Three-hour tours

Lessons from a cruise-ship trip to Portland
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 4, 2009

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They crowd our sidewalks, wearing lobster hats and carrying LL Bean bags, from August through October. We’re told about how their presence is vital to our economy; how local businesses like Longfellow Books and the Portland Museum of Art and D. Cole Jewelers benefit from their visits.

They are the cruise-ship passengers, the guests who arrive early in the morning on looming white behemoths, wander through town for the better part of the day, and leave amid booming-foghorn fanfare, back off into the ocean, to their next port of call.

This year, “we had the most successful cruise season to date, and next year looks even more promising,” according to Patricia Finnigan, Portland’s assistant city manager. Close to 70,000 passengers and 22,000 crew members sailed into Portland on 48 boats this season, according to the city of Portland and CruiseMaineUSA, the tourism coalition that works to attract cruise lines to Maine’s ports. “Bringing that many people to downtown Portland is a boon to the local tourism economy, especially after the dismal rainy summer we experienced,” Finnegan adds. A University of Maine at Orono study released in July suggests that those passengers spend an average of $80 in Portland (a hotly debated figure in some circles that seems at least slightly inflated).

But who are these cruisers? What happens inside those hulking, shiny ships?

In late October, I spent five nights aboard the Jewel of the Seas, a 90,090-ton, 962-foot-long ship with two swimming pools, a rock-climbing wall, mini-golf course, and day spa, among many other amenities. My travel companion and I set sail from Boston and visited Portland, Bar Harbor, and Halifax before spending a full day at sea and disembarking back in Beantown. Food was included in the price of our trip (through a stroke of luck too boring to go into, we actually sailed for free, though not as guests of the cruise line), and we had to pay for drinks and other “extras” (i.e., completely crucial spa treatments). For this virgin cruiser, it was quite an eye-opening experience. Here are the top-five things I learned (one for each night!), plus a bonus lesson — because a good cruise always gives you more than you wanted.

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