THE CRUISE SHIPS ARE COMING

Love ’em or hate ’em, floating resorts are bringing boatloads of day-trippers to your favorite Maine towns.

by
WILL GRUNEWALD, JOEL CRABTREE, AND JOYCE KRYSZAK

Arrow
Cruise Ship
ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL BYERS.

THE CRUISE SHIPS ARE COMING

Cruise Ship
Love ’em or hate ’em, floating resorts are bringing boatloads of day-trippers to your favorite Maine towns.

Love ’em or hate ’em, floating resorts are bringing boatloads of day-trippers to your favorite Maine towns.

by
WILL GRUNEWALD, JOEL CRABTREE, AND JOYCE KRYSZAK
Illustration by
MICHAEL BYERS

Arrow

SEAFARING fell out of vogue in the 1950s, when airliners supplanted ocean liners as the easiest way to get from point A to a distant point B. The Eastern Steamship Company, founded by Bath’s Charles Wyman Morse, had once connected a half-dozen Maine ports with destinations along the eastern seaboard, but it sold its last two ships to a Floridian entrepreneur who added air conditioning and swimming pools and ran them out of Miami as cruise ships. And for several decades, that was about the extent of Maine’s relationship to the nascent cruise industry.

In the ’80s, cruises ventured now and then to Bar Harbor, where locals generally regarded them as novel and harmless. Now, the ships kick up wave upon wave of civic discord, with communities up and down the Maine coast debating passenger caps and ship bans and pier construction. What changed? As cruise lines grew, they realized they could fill the gap between summer Alaskan cruising and winter Caribbean cruising with fall trips to New England. Visits became more frequent, and ships got bigger.

Are they an affront to the quiet Maine way, or are they the apotheosis of Vacationland? Are they hulking polluters damaging coastal ecosystems or conscientious partners bolstering local economies? A ship several football fields long can look quite different amid the commercial bustle of Casco Bay than against the tranquil backdrop of Frenchman Bay. A few thousand debarked passengers cut a more obvious presence on Rockland’s Main Street than in Portland’s Old Port. Whatever your vantage, it’s worth taking a stem-to-stern look at an industry bringing plenty of changes down the gangway.

Cruise Ship

Left in Their Wake

MAINE TRAILS ITS NEIGHBORS IN REGULATING WHAT SHIPS DO WITH, SHALL WE SAY, FLOTSAM.

Over the past 20 years, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have all persuaded the federal Environmental Protection Agency to designate their coastal waters as no-discharge zones. Inside those zones, ships can’t dump human waste, even if they’ve run it through an onboard treatment system, as treated waste still contains loads of nitrogen and other nutrients that can throw ecosystems out of whack, feeding algae blooms and choking out sea life. Maine hasn’t sought protected status for its shore because the rules would apply to all vessels, not just cruise ships, and the Maine coast hosts too many boats along too much coastline with too few waste-pumping stations to serve them all. In 2006, though, the state got its first of several localized no-discharge zones, in Casco Bay. The cruise industry lobbied against it, even though industry reps have said ships voluntarily refrain from discharging in Maine waters. Such opposition worries the Friends of Frenchman Bay. In the past 10 years, Bar Harbor cruise traffic in the bay has doubled, but the area isn’t on Maine’s no-discharge list. The Friends have started talking with state officials about the process of getting on it, and step one is studying whether the existing pump-out infrastructure can accommodate a total ban on dumping. If so, the EPA approval process could happen within a year, says Pam Parker, water enforcement manager for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Even then, however, Bar Harbor still operates on an old combined-sewer-overflow system, with rain and wastewater funneled through the same pipes. During storms, the system overloads, and rain and waste, including anything pumped out of boats, discharge into the bay, right where the Friends of Frenchman Bay don’t want it. — J.C.

Where CAN'T ships dump?

A PIECEMEAL APPROACH TO PROTECTING MAINE’S BUSIEST WATERS.

Casco Bay
From Phippsburg to Cape Elizabeth

Boothbay Harbor
From Linekin Neck to Southport Island

Kennebunk-Wells
From the mouth of the Kennebunk River to Moody Beach

West Penobscot Bay
From Camden to Owls Head

Southern Mount Desert
From Bass Harbor to Baker Island to Otter Point

Maine Attraction?

Movable parties are plying the state’s waters.

When Carnival Cruise Line’s Sunshine floated into Portland Harbor for one of its nine visits in 2016 and 2017, local photographer Colton Johnson sent up his drone to get a different view. From several hundred feet up, the upper decks look like the absentminded doodle of a surrealist turned draftsman. But those squiggles and patterns constitute a veritable boatload of games, rides, pools, and other amenities, plenty to keep travelers busy on their trip to Maine.

Maine Attraction?

Movable parties are plying the state’s waters.

When Carnival Cruise Line’s Sunshine floated into Portland Harbor for one of its nine visits in 2016 and 2017, local photographer Colton Johnson sent up his drone to get a different view. From several hundred feet up, the upper decks look like the absentminded doodle of a surrealist turned draftsman. But those squiggles and patterns constitute a veritable boatload of games, rides, pools, and other amenities, plenty to keep travelers busy on their trip to Maine.

OFF THE CHARTS

Hundred of ships cruise the Maine coast every year. Where do they all go? We mapped five of their courses.

American Cruise Lines — Maine Coast and Harbors Cruise
Portland to Bar Harbor to Castine to Belfast to Camden to Rockland to Boothbay Harbor to Bath to Portland

Blount Small Ship Adventures — Maine & New Brunswick
Boston to Bath to Rockland to Eastport to St. Andrews to Grand Manan Island to Eastport to to Bar Harbor to Portland to Boston

Princess Cruises — Canada & New England
London to Saint John to Sydney to Prince Edward Island to New York to Newport to Boston to Rockland to Saint John to Halifax to London

Holland America Line — Canada and NE Discovery
Boston to Bar Harbor to Halifax to Sydney to Charlottetown to Baie-Comeau to Quebec City to Montreal

Royal Caribbean — Canada & New England Cruise
Baltimore to Boston to Portland to Bar Harbor to Saint John to Halifax to Baltimore

* Bucksport, though it has no scheduled calls, sometimes receives cruise ships when weather necessitates a protected harbor. Last year, the town welcomed 18 ships.

Routes are approximate.

Cruise ships map

OFF THE CHARTS

Hundred of ships cruise the Maine coast every year. Where do they all go? We mapped five of their courses.
Cruise ships map

American Cruise Lines — Maine Coast and Harbors Cruise
Portland to Bar Harbor to Castine to Belfast to Camden to Rockland to Boothbay Harbor to Bath to Portland

Blount Small Ship Adventures — Maine & New Brunswick
Boston to Bath to Rockland to Eastport to St. Andrews to Grand Manan Island to Eastport to to Bar Harbor to Portland to Boston

Princess Cruises — Canada & New England
London to Saint John to Sydney to Prince Edward Island to New York to Newport to Boston to Rockland to Saint John to Halifax to London

Holland America Line — Canada and NE Discovery
Boston to Bar Harbor to Halifax to Sydney to Charlottetown to Baie-Comeau to Quebec City to Montreal

Royal Caribbean — Canada & New England Cruise
Baltimore to Boston to Portland to Bar Harbor to Saint John to Halifax to Baltimore

* Bucksport, though it has no scheduled calls, sometimes receives cruise ships when weather necessitates a protected harbor. Last year, the town welcomed 18 ships.

Routes are approximate.

Eastport, Maine

CRUISELAND

CAN A SMALL TOWN TURN ITSELF INTO A BIG STOP FOR SEAGOING VACATIONERS?

Lately, to judge by headlines, the tide may seem to be turning against cruise ships. Rockland’s city council set a cap of six visits per year from ships carrying more than 500 passengers. The Mount Desert Island communities of Tremont, Southwest Harbor, and Northeast Harbor banned cruise ships from dropping anchor. Bar Harbor residents recently voted against enlarging piers to accommodate big ships. Up and down the Maine coast, cruise opponents cite air and water pollution from ships, plus the overcrowding in small downtowns suddenly host to several hundred or several thousand extra guests.

But not every community is so wary of cruise traffic.

One recent morning, Tessa Chaffey Ftorek was sitting in her home in Eastport and squinting to spot whales through a picture window overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay. As a seventh-generation Eastporter, Chaffey Ftorek knows as well as anyone how those waters have shaped her city’s fortunes — trade, fishing, and canning all boomed and busted over the span of a couple of centuries. So for the past 15 years, the 67-year-old has teamed up with neighbors to pluck from the sea a different kind of catch: cruise passengers.

A study by CruiseMaine, a public-private coalition that promotes Maine ports and serves as a go-between for communities and cruise lines, found that passengers spend about $70 per shore visit in Maine (one might assume spending in Portland and Bar Harbor helps pump that number up). All in all, the study said, the state’s 400,000 cruise visitors spent $29 million here last year. And though many communities may feel like they already have plenty of tourism, thank you, Eastport and a handful of small port towns — including Bath, Bucksport, and Castine — are seeking a bigger piece of the cruise-business pie.

Eastport, Maine's 12-foot fisherman statue
Eastport, Maine galleries and shops
A lobster roll with a view at Quoddy Bay Lobster

Eastport has the deepest natural harbor on the East Coast, a siren song for big ships. Above: The 12-foot, fiberglass fisherman statue was built as stage dressing for a short-lived reality TV show; galleries and shops have filled downtown storefronts; a lobster roll with a view at Quoddy Bay Lobster. Photographs by Gabe Souza.

Eastport, Chaffey Ftorek says, is particularly well equipped to lure ships. A former Registered Maine Guide, she teaches recreational tourism at Washington County Community College (and occasionally officiates local weddings and funerals). She also spends countless hours hyping Eastport’s cruise-ship potential to industry types at conferences and through social media and coordinating volunteers to greet ships when they arrive in town.

Eastport is the easternmost city in the U.S., with some 1,300 residents on a three-square-mile island tethered to the mainland via narrow causeway. But for a small town, Eastport has outsize waterfront infrastructure, in the form of a 65-foot-deep natural harbor and two big piers. Many similar-size destinations have shallower waters and shorter docks, limiting ships to a couple hundred passengers and often requiring those passengers to take tender boats ashore. Eastport can easily accommodate ships carrying more than 1,000 people.

Port Authority director Chris Gardner is charged with keeping everything running smoothly when a ship comes in, and he’s all for bringing more visits to Eastport, even though it makes his job busier. The 44-year-old former policeman doesn’t have a hi-tech operation — he scribbles on a whiteboard in his office to sort out where ships should tie up, how they can offload trash, and, if arriving from Canada, how they clear customs. “It’s not sexy,” he says, “but it’s what the cruise lines need, and we got that.”

Eastport’s harbor has been a hub of activity for most of its history. Throughout the early 1800s, it was one of the busiest shipping centers in the country. At the turn of the 20th century, steamships offered daily passenger service to and from Boston. At the start of this century, the passenger-boat business was again trending up with about 10 cruise ships docking per year. Progress halted in late 2014, though, when the city’s 50-year-old breakwater pier collapsed. For three years, cruise ships had nowhere to dock, until the city finished construction on a new, $15 million breakwater. This year, Eastport had seven cruise visits scheduled, with ships carrying up to a couple hundred passengers who might spend anywhere from a morning on shore to the better part of a day.

“When I do a scenic bus tour, I tell them I was born here, and my ancestors were among the first settlers, and they go, ‘Wow!’ They want that genuine experience.”

Beyond good infrastructure, Chaffey Ftorek thinks the city has other draws that should help grow those numbers. Eastport has classic coastal New England charm, she says, plus a burgeoning cultural scene that, in her experience, appeals to cruisers. “They’re looking for art, for history, for the real Maine,” she says. “When I do a scenic bus tour with them, I tell them I was born here, and my ancestors were among the first settlers, and they go, ‘Wow!’ They want a genuine experience — to hear personal stories, go to Raye’s Mustard Mill, to meet a real lobster fisherman.”

When a cruise ship arrives in Eastport, Chaffey Ftorek is one of 30 blue-vested volunteers who welcome passengers ashore and help direct them to restaurants, shops, and galleries. The Tides Institute and Museum of Art has become a popular stop, with its seven buildings that house regional art and architectural-history collections as well as an international artist-in-residence program.

Still, cultural assets and a cruise-friendly vibe don’t mean the ships will automatically start showing up, CruiseMaine executive director Sarah Flink says. She spends a lot of time trying to put Maine towns on the industry’s radar, but there’s competition from ports throughout New England and Canada. One thing that can help a town pull in ships is a marquee sight that cruise lines can advertise to their prospective customers — Bar Harbor is the busiest cruise destination in Maine because it has Acadia National Park in its backyard.

Chaffey Ftorek thinks Eastport might have just such a sight too. Roosevelt Campobello International Park, on the wooded Canadian island where President Franklin Roosevelt spent summers, is only 2 miles from Eastport by water. It boasts cliff-hugging trails, historic sites, lighthouses, and an array of wildlife viewing, from seals to birds to whales.

The problem is there’s no regular ferry service between Eastport and Campobello and therefore no system in place for clearing customs when arriving by water. Gardner is working with Canadian counterparts toward a solution, but for now, the blue-vested volunteers have to drive visitors 40 miles by bus, around Cobscook Bay and over the bridge at Lubec, to reach Campobello. The drive to and fro can eat up a third of a visitor’s time ashore.

Eastport’s harbor has been a hub of activity for most of its history. Throughout the early 1800s, it was one of the busiest shipping centers in the country.

On a pinch-me-perfect day in Eastport this summer, scores of people strolled out on the pier and up along Water Street, where cars had to weave around cranes working on several multi-million-dollar renovations of once-derelict buildings. Eastport-born, 74-year-old Meg McGarvey and her business partners own two such rehab projects. One of them, the 1887 Mincton Building, now houses the Commons, an art gallery with two vacation condos on the second floor. Inside the gallery, crossing her sun-freckled arms, McGarvey proclaimed, “The cruise business is just perfect for us!”

She and her partners also own the Sea Street Pier building next door, with one of the cranes out front. Their vision is to turn the three-story, 30,000-square-foot former American Canning Company facility into another multi-use building, with shops, a boutique hotel, and four long-lease penthouse apartments. The key to the success of such projects, she said, is to continue growing Eastport as a travel destination.

Just up the street, photographer Greg Gordon was manning his Full Fathom Five gallery. He describes himself as a “willing prisoner of the sea.” A lifelong mariner, he first came to Eastport about 15 years ago, as a cruise captain on a small ship operated by the now-defunct Glacier Bay line. Gordon fell in love with the city’s people and its dramatic 30-foot tides. “It’s amazing,” he says. “The world changes in front of you every six hours.”

For Eastport, he said, change is good. And like Chaffey Ftorek, Gardner, McGarvey, and many others in town, he’s all for luring cruise business, although he cautions that he doesn’t want Eastport to change too much. “People want to see places like Eastport the way they are,” he said. “Lose that, and where are you going to take them?” — J.K.

Full Steam Ahead

The cruise industry started slow in Maine. In the 1980s, ships occasionally dropped anchor off Bar Harbor. Portland only started marketing itself as a cruise destination at the end of the decade. Then, in the span of 15 years, starting in the mid-’90s, the whole landscape — er, seascape — transformed. — W.G.
Cruise Ship

95

Westerdam, with room for 1,773 passengers, became the largest cruise ship to have visited Portland. Local ferries ran free trips so that residents could ogle the ship up close. When it visited again two years later, the height of its smokestack blocked microwave transmissions from a tower on the mainland, cutting phone service to Casco Bay islands until the tide dropped.

98

Four cruise ships paid a call to Bar Harbor on the same day, temporarily doubling the town’s population. “I just want to hide out, harbormaster Eddie Monat told the Portland Press Herald. But he showed up for work anyway, delaying a surgery so he could ensure smooth operations that day.

99

Bar Harbor feted Queen Elizabeth II, a grande dame among cruise ships, on its 30th birthday. The town presented the captain with a commemorative plaque and served up 3,000 cupcakes. Later in the season, Portlanders greeted the ship with a jazz band and welcome cards from schoolchildren.

02

Tourism officials and aspiring and established cruise hubs teamed up to create CruiseMaine to promote the state to the industry. Many towns saw cruises as a way to increase visitors without increasing road traffic. “I can’t think of a better way to generate commerce without gumming up the works,” one chamber of commerce director told the Press Herald.

04

At a community forum in Bar Harbor, residents aired growing concerns about cruise tourism. Passengers don’t patronize businesses beyond those right around the harbor, some shopkeepers complained. Others grumbled that the line of tour buses at the town docks clogged the roads and impeded views. Several years later, the town set daily caps on cruise passengers.

08

After a decade of wrangling over zoning, eminent domain, and cost, Portland opened its new Ocean Gateway for the Cat, a high-speed ferry to Nova Scotia. Two years later, crews started building a long-discussed so-called megaberth, to allow the largest cruise ships in the world to pull right up to the terminal.

10

Several factors, including an uptick in cruise-ship construction, added berthing spaces in New York, and environmental regulations and cruise taxes in Alaska, spurred cruise lines to focus more trips in the Northeast. Bar Harbor got 118 scheduled visits, while Portland’s cruise traffic doubled from just two year earlier, to 71 scheduled visits.

Little Giants

COMPARATIVE MINNOWS NEXT TO THE WHOPPERS THAT PLY MAINE WATERS, BOUTIQUE-Y CRUISE SHIPS GO WHERE THE BIGGER BOATS DON’T.
American Cruise Lines
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines (ship and amenities)

In the 1950s, when the modern cruise industry was just getting underway, Cunard Line came up with a catchy promotional campaign: “Getting there is half the fun!” ads in Life and the Saturday Evening Post proclaimed. Nowadays, with passengers making only quick day excursions before returning to megaships decked out with casinos, waterparks, and concert venues, “getting there” might be more like 80 percent of the fun.

But there’s a niche within the cruise market that aims to rebalance the “getting there” and the “being there.” In Europe, river cruises to quaint rural villages caught on in the ’90s. In the early aughts, several cruise lines adopted a similar approach to touring the Maine coast. The relatively tiny ships carry a couple hundred passengers at most, and without all the splashy onboard entertainment, they aim for a more tranquil vibe.

Blount Small Ship Adventures runs trips that hit a few smaller Maine destinations, including Rockland and Eastport. American Cruise Lines frequents spots like Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Belfast. The target audience is travelers who want to soak in local character, American Cruise Lines spokesperson Alexa Paolella says. She describes the company’s itineraries as “destination-based cruising.”

Every Monday in summer and fall, on its weeklong voyages up and down the coast, American’s Independence docks in Castine, where Johanna Barrett owns Compass Rose Books. “We tend to sell lots of maps, Maine cookbooks, histories of Castine, and Down East Maine guides on Monday mornings,” she says.

Of course, all that soaking in local character can eat into one’s shopping time. “A lot of these visitors are interested in learning the history of the place,” Castine Visitor Center director Alyssa Radcliff says, “rather than in buying a T-shirt.” — J.C.

THE HIGH SEAS

Anthem of the Seas — more than 1,100 feet long and rising up more than 200 feet above the waterline — is among the world’s bigger cruise ships. It also has an observation pod on a movable arm that can reach 300 feet above sea level. When the ship first came to Portland, in 2016, city officials checked with the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure that wouldn’t pose problems for air traffic at the Portland Jetport. Locals can size up the ship for themselves this month. It pulls into Portland on the 13th and 27th and Bar Harbor on the 14th and 28th. In the meantime, we thought we’d see how it stacks up against some other notably tall Maine stuff. — W.G.

THE HIGH SEAS

Anthem of the Seas — more than 1,100 feet long and rising up more than 200 feet above the waterline — is among the world’s bigger cruise ships. It also has an observation pod on a movable arm that can reach 300 feet above sea level. When the ship first came to Portland, in 2016, city officials checked with the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure that wouldn’t pose problems for air traffic at the Portland Jetport. Locals can size up the ship for themselves this month. It pulls into Portland on the 13th and 27th and Bar Harbor on the 14th and 28th. In the meantime, we thought we’d see how it stacks up against some other notably tall Maine stuff. — W.G.


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