PORTLAND – Michael Jones, manager of the Something’s Fishy souvenir shop on Exchange Street, doesn’t have to look at the waterfront to know when a cruise ship is in town.

He can tell by the uptick in pedestrian traffic. Better yet, by looking at his cash register receipts.

He said cruise ship passengers are eager to buy anything imprinted with the words “Portland, Maine,” particularly easy-to-carry items that would please grandchildren back home, like T-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

“When they come into town, they are a captive audience,” he said of the passengers. “It’s a couple thousand people walking around.”

This year, there will be a lot more of them walking around. A record 71 ships, carrying an estimated 78,630 passengers, are scheduled to call on Portland this year, starting with the May 24  visit of the 84-passenger Greek super-yacht Clelia.

Since 2008, the number of cruise ships visiting Portland has more than doubled, and the number of passengers has increased by 75 percent.

Bar Harbor also expects a record year. All told, 118 cruise ships are scheduled to visit Bar Harbor this season.

Amy Powers of CruiseMaine, a tourism marketing organization, said Maine is benefiting from several changes in the cruise industry.

The cruise lines have been busy in recent years building new boats, and they are sending their older boats to the Northeast, she said.

The port of New York has created more berthing space, so the cruise lines have more flexibility and can increase the number of voyages.

Also, stepped-up environmental regulations in Alaska and a new state “head tax” there have prompted cruise lines to move more of their business to the East Coast, Powers said. Alaska’s traffic is down 14 percent this year.

“Those three things have really played a big role in the growth of the industry in the Northeast,” she said.

Barbara Whitten, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland, said the growth can’t continue in Portland without a new deep-water berth, the so-called “mega-berth,” which would allow more than one large ship to dock in Portland at one time.

The $6.5 million needed to build the berth is part of the $57.8 million bond package on the June 8 state ballot.

Cruise ship passengers in Portland buy much more than refrigerator magnets. Restaurant owners in the Old Port say they often have to add staffing when a cruise ship is in port. High-end retailers, such as art galleries and jewelry dealers, also see sales spike.

In 2008, an economic impact study by the University of Maine found that a typical cruise ship passenger spent $80.51 in the Portland area. That amount increased to $109.68 when spending on tours sponsored by the cruise lines was included.

The study was based on surveys of cruise passengers as they returned to their ships after a day onshore.

The average age of the respondents was 62, and 46 percent were age 60 to 69.

Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they spent the most money on food and beverages — about $28 a day. They spent an average of $21 on apparel, $6 on fine art and jewelry, $5 on household items and $5 on transportation.

The largest ship to call on Portland this year will be the 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas, which will visit on Sept. 4, Sept. 18, Oct. 2 and Oct. 16.

Other big ships will be the 2,758-passenger Carnival Glory, which will make its first visit to the city on Sept. 13, and the Jewel of the Seas, which will visit Portland twice in September and four times in October.

September will be the busiest month, with 20 ships scheduled to call on Portland. Sixteen ships are scheduled for both August and October.

The last ship of the season, the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony, is tentatively scheduled to make its first visit to Portland on Oct. 29.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

[email protected]