The first cruise ship season in the Eastport area ended on a high note with the arrival and departure of ResidenSea's condominium ship The World on October 9. The 12-deck vessel credits itself as being the largest privately owned residential yacht on the planet, and downtown Eastport was full of locals and visitors "oohing" and "aahing" over its size and wondering how much the luxurious accommodations cost.
The World's residential community is comprised of 130 families from 19 countries and, although some live on the ship year-round, most spend three to four months aboard the yacht. The 165 residences aboard the 10-year-old ship range in size from studios to a palatial six-bedroom penthouse suite, all decorated to the owners' preferences. All of the homes aboard the vessel have been sold, although there are a select number available for resale.
Elayne Kollins of Seattle, Wash., is a new resident of The World and says it is quite an experience. She is totally enjoying it and comments, "It is a moving condo on the sea with changing picture windows."
Another resident of The World, Rick Jaynes of San Diego, Calif., says owning a home on the vessel gives him the opportunity to enjoy both coasts.
The Eastport Port Authority and guests enjoyed a tour of the public rooms on the vessel, and Captain Erik Bredhe of Sweden provided a number of interesting facts about The World's construction, pointing out that it was built in Sweden and fitted in Norway. The officers work 10 weeks on the ship and 10 weeks off, and the ratio of ship personnel to residents is two to one. A doctor and two nurses staff the medical center.
The captains and residents of The World collectively determine the ship's yearly itinerary based on the best sea routes and residents' personal interest. In 2012, the ship will visit 31 countries and, unlike most vessels, it spends nearly twice as many days in port as at sea and is on a return trip through the Northwest Passage.
Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner and Eastport City Manager Jon Southern presented plaques to the captain commemorating the vessel's visit to Eastport and, in turn, the captain presented the city with a plaque from The World.
Before the ship left Eastport, 600 lobsters from Quoddy Bay Lobster were delivered, but not everything went as planned. "We were working with a middleman between us and the ship, and we were told to have 150 live lobsters for it," explains Sara Griffin of Quoddy Bay Lobster. "Then it increased to 600 live lobsters of specific sizes, but we didn't know how specific. When I got over there with the 600 lobsters, I was told they were too small and sent back to get back 600 that were one-and-a-half pounds and more each." It took Griffin another two-and-a-half hours to find the required weight of lobsters, but the second trip to The World was successful.
Aboard the ship are four major restaurants including Portraits, which serves haute cuisine in an elegant setting and is considered one of the best restaurants in the world. There is a 7,000-square-foot spa, a full-size tennis court, two pools and putting greens, chipping areas and a driving range for golfers.
Made in Maine products that can be found aboard the ship are the golf balls used on the vessel's golf course. They are made of dried lobster shells, so they are environmentally friendly if they land in the water.
On October 10, a tired Chris Brown, who headed the cruise ship committee with Tess Ftorek, said The World's visit was "very successful. They took the tours we offered, and people sure seemed to enjoy the town. There was actually more crew on board than passengers, and they were looking for the Internet, the grocery store and places like The Happy Crab. I think the most frequently asked question was how to get to Quoddy Bay Lobster."
"I think they found Eastport to be the type of place that gives passengers the kind of attention they like," he reports. "They're treated special here, but that won't happen when they go to Bar Harbor."
Among the extras that The World residents enjoyed in Eastport was a three-point shuttle that ran between the blue tent at the breakwater, Bank Square and Raye's Mustard Mill so riders could hop off to do shopping at the grocery store or get some banking done during the latter stop. The ship sold two full lobstering tours aboard one of Butch and Janna Harris' vessels, and the two-hour trolley tour that could fit 30 passengers also sold out.
Brown says one of The World's unique requirements was asking someone from Eastport to act as concierge aboard ship. "Alice Lingley volunteered, and she supplied them with information about the town before the passengers got off. That's just another level of service."
The Blount Small Ship Adventures vessel Grande Caribe made three visits to Eastport in August, and the Nobel Caledonia's Caledonian Sky docked on September 28, and Brown says, except for the clearing of customs for the Caledonian Sky, things went like clockwork and the entire cruise season was a success. "It was all foreigners aboard the Caledonian Sky, and it was the first time that ship was in the state, so there were requirements to be processed," recalls Brown. "They [cleared customs] exactly when they should have, but it was two hours later than when they thought it should have been." He adds, "When The World was here, there were at least nine U.S. Customs officers, and the operation was religiously done like clockwork. There was progressive disembarkation, which didn't delay any of the tours."
Meg Keay, president of the Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce and owner of Port O' Call, says quite a few people came into town to see The World, so downtown Eastport was busy. "There were quite a few people shopping in the stores" on October 9.
"Eastport gets a lot of press and publicity when cruise ships are in town, so there's an economic impact," she notes. "People from out of town are curious about them, so that's definitely good for us."
In her case, the passengers aboard the Caledonian Sky on September 28 were customers who spent the most money at Port O' Call.
"I think Chris Brown and Tessa Ftorek of the cruise ship committee have done a terrific job coordinating everything, whether it's recruiting volunteers or working well with the port authority and local community. They've had ground tours, history tours and how lobsters are caught for the ship passengers," says Keay.
"We had lots of volunteers and lots of people sharing [their] pride in their community," commented Tess Ftorek the day after The World left Eastport and the cruise season ended. "That makes us different from all the other ports the ships have visited."
"This was a great season for cruise ships," says Brown. "And we're getting substantial global media attention from this."
"Unfortunately there is nothing planned for 2013 or 2014," he notes. "But we have written communication that the Blount ships want to make Eastport a port of call. Because we're catering to smaller ships, rather than bigger, they can change their itinerary easier."
"I think the relationship between us and St. Andrews and Campobello makes Eastport an even stronger lure," he adds.
St. Andrews welcomes cruise ships
Vaughn McIntyre, a business consultant from St. Andrews, has worked with Vern McKimmey of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner for several years, and the trio decided to market the bay as one stop.
McIntyre reports that the cruise season in St. Andrews this year was "great" and it ended the first weekend in October with the 450-passenger Quest for Adventure from the United Kingdom and The World. "The World was here for two days, and most of the 116 passengers aboard came off the ship to sightsee," he reports. "They went to Campobello and Kingsbrae Garden, and there were three different walking tours for them. I heard nothing but positive things, whether it was from the people at the town market to people visiting the town to see the ship."
In addition to the tours, residents of The World were invited to Thanksgiving dinner in private homes, and a few of them took up the offer.
"We had also the three visits in August from the Grande Caribe, which stayed two days, and it was a wonderful first-time experience of cruise ships in the harbor. We had just finished a 160-foot-long floating wharf and a new passenger ramp, which was great for the [local] boats, too," reports McIntyre.
St. Andrews also benefits from visits to Saint John by cruise ships, because the itinerary often includes bussing passengers to the seaside village for whale-watching and the ambience.
"We were one of the few recipients of a Disney character because it is rare for Disney to allow them to leave Disney property," he recalls. "We had Alice in Wonderland in Kingsbrae Garden. Only the passengers got to see it, but they know how special St. Andrews is now."
"Our merchants have been very generous about opening their doors," he reports. "We all know, with each cruise ship visit, that it's a learning experience."
"The cruise lines come up one year to find out how passengers respond to a new port, and any benefits won't be seen for a couple of years."
"We need to take pictures, get feedback and sell ourselves for 2014," sums up McIntyre. "Now we have the infrastructure and the experience."
Campobello targets small cruise ships
Vern McKimmey is marketing manager for the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and reports, "This is the first time we've had cruise ship traffic, and I want to give credit to Vaughn in St. Andrews as well as Chris Gardner in Eastport. It really was a joint marketing process."
"We met with N.B. Tourism, and the Blount people met with us all and, as a result, we got visits from passengers on the Grande Caribe as well as the Caledonian Sky."
"When the Blount cruise ships landed in St. Andrews, Quoddy Link would bring them to the park," he says. "We're so happy to have them, I can't tell you."
"Since 2009, we've lost bus traffic tours, so one strategy was to target small cruise ships," stresses McKimmey. "If everybody had a good time, we'll be fine."