By Tom Peters

The Port of Halifax is expecting a record year for cruise ship calls with 144 vessel calls scheduled for this season bringing approximately 240,000 passengers to this premiere Atlantic Canada port of call. “It’s turning out to be a good year,” said Cathy McGrail, Director, Cruise and Corporate Communications, Halifax Port Authority. “Strong partnerships are important,” she added. “We work closely with tour operators, Tourism Nova Scotia, Destination Halifax and cruise ports across Atlantic Canada to provide an experience that keeps people coming back.”

McGrail attributed the growth to many of the lines, regular callers to Halifax, increasing their number of visits to Halifax. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, for example, will call five times this year, the same number of calls as 2014. Her last call will be Oct. 1. And Pearl Seas Cruises also increased its calls to Halifax, scheduled to make eight stops this year.

It was the Queen Mary 2 that created a great stir in Halifax, the home of Sir Samuel Cunard, on July 10 when the ocean liner participated in the celebration marking the 175th anniversary of Cunard’s first regularly scheduled transatlantic voyage. On July 4, 1840, RMS Britannia left port in Liverpool and made Halifax 12 days later.

“It is very important for us to include Halifax as part of the celebration of the original transatlantic crossing,” said Richard Meadows, President, Cunard, North America. “I think our visionary founder would be proud to see the ties between the line he created and his hometown are still holding strong after all these years.”

While the port’s visitor and ship numbers have increased, a new economic impact study shows that the port’s cruise business generates over $104 million in annual economic benefits. McGrail said the impact study had not been refreshed for a number of years so it was interesting to see the results. “It includes everything from shops, to tours, passenger spending at restaurants, etc.” She said Halifax passengers are fortunate because they can, through the various land tours, visit places like Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove and some of the wineries in the Annapolis Valley. “So our passengers can get a broader reach into other areas and the tour operators are always looking for new adventures,” she said.

As for infrastructure improvements, the installation of shore power facilities for the ships has proven very beneficial this season. McGrail said three lines, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line, have all signed on to use the system which provides ships with an alternate source of power while berthed. “We are expecting about 25 connections throughout the season,” she said. The shore power project was a $10 million investment with $5 million contributed by the federal government and $2.5 million from each of the Province of Nova Scotia and Halifax Port Authority. The shore power system is designed for two connections and if there is demand for a second connection to be installed, McGrail said that will be given consideration.

While cruise ships visit Halifax from April to November, the busiest time of the season is in the fall. On Oct. 1 Halifax will entertain five ships which will bring in excess of 8,200 passengers. October 16 will be the busiest passenger day with four vessel calls and over 10,000 passengers. Other highlights of the season include eight inaugural vessel calls and the welcoming of a new line to the port, American-based Haimark Line with its vessel Saint Laurent. The small carrier is scheduled to make three calls to Halifax.

“The cruise market is an important contributor to Nova Scotia’s tourism industry and to our economy,” said Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Michel Samson. “Innovations like the new shore power system position Halifax as a key port of call. The strong 2015 cruise season will introduce thousands of new visitors to our incredible experiences and renowned hospitality, and encourage a return visit to Nova Scotia for a longer stay.”

McGrail said although it is too early to give exact numbers, 2016 is shaping up to be another strong cruise season for Halifax.