Saint John’s first cruise visit was a surprise. Twenty-five years later, cruise ships are a part of the skyline. Cruise Saint John is celebrating their 25th anniversary this season, with 63 cruise ship calls scheduled. During the Port’s inaugural season, only the Cunard Princess called to Saint John after Hurricane Gabrielle diverted the Bermuda-bound ship.

The community welcomed the surprise guests with open arms; a tradition that continues today. When cruise passengers arrive in the Port City, members of the Cruise Saint John volunteer Meet and Greet Committee greet them with smiles, roses, pins and flags.

“We boast the first meet and greet in our region. Lines were blown away by the thought that their passengers would receive such a warm welcome and experience the marine wonder of the world at the same time,” Betty MacMillan, Manager of Cruise Development for Port Saint John, said.

Cause to celebrate

No matter what year, cruise ship days feel like celebrations in Uptown Saint John.

Thousands of passengers disembark to explore the city or take shore excursions to the region’s natural wonders. In 2012, 188,000 passengers came through Port Saint John. Saint John ranks fourth in the country by cruise passenger traffic, accounting for 9 per cent of passengers visiting Canada, according to a study released by the Northwest and Canada Cruise Association (NWCCA).

This year, the Port is celebrating their two millionth passenger. They’re expected to arrive at the end of September – peak cruise time for the city.

This also marks the first full season cruise passengers will be coming through the new state of the art Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal, a $16.5 million investment. Port Saint John partnered with the federal and provincial governments on the project, with both contributing $4.5 million.

“Of course, the passengers aren’t coming to Saint John for the beautiful cruise terminal. They are here to experience the community and if the port of call doesn’t get a good rating from the guests, the line will not continue to call. Cruise Saint John has been a great vehicle for the community to discuss ways to ensure our guests have an excellent experience,” MacMillan said.

Port Saint John will also be celebrating the inaugural call of Transocean Tours’ Astor on Aug. 29.

World-class facility

With its arching windows, gleaming exterior and rooftop patio – the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal stands out.

The building officially opened in September, 2012 cruise and Disney Magic was its first customer. The Port hosted Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall last May, during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year.

The terminal is built to accommodate larger ships and welcome more visitors.

It’s also positioned itself as a venue in the community. The building made its debut to the local public in 2012, with numerous event bookings since it opened.

In January, the Diamond Jubilee and Marco Polo Cruise Terminal, played host to hundreds of innovators and forward thinkers during T4G’s Big Data Congress.

The Diamond Jubilee is also becoming a popular spot for weddings, with 12 booked for this year. The facility boasts a fully functioning kitchen, reception room and rooftop patio.

Economic boost

The cruise industry injects millions of tourism dollars into New Brunswick every year. It has also been a major factor in boosting the profile of the Bay of Fundy as a tourism destination.

Trevor Holder, Minister of Tourism for the province, said the 25th anniversary is a reminder of what we can achieve when we dream big.

“From an economic standpoint, the development of the cruise industry has allowed us the opportunity to fully understand the potential of what the Bay of Fundy product can mean in terms of new revenue to our province. Culturally, it has been a great opportunity to showcase who we are and to connect ourselves with a wider international community,” he said.

The provincial government announced last year they are investing $50,000 in a feasibility study that would explore the city’s potential as a home port. If Port Saint John were designated a home port for cruise ships, it could mean cruise ships depart from the Port City.

Holder said the government is looking to the future of cruise.

“And now in 2013 we look to the future and anticipate the day in the not too distant future when cruise ships depart from our port, here in Saint John. Congratulations to the port, the tour operators, the meet and greet volunteers and everyone who has got us to this great milestone. All the best on 25 years,” he said.

Friendly faces

Saint John is known for being a cruise friendly port. Locals really welcome the passengers when they disembark.

On cruise ship days, the Meet and Greet volunteers wait with welcoming gifts, tour operators are ready to show off New Brunswick and business owners prepare to introduce passengers to local delicacies.

In the NWCCA study, cruise passengers ranked their sense of security on Canadian soil and the friendliness of locals among the top reasons to cruise to Canada.

Ross Jefferson, Executive Director of Discover Saint John, said the cruise industry has raised awareness about the Saint John area.

“Our location on the Saint John harbor provides us a great competitive advantage in being able to access this market segment. Furthermore, The Port of Saint John has provided great leadership in the development of this industry and for that we are very thankful to this community partner,” he said.

Tourism excellence

In 2012, Disney Cruise Line brought magic to the harbour. This year, families can look forward to seeing another beloved character on the waterfront.

In March, Ambassatours announced Thomas the Tank Engine will be pulling into Long Wharf this summer. The Day Out with Thomas tour is a family event that allows children of all ages to ride a life-sized version of the popular children’s character down the NB Southern Railway tracks from uptown Saint John.

The Go-Go Thomas Tour is coming to Saint John for two back-to-back weekends in August. One weekend will coincide with the arrival of the Carnival Glory to let cruise ship passengers experience the fun.

“The opportunity to ride in a real train pulled by a life-sized Thomas is a memorable and magical experience for children and their families,” Dennis Campbell, President of Ambassatours Gray Line, said at the announcement.

Ambassatours and Aquila Tour are two of Cruise Saint John’s important partnerships.

Earlier this year at the Cruise Shipping Miami convention, Aquila was recognized for excellence for their coaching and mentoring programs. Aquila, based in Saint John, runs the Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence to help tour operators around the globe achieve excellence in the cruise industry.