Different ports for different passengers — in the competitive cruise ship business, Bar Harbor and Portland both enjoy increasing popularity these days, but each port is seeking different markets. Portland, with its Ocean Gateway terminal in the making, welcomes passengers with a “more the merrier,” mega-ship mentality. On the other hand, explains Brian Nutter, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, Bar Harbor favors the smaller cruise lines. “We want to see growth that maintains the character of the harbor, which is, after all, why the tourists come here,” explains Nutter.

Just last month, the Maine Port Authority allocated $75,000 in state and federal funds to develop the Bar Harbor Destination Management Plan, “a public project geared towards harnessing the potential opportunities for Bar Harbor as an economically vibrant, attractive cruise-tourism destination.”

In early October, the Port Authority retained Bermello-Ajamil & Partners for a six-month analysis of Bar Harbor’s existing cruise industry and growth potential. Goals of their study include on-site conditions and local traffic activity related to cruise operations and an environmental review. Right now, Bar Harbor has a year- round population of 5,000 people and expects to host 83 cruise ships, yielding over 93,000 visitors this year.

Once again, different ports attract different markets. Bar Harbor, most popular in the fall months with leaf peepers heading for Acadia, restricts the number of ships allowed to dock to two per day — but how big the ships are, that is the question. Two mega-ships can jam the little town of Bar Harbor –it all comes down to that one little choke point, just how quickly an we get people on and off ships and onto buses to Acadia [National Park],” muses Nutter.

“The other day two ships brought in a total of 4,820 passengers,” comments Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor harbormaster. “We make it all work, but it was a busy and complicated day.”

Medium-size cruise ships accommodate fewer than 1,000 passengers; a 2,500-passenger ship falls into the “capital shop” category, and ships carrying passengers in excess of 25,000 are definitely mega-ships, explains Jeff Monroe, director of ports and transportation in Portland. Portland can’t get enough mega ships, says Monroe. “We had 17,000 in 2006 and next year 22 are booked, with the hope of 30 arriving altogether.”

Portland, meanwhile, is heavily marketing a vast array of side trips to make the port attractive to the sophisticated traveler. “Face it,” Monroe says, “Portland does not have a vast array of unique shore opportunities — lobsters, cobblestone streets and brick facades are available at many other ports of call.”

Portland’s expanding bonanza of shore excursions is currently being heavily marketed to Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. Furthermore, with ships that formerly stayed only 12 hours in port are being encouraged to stick around for 18 hours. Half-day bus trips to L.L. Bean and Kennebunkport allow plenty of time for spending time and money in the Old Port. What’s new this year and increasingly popular? Day trips to the White Mountains, including trips on the Cog Railway — some might argue this as Portland’s alternative to Bar Harbor’s attractions.

The cruise industry spent nearly $31 million in Maine in 2005, supporting 412 jobs that paid $14 million in wages and salaries, according to an annual economic impact study by the Business Research and Economic Advisors, released by Christine Fisher of the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL). Historically, Maine was primarily an autumn destination for coastal fall foliage cruises, however the cruise season now extends from May through October; in 2005, according to the Maine Port Authority, Maine’s 11 ports hosted a total of 180 ship calls accounting for 147,000 passenger days. Only five years ago, in 2000, the state had 74 ship calls; ICCL economic impact studies attribute the cruise industry’s growth as a direct result of increased marketed efforts on the part of the CruiseMaineUSA and the Port Authority.

“Rockland, Bangor, Belfast and Port Clyde have grown quite a bit,” adds Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaine Coalition.