lines partner with the company to conduct tour packages.”
While Eastport has not had the volume of cruise ships and passengers to warrant using Destinations North America in the past, that is now changing.
The cruise lines contract directly with DNA, “which removes us from any liability” during the tours, Gardner says. While Destinations North America will set up their own tours, the port authority can hire them “to run anything on our behalf, like setting up vendors in the welcome center.”
On May 9, the port authority held an informational meeting with interested business partners about the ongoing cruise ship activities and the changes caused by Chris Brown and Tessa Ftorek’s semi-retirement. Destinations North America is now the conduit for how area businesses can contact a cruise line.
During the meeting there was some discussion about how activities that DNA might not be doing, such as alerting local businesses about cruise ship arrivals or group marketing, should now be the responsibility of the Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce.
“DNA will provide insurance and ensure a level of professionalism” during the onshore tours, Gardner noted.
In other business during the May 15 meeting of the port authority board, the tugboat policy was revisited. The port authority board had voted at its April meeting to suspend its policy that all ships coming and going to the port terminal must be accompanied by a tug, whether or not they need one.
After the board met with the president of McAllister Towing, Brian Fournier, they decided at the May meeting not to suspend the policy. The escort requirement is a safety measure in case a ship loses power.
For the next importation of wood chips, scheduled for June, the port authority is working to have the bulk conveyor system no longer use direct power supplied by Versant Power and instead use its portable generators, which will save the port authority money over the long-term because of the hikes in electric rates.
The work is being done both by Riverside Electric and in-house, and the cost to make the change and relocate the generators is expected to be around $10,000 to $15,000.
The port authority is working with the new terminal operator, Logistec Terminals, to arrange for long-term berthing at the Estes Head pier both for a Cooke Aquaculture vessel and a tugboat owned by a new towing company operated by Ellic Motram.
The floats on the north side of the breakwater were expected to be placed back in the water during the week, and installation of the replacement crane on the south side is expected in the coming weeks.