Saturday, October 3, 2015

The "other" tourist season in Maine

Summer is over, school is back in session, and the sidewalks in Portland are once again quiet and easily maneuvered - a stark contrast to those congested summer days.

Or so you would think.

The truth is, this is hardly the end of tourist season. In fact, another aspect of tourism is in full swing. Several times in the fall I drive into Portland and witness a change in the skyline that only happens when towering cruise ships come into port, spilling tourists out in droves.

This is a different sort of clientele, often retirement age or close to it (though there is no hard and fast rule that says you can’t be young and enjoy a cruise), and mainly without children since they’re back in the classrooms. The cruise ship crowd is usually adorned with some sort of identification dangling around their necks, naming both the ship and the passenger. I think it’s kind of funny because there is no lost and found booth for tourists in Portland that I know of.

Similar to the summer mob, this wandering crew also carries maps of the local area, searching out restaurants and gift shops. But before they get very far these folks are greeted by a very special breed of Mainer.

The crafters.

You can find any number of fun items along the sidewalks of Portland when the ships arrive. Maine is represented in knitted mittens, lighthouse photographs, gemstone jewelry and many other unique pieces on display. These hard working people are dragging their tables and many bins out and setting up eye-catching displays before cruise ship passengers have even had breakfast. They offer friendly smiles and stories of Portland Headlight’s history or the best places to search for tourmaline. I imagine cruisers must spend the evening cramming irresistible handmade trinkets into their luggage.

Cruise ships sound like floating adult amusement parks to me. What with the constant entertainment, pools, shopping and nonstop eating, a ship can fulfill the wishes of just about anyone who takes the plunge into the cruising world.

Spouse and I have talked about going on a cruise someday. Though I’m not totally sold on the idea, I guess it would be fun to be on the other side of the ship, you know, the side that’s sitting on the top deck with a cool drink instead of staring in wonder at one of these mammoth vessels. Of course, we would have to come across a fantastic price, so we’ll probably wait for one of those last minute deals where we’re not sure we would actually have a cabin... ma
ybe just a seat on the lido deck. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to clean the pool to earn our keep.

Our niece and her husband - both far from retirement age, by the way - came through Portland on a New England and Canada Cruise just last week. Spouse and I met them for lunch, which was a bit ironic considering their only time visiting us in Maine happened because they left Connecticut to board a ship that brought them here via New York and Boston on their way to Halifax and Nova Scotia. That’s a pretty roundabout way to meet for lunch, I would say!

I’m not sure Spouse and I will actually ever dive into the cruise experience. Maybe with the right amount of seasickness medication and enough activities and food to distract me, though, I might be willing to let someone navigate a gigantic tub across open seas with me in it.


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