By Tom Peters

The skirl of the bagpipes and the skyline of a modern seaport that boasts a rich history with the sea and the world are among the early sights and sounds cruise passengers encounter when they arrive in the port of Halifax. The port has been a focal point of the city and province for centuries and now shares its history and stories with the thousands of cruise visitors who come to this premier Canada/New England cruise destination annually.

In 2013 Halifax will welcome an estimated 240,000 cruise passengers and 133 vessel calls which includes two inaugural calls, one by Oceania Cruises’ Marina in May and AIDA Cruise Lines’ Aidabella in September. In all, 16 cruise lines, including some of the industry’s exclusive passenger ships, will stop in Halifax, introducing their traveling guests to a destination offering a diversified culture and history, a variety of attractions and a visit filled with memorable experiences.

Cruise lines continue to laud Halifax for all it has to offer and a satisfaction program, launched by the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association, hopes to get more direct feedback from passengers on their thoughts of Halifax and other Atlantic Canada ports. Cathy McGrail, Halifax Port Authority’s Manager of Cruise Development, said the data collected will help the Ports identify opportunities so they can always improve. Overall, McGrail said, “We anticipate a very good year as we continue to see growth.”

In 2012 the port reached a milestone when it topped the three million mark in passenger visits since cruise ships started calling over 30 years ago. One of the longtime lines calling the port and helping to achieve that passenger milestone is Holland America Line. This year Holland America marks its 140th year in operation and its 20th year calling Halifax. McGrail said there is an intent to commemorate these two great anniversaries in the fall. “Holland America Line has a strong rich history with us here in Halifax,” said McGrail, a history that not only includes bringing cruise passengers but also immigrants to the port during the early days of Pier 21, now a historic site and the entrance point into Canada for a million immigrants between 1928 and 1971.

While the port attracts large cruise ships, it is still working to develop a niche with the smaller, luxury style vessels. McGrail said the Port would like to have more of these smaller vessels homeport out of Halifax or even have passenger turnaround programs. “We continue to talk to cruise lines about (passenger) turnarounds. Our primary focus has been on this niche market, adventure/luxury cruise lines, and we are certainly hearing there is an interest. Hopefully in 2014-15 we will see more turnarounds by these small upscale, luxury cruises,” she said.

While Halifax benefits from the annual $50 million spin-off from the cruise industry, the Port continues to work ensuring a healthy environment for its visitors, as well as residents of the City. Earlier this year it was announced the port will install shore power, which will allow ships with the capability to hook up to the electrical grid, so they can shut off their engines and draw the electricity they need while docked. The $10 million project, being funded by the federal and provincial governments and the Halifax Port Authority, will potentially decrease cruise ship idling by seven per cent. Using the 2014 cruise season as an example, the potential environmental benefit to using shore power would be an estimated decrease of approximately 307,500 litres of fuel used by cruise vessels and a reduction of 925,000 kg of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions. It is likely these reductions would increase over time as additional ships equipped for shore power use the facilities. McGrail said the Port Authority has been working with Nova Scotia Power on the project and has submitted the required documentation to the provincial Utility and Review Board to produce a rate at which ships can buy power. The target date to have shore power is during the 2014 cruise season. “In 2014 we will have approximately 29 calls in which vessels can connect to shore power. Vessels that will be retrofitted to use shore power are the Royal Princess, Queen Mary 2 and the Veendam,” McGrail said. In addition to shore power, the Canadian government announced several initiatives in aligning itself with U.S. environmental marine standards to further reduce ship pollution. The cruise industry is very supportive of these initiatives.

Greg Wirtz, President, Cruise Lines International Association-North West and Canada, said at the time of the announcement that, “The cruise lines operating in Canada are leaders in environmentally sustainable practices and meet or outperform all applicable international and federal air emissions requirements wherever we operate.” He said the cruise industry continues to invest in new technologies like shore power and “We recognize that these new regulations contribute to the Canadian government’s efforts to further improve air quality,” said Wirtz.