The first visit by the cruise ship Grande Caribe to the City of Eastport on August 3 was a good practice run for the city, says businessman Chris Brown, who has worked on behalf of the Eastport Port Authority for at least seven years on the effort to bring small cruise ships to the city.
Maine Office of Tourism Director Carolann Ouellette says, "This is a very exciting time for Eastport and their neighbors in Passamaquoddy Bay, who have worked diligently with CruiseMaineUSA preparing to welcome cruise ships." CruiseMaineUSA Director Amy Powers says of the visit, "Eastport leaders have had the opportunity to build their knowledge of the cruise industry and learn to leverage the port's assets."
The efforts of the many organizations, businesses and volunteers were evident a few days after the ship had left the city. Brown was happy to report that he had heard from the ship's crew that the visit had far exceeded their expectations in all ways, including the fact that the visit was picked up by national and international news agencies. "That's good for them, and it's good exposure for Eastport," Brown says.
The 98‑passenger ship had 51 passengers aboard, less than what the city had hoped for, and more of them "stayed on the ship than we expected," Brown adds. The ship arrived at 10:30 a.m. and departed very early the following morning for Saint John.
During the day 29 passengers partook of a trolley ride around the city, learning about everything from the history of Raye's Mustard Mill to tidal energy development. "It was very interesting," said passenger Joanne Burns of Pennsylvania. She added that both the size of the ship and the city were "perfect."
Jim and Barbara Thompson of Missouri agreed. Along with Burns and her son, they attended the receptions held from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Tides Institute & Museum of Art (TIMA) and the Eastport Art Gallery. Barbara Thompson is a Longfellow descendent, grew up in Maine, and has ancestors from Nova Scotia. She and her husband have returned to Maine for summer vacations for years. In the past they rented a cottage in Boothbay, but this year they decided a cruise would allow them to avoid the driving. They loved the small‑town atmosphere of Eastport and learning about "the history of the whole area." Like Joanne Burns, they'd been on large cruise ships before. "We prefer this type," Thompson said.
The cruise ship line, Blount Small Ship Adventures, was founded by a Rhode Island family who started in the oyster business and expanded into ship-building, eventually branching into the cruise ship line known for going "where the big ships cannot." Maine's cruise ship industry has an economic impact of about $35 million.
The cruise visit to Eastport, marketed as "Northeastern Explorations: Boston to the Bay of Fundy," was in the works for three years. Brown explains that Blount's tour consultant finalized the Eastport leg in March 2011. As a part of the contract with Blount the port agreed to host two evening receptions per visit. While the August 3 receptions were not packed with passengers, those who did attend enjoyed meeting artists, nibbling on cheese and crackers and sipping wine. Brown notes that passenger bookings are higher for the two additional August visits by the Grande Caribe.
Passengers are provided ahead of time with a double‑page list of activities, including mackerel fishing off the breakwater. One man from South Carolina liked the idea so much that he brought his own gear. He spent the whole day fishing with locals and had a wonderful time. His wife did not take the trolley, instead opting to walk around the city. She too enjoyed what the city had to offer and was seen later that evening at the Eastport Arts Center's Roaring Twenties Ball.
The ship's visit created some additional publicity for the area. "It did bring people in to see it, and that's part of it," Brown says. Crew members appeared to have a good time as well. "Our warm welcome really impressed people," he adds. At least one passenger will be back very soon for a kayak tour with a local kayaking company.
The ship's owner, Nancy Blount, was on board and stayed in the city all day. Brown says, "No matter what, Nancy knows everyone in the cruise industry and talks to everyone." He adds, "Nancy reported that everything went well."
Business owners who stayed open late may not have seen the business that they hoped for, but Scrimshander Jim Levendosky says, "They were nice people." He had a number visit his store. "They all had a story to tell. They were friendly and talkative." As a shopkeeper who has seen the city transform over many years, he was glad to see the shops open and the streets busy with visitors even if it didn't translate into sales. "I'm a veteran of the days when you could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit a cat." He adds, "However, let's not forget that the B&Bs bring 50‑plus people in for overnights -- that's huge."
The business community will have a chance to discuss the visit and their expectations at the next Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, says President Meg Keay. The meeting will be held on Thursday, August 16, at 6 p.m. at TIMA. The next two visits by the Grand Caribe will be in mid and late August.