By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – The first cruise ship of what's shaping up to be yet another busy season is due into port next week.
The Holland America Line's Maasdam, a 55,000-ton, 1,200-passenger vessel is due to arrive in Newport Harbor on May 1. Eight days later, she'll be followed by another behemoth, the Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.
The onset of cruise ship season signals what some have come to regard as the unofficial (or at least, the most visible sign of) the start of the city's tourist season.
According to the latest statistics from Discover Newport, 69 boats – including 45 large passenger cruise ships, and 29 smaller coastal cruisers – are scheduled to berth in Newport over the course of the next six months.
That's in line with last year's numbers, which also boasted a schedule of 45 large passenger ship visits.
Once again highlighting this year's lineup will be a pair of visits from the Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2. One of the largest passenger ships in the world, the QM2 has become a frequent visitor in recent years. This season, she's scheduled to make two trips to the City-by-the-Sea: the first on Sept. 22, and the second, one month following, on Oct. 22.
She'll be joined by some familiar visitors, including the Princess Line's Caribbean Princess and Holland America's Eurodam.
Increasingly an integral piece of the city's tourism industry, cruise ships have been making port in Newport for the last 13 years.
When the program began in 1999, just 33 ships called on the city. Since then, the number of visits has fluctuated, peaking in 2004 when the city booked 76 visits. And while the frequency has varied, the number of passengers disembarking has steadily increased – rising from 28,178 passengers in 1999 to 68,183 passengers in 2008; 71,921 in 2009; and topping out in 2010 at 108,766.
This year, if the weather cooperates, officials say that the city could see roughly 110,000 passengers disembark just from the 45 large vessel visits. That could translate into needed tax dollars for the city.
A recent University of Rhode Island study showed that cruise ship passengers spent an estimated $1.78 million in local shops and restaurants in 2009, with the city taking in $284,568 through its $3 per passenger head tax. The data also show that on average, passengers will spend roughly $26 each on land-side purchases.
While significant, according to the same URI study, cruise ship passengers accounted for just 1 percent of overall waterfront area purchases, easily surpassed by the $40 million spent by recreational boaters and $11 million spent by harbor shuttle and excursion passengers.