PORTLAND – A huge cruise ship that’s riding out Hurricane Earl by spending some extra time in Portland’s sheltered harbor is giving the city an unexpected economic boost.

The Explorer of the Seas arrived in Portland Harbor shortly after 2 p.m. Friday and won’t leave until 7 tonight. It’s unusual for a large cruise ship to stay in Portland overnight.

With more than 3,100 passengers and 1,200 crew members on board, it is the largest cruise ship to visit Portland this year.

The Explorer of the Seas began its nine-day cruise in Cape Liberty, N.J., on Friday morning. It was originally scheduled to arrive in Portland at 9 this morning.

To reach Portland ahead of the storm, the ship motored at its top cruising speed of 23 knots.

Another cruise ship, the Independence, with about 100 passengers on board, also arrived earlier than scheduled Friday to wait out the storm.

Hurricane Earl’s northeastward path was taking it well away from the Maine coast late Friday. The top wind speeds in Portland were predicted to be less than 30 mph, with seas 4 to 6 feet in Casco Bay. In the open water more than 25 miles offshore, there was a hurricane warning with seas 15 to 25 feet.

Gary Bratton, 73, an Ohio resident who is a passenger on the Explorer of the Seas, said the ship was moving so fast on its way to Portland that it was too windy to stand on the deck. He and others who were interviewed said they were glad to reach Portland early so they could avoid the storm and extend their stay in the city.

Bratton said his fellow passengers appeared eager to spend money. “They’re going to drop a few bucks in town,” he said.

Sandra Jones, owner of Something’s Fishy, a gift shop on Exchange Street, kept her doors open an extra hour Friday to take advantage of the additional business.

“This is a bonus,” she said. “You have a captive audience.”

Most cruise ship passengers eat on board because meals are included in the price of the voyage, said Audree Burns, an assistant manager at Ri Ra, an Irish pub and restaurant on Commercial Street. When a cruise ship is in town, she said, Ri Ra’s bar sales increase much more than its restaurant business.

The Explorer of the Seas will return to Portland on Sept. 18, Oct. 2 and Oct. 16. Usually, the ship arrives at 9 a.m. and leaves at 7 p.m. the same day.

Its long stay in Portland this weekend means most of the vessel’s crew members will spend time in the city, said Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District.

Many crew members are expected to go to the Maine Mall today for some shopping, with mall drivers picking them up at the ship. On Friday, though, crew members were mainly interested in the city’s night life. They asked for a list of nightclubs and reasonably priced restaurants, Beitzer said.

She said the hurricane turned out to be the perfect storm for the Maine tourism industry. The weather wasn’t so bad that it kept tourists away, she said, but it was bad enough in the Gulf of Maine to cause two cruise ships to seek the safety of Portland Harbor.

“It’s a double bonus,” she said.

The storm was expected to depart the area quickly, with the rain forecast to end this morning. This afternoon will be breezy and mostly sunny, according to the National Weather Service.

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

tbell@pressherald.com