The Associated Press

New England ports are preparing for what they expect will be a record number of cruise ships during this year’s tourism season.

New England and eastern Canada have been gaining popularity among cruise lines, and this year could be the busiest yet as passengers are drawn to the region’s beauty, culture and history.

Maine ports expect 335 cruise ship calls this year, up from 281 last year. Ports in the Canadian Maritimes and in Newfoundland are projecting 467 calls, 84 more than in 2009. Boston expects a record 300,000-plus cruise ship passengers to pass through its port.

“The last two or three years, we’ve really spiked,” said Charlie Phippen, harbor master in Bar Harbor, which expects 119 cruise ship visits, compared with 39 the year Phippen started his job 11 years ago. “This has gotten to be a well-established cruise ship region.”

The cruise line industry has been growing worldwide for decades, from under 4 million passengers in 1990 to more than 13 million in 2008, according to Cruise Lines International Association Inc. The Caribbean is the top destination by far, followed by the Mediterranean, Europe and Alaska.

Success is measured in “bed days,” the number of days passengers are aboard ships, and those have been relatively flat or down in recent years in the Caribbean, Alaska, western Mexico and Hawaii.

At the same time, the number of bed days on cruises in the New England-Maritimes region has jumped 60 percent, from 1.17 million in 2005 to 1.87 million in 2009, according to the association.

Karen Laverdiere of Acworth, Ga., has gone on Caribbean cruises for years, but she and her husband chose a New England cruise in October for a change. Their Princess Cruises ship sailed from New York and made stops in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

“I enjoy going to the Caribbean, but part of me wanted to see something new,” Laverdiere said.

Nowadays, New England and Canadian ports receive regular visits by ships from the largest cruise line companies, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

Many of the large ships begin their journeys in New York and Boston and visit ports in Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

Cruise ship companies have been expanding their fleets, so they can send more vessels to New England, said Amy Powers of CruiseMaineUSA. Perhaps more important, cruise ship terminals have been expanded and improved in New York and Boston.

New York City invested $250 million recently to expand and upgrade its cruise ship terminal in Manhattan and to build a new one in Brooklyn. Boston has spent millions to upgrade its port terminal.

The improvements in New York have drawn cruise ships and passengers from the Northeast, who can drive there to embark on New England cruises, saving on airfare they would have to spend to take cruises elsewhere.

New York anticipates 195 cruise ship calls at its Manhattan terminals this year, up from 135 last year, said Thomas Spina, the city’s director of cruise operations.

September and October remain the peak months for cruise ship trips, but more ships are now showing up in the region in July, August and earlier. Holland America Line wants to send a ship, the 720-foot Maasdam, to Bar Harbor in April, the earliest a cruise ship has ever visited.

And passengers are spending money when they come ashore, helping businesses in those ports.

A study has shown that cruise passengers spend $80 to $110 each when their ships stop in Portland, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

At that rate, the 75,000 passengers who visit this year are expected to give a $6 million to $9 million boost to the economy.