An armada of cruise ships will make 180 port visits and bring many thousands of tourists – and lots of money – to coastal Maine ports this year.

Leading the fleet will be the largest and costliest cruise ship ever built, QUEEN MARY 2, which will call in Bar Harbor Sept. 27 and Portland Oct. 9.

Bar Harbor has scheduled a record 87 visits by cruise ships large and small beginning in May, up from 78 last year. Portland will have 30 big-ship port calls with nearly 46,000 passengers ready to shop and sightsee, an increase from 35,000 last year.

Much smaller cruise ships sailing out of American Cruise Lines’ Bangor home port will visit Bar Harbor, Rockland, Bath, Camden, Belfast, Bucksport and Castine. Each passenger will spend $1,480 in those towns during a weeklong cruise, the Cruise Maine Coalition estimates.

Portland officials figure expenditures by passengers, and on pilotage, tugs, docking fees, security and other services will mean an economic spin-off of $9,137,000. Adding SCOTIA PRINCE’s 160,000 passengers will boost the economic benefit for the region to $41,137,000, Portland experts say.

A University of Maine study estimated the arrival of 160,000 passengers from 64 cruise ships in 2002 had a $12.1 million impact on Bar Harbor sales revenues.

When she arrives at Bar Harbor, QUEEN MARY 2 will be heading back to New York from a 12-day Canada cruise that will cost each passenger $2,066 to $3,069, depending on the type of accommodations.

Bar Harbor plans a big welcome for the 1,132-foot-long, 236-foot high, 150,000-gross ton ship. QM2 has a crew of 1,253, can carry 2,620 passengers and has 17 decks, a three-deck-high dining room and five swimming pools. She cost $800 million.

Portland will greet QM2 with music, entertainment, fireworks, a lobster bake, a soccer game between crewmembers and Portlanders, plus specialized excursion packages for passengers, according to city marketing and communications manager Elizabeth Darling.

Darling said a Sept. 28 visit by QM2 was scrubbed because Portland couldn’t accommodate her that day.

At both Bar Harbor and Portland QM2 will anchor in the harbor; passengers will come ashore in launches. But if QM2 returns in 2006 when Ocean Gateway is scheduled to be completed, she will tie up at a 1,400-foot berth there.

Work on the terminal will begin this spring after the funding formula is finalized and after Planning Board approval, the state Department of Environmental Protection permit process and issuance of Army Corps of Engineers permits, said Transportation Director Jeffrey Monroe.

Cruise lines have complained about the quality of Portland facilities, Monroe said. But, when Ocean Gateway is complete he expects the port will return to its former level of 50-plus ships a year.

Big ships like JEWEL OF THE SEAS of Royal Caribbean International, 962 feet long and 90,090 gross tons and 2,500 passengers, and CARNIVAL VICTORY of Carnival Cruise Lines, 893 feet long and 101,509 gross tons and 2,758 passengers will visit both Bar Harbor and Portland.

Another biggie is MAASDAM of Holland America Line, 720 feet long, 55,451 gross registered tons and 1,266 passengers. She will visit both ports.

Bar Harbor will also host a number of smaller cruise vessels. One will be NANTUCKET CLIPPER of Clipper Cruises, 207 feet long and carrying 102 passengers. Another will be NIAGARA PRINCE of American Canadian Caribbean Line, 175 feet long with 84 passengers.

MAASDAM will launch the 2004 cruise season May 16 with a visit to Bar Harbor and inaugurate Portland’s season there June 1. Bar Harbor’s season will end with a Nov. 4 visit by REGAL PRINCESS, owned by Princess Cruises. JEWEL OF THE SEAS of Royal Caribbean line is scheduled to make Portland’s last 2004 visit Oct. 27.

While Portland is selling itself as a cruise destination, the Cruise Maine Coalition headed by Director Amy Powers is marketing the entire Maine coast. It represents 11 smaller ports in addition to Bar Harbor and Portland, is associated with the Maine Port Authority and works with the Maine Office of Tourism.

The coast as a cruise destination will get a boost when the Maine Port Authority, Cruise Maine Coalition and Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce host the sixth annual Canada-New England Cruise Symposium in Bar Harbor from June 1-3.

Portland’s Elizabeth Darling and representatives of Cruise Maine were scheduled to attend the 100-nation Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention on Miami Beach March 15-18 to sell cruise lines on Maine.

Portland’s cruise ship season has had a spotty history but Transportation Director Monroe said it appeared to be recovering.

Monroe’s predecessor, Tom Valleau, launched the program in 1989 when he lured BERMUDA STAR to port. By 1992 port visits were up to 17. There were 43 port calls in 2000, 51 in 2001 and 34 in 2002.

Valleau also brought Hapag-Lloyd American and its container ship business to Portland in 1991.