Cruise traffic trickles back to New England: Hoping for 'a pivot toward more domestic cruises'

Morgan Hines
Norwegian Cruise Line also introduced something noteworthy back in 2006 when Norwegian Pearl made its debut.

Cruising has been back in swing since last year but a couple of states in New England are only now starting to see traffic – and some are hoping to see more ships sail their way this season. 

"We are thrilled to see cruises return to New England and frankly everywhere where cruises operate," Laziza Lambert, spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, a leading trade organization for the industry, told USA TODAY. 

In 2019, 251,000 passengers from North America went on a cruise that traversed through Canada and New England, according to Lambert. Canada and New England are treated as a "single destination region," Chris Mastrippolito, director of global research, told USA TODAY. 

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There are cruise ports in cities throughout the region such as Boston; Portland, Maine; Bar Harbor, Maine and Newport, Rhode Island, among others.

"We are bringing vital jobs back to communities and are glad that we can contribute to local economies as we all work to recover from the pandemic," Lambert continued.

In coastal areas in Connecticut and Maine, cruise ships arrived to some ports for the first time in years this month, prompting excitement and anticipation around the industry's return to the area.

Connecticut hoping for more cruise ship traffic

The recent appearance of two cruise ships in New London raised hopes that Connecticut might stand to benefit from the return of the industry.

The two ships, part of American Queen Voyages, were on a tour of the East Coast and Canada, and were the first cruise ships to stop in New London in four years. Both are scheduled to stop in New London on the way back south in the fall.

"Maritime activities are a critical component of Connecticut’s tourism offerings," Christine Castonguay, director of branding and marketing for the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, told USA TODAY in a statement.

"The recent cruise stops in New London are just the latest indicator that all types of travel are returning after over two years of disruption brought on by the pandemic," Castonguay continued. "We are focused on promoting all of the great things to see and do in Connecticut, driving visitation to area businesses, and supporting the continued economic recovery of the state’s $15.5 billion tourism industry."

The ships each brought about 90 passengers and 75 crew members and were met with gift bags, discounts in local restaurants and a driving tour of the city.

Connecticut also has deep-water ports in New Haven and Bridgeport that can handle large ships, but the state often isn’t seen as a cruise destination.

"It's encouraging that with the industry just really trying to make a comeback, they picked New London," Mayor Michael Passero told the New Haven Register.

New London and other Connecticut ports could benefit from Canada's reopening its own ports to cruises after two years, and also from industry trends toward more domestic routes and smaller ships that cater to an older clientele, Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic, said.

"There has been a pivot toward more domestic cruises," Gray Faust told the Register. "Some of these ports are ones that you don't think of as cruise ports, necessarily."

A spokesperson for the Connecticut Port Authority also told the Register that the agency is working with the state to study whether a pier at New London’s Fort Trumbull, which is closer to the mouth of the Thames River and the Long Island Sound, could be refurbished to accommodate cruise ships.

In Maine, there are hopes for a bump in tourism from cruises

On April 14, Maine welcomed the first large cruise ship to dock in Bar Harbor in two years. The Norwegian Pearl dropped anchor in Frenchman Bay, and visitors were ferried to shore on tenders.

"Maine is a marquee New England destination offering spectacular scenery, recreational opportunities, and terrific cuisine, and also serves as the gateway to the United States and a port of call along the way to and from destinations in Canada, the Caribbean, and beyond for ocean-going cruise ships," said Kelly Craighead, President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, said in a statement provided by Lambert.

Maine travel professionals are excited about the return of large ships. 

"It's exciting to see these ships and their passengers coming back to Maine,” said Sarah Flink, executive director of CruiseMaine.

Roxanne and Jay Udasi, owners of Acadia Jewels, agreed.

"As business owners, the return of cruisers means better and more opportunities to not only to see people but to expand our business as well," they said in the statement provided by Lambert. "We are excited to see cruisers return, it's a sign that things are going back to some sense of normalcy."

"Prior to the pandemic, the cruise industry contributed $68 million in direct economic spend and created over 1,000 jobs in Maine amounting to $36 million in wages," Craighead continued. "The industry looks forward to once again contributing to Maine’s vibrant economy and to share with guests, from around the world, this treasured destination."

Cruising restart in New England will function like a 'trickle effect'

As Canada cruising has resumed, Cruise Lines International Association member vessels have sailed through the area more than in the past pandemic season. 

Lambert said it will be like a "trickle effect."

Because Canada's ban on cruises hadn't yet lifted last summer for the cruise season in the region, the resumption is happening now. 

"It mirrors the phased resumption we've seen everywhere else," Mastrippolito said. "Canada reopening has allowed that to accelerate." 

Contributing: The Associated Press