Merna Colwell of Pennsylvania takes in the site from Monument Sqaure in Portland on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. She was exploring Portland with her Howard and their grandson after disembarking from the Carnival Glory cruise ship.
By Gillian Graham
PORTLAND – Howard and Merna Colwell wandered slowly through the Old Port on Tuesday morning, marveling at the old brick buildings and colorful window displays.
While many of their fellow passengers from the Carnival Glory cruise ship hopped on buses for trips outside the city, the Colwells and their 15-year-old grandson, Doug Mapes, opted to explore Portland on foot. It was the first time the family from Mehoopany, Pa., had been to Maine.
"There's always something new wherever you go," said Howard Colwell, a retired farmer. "It might be a small thing, it might be a big thing."
The thousands of cruise ship passengers who stroll along the waterfront, through the Old Port and into downtown Portland each summer and fall bring more than money to spend on food and souvenirs. They also bring fresh perspectives on the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that are routine parts of life in coastal Maine.
Five ships were scheduled to visit Portland this week, carrying a total of more than 10,400 passengers and nearly 4,000 crew members. In all, 60 ships carrying a total of 68,977 passengers and 26,425 crew members are expected to call on Portland this year.
The Carnival Glory, with 2,974 passengers and a crew of 1,160, arrived early Tuesday and left around 5 p.m., on its way to Saint John, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, before returning to New York City.
By 9 a.m., a steady stream of passengers had disembarked from the ship, many of them heading directly to waiting tour buses and trolleys.
They could explore Maine on their own or buy an excursion package. Day trips included tours of Portland and Kennebunkport; a trip to three lighthouses in southern Maine; and lobster bakes, horse-drawn carriage rides and Duck Boat tours of Portland.
Common destinations were Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth and Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, the home of former President George H.W. Bush.
For passengers like the Colwells, the stop in Portland was a chance to explore a city they had never seen.
After coming ashore, Howard and Merna Colwell grabbed a colorful map of the city and plotted a route to explore with their grandson. All three wore matching black-and-white, Western-style shirts, to make it easier to find each other in crowds, though they found themselves nearly alone as they walked down Exchange Street.
As they strolled along Commercial Street away from the Ocean Gateway terminal, the Colwells stopped to see photos, paintings and trinkets displayed by street vendors. They commented on the strong fishy smell of the waterfront, the number of people cruising the city on bicycles and the cobblestone walkways in the Old Port.
They were particularly impressed with the number of brick buildings and sidewalks along the waterfront.
"It's a beautiful city," said Merna Colwell, a retired nurse who's a square-dancing enthusiast. "It amazes me, the lay of the land in different places."
Mapes, a high school freshman on his first cruise, said he was eager to take the trip so he could see "famous places" like New York City, Boston and Maine. He said he will use the photos he has taken for a school project documenting his trip.
His grandparents, who are raising Mapes, thought the trip would be an educational and fun way for their grandson to see New England and Canada.
"My favorite thing is (to) walk and just take in the scenery," Mapes said.
As they made their way up Exchange Street, the family stopped in Something Fishy to browse the shop's Maine-themed items.
Howard Colwell added a lighthouse pin to the collection on his baseball cap, while his wife bought a book of photos of Maine. They stopped occasionally to say hello to other passengers from the ship, including other members of the Fairdale Grange group, with which they were traveling.
Outside the shop, Ray Gerts of Houston waited for his wife, Elaine, to finish shopping. It was the first time either one had been to New England, and they hoped to see some fall foliage as they cruised to Canada.
"It's a nice, quiet little town," Gerts said. After browsing in the Old Port, he and his wife planned to find a waterfront restaurant where they could have fresh Maine lobster for lunch.
Howard Colwell wasn't looking for a meal on the mainland, but had tried his first lobster aboard the ship. He said he was lucky that the lobster was "already popped out of the shell" so he didn't have to work too hard for his dinner.
After the Old Port, the family headed up to Congress Street for a peek at the city life they're unaccustomed to seeing in their hometown -- population about 900 -- in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Merna Colwell snapped photos of Portland City Hall, churches, and the architectural details of buildings around Monument Square. She said she was impressed with the public art and statues around the city, including a small colorful lighthouse outside One City Center.
"There are such interesting things to look at here," she said as she examined the "Maine Lobsterman" statue at the corner of Temple and Middle streets.
The Colwells spent more than two hours on foot before deciding to go back to the ship for lunch. They all said they enjoyed their visit -- even though it was short -- and Howard Colwell said he would be particularly interested to see other areas of Maine on another visit.
"This is a beautiful town," Merna Colwell said as she headed back to the ship. "We're from the country. We're not used to seeing all this."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
Passengers disembark from the cruise ship Carnival Glory at the Ocean Gateway berth in Portland on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.
Howard and Merna Colwell and their grandson, Doug Mapes, left to right, look over maps of the city of Portland at the Ocean Gateway terminal after getting off a cruise ship on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.