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Cruise ships boost Island economy

View of Charlottetown Harbour from the Holland America Maasdam cruise ship.

This year, almost 100,000 people will round the corner at Fort Amherst, experiencing their first impression of Prince Edward Island: a bird's eye view of the beautiful, bustling Charlottetown waterfront from the top of a cruise ship.

The cruise ship sector is one of Prince Edward Island's fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry. The number of visitors arriving by cruise ship has grown by five times in just six years.

This season, there are 74 ships booked to berth at the historic Port of Charlottetown, with a projected 96,991 passengers climbing down the gangplank to spend the day seeing -- and spending -- on our shores.

There to welcome them will be tourism operators and tour guides eager to ensure their first Island visit isn't their last.

This burgeoning business has lengthened the tourism season for Island businesses that can bring staff in earlier and keep them later.

"We've seen a real increase in our fall sales from the cruise ships," said COWS manager Sheela Curley. "Many passengers have been told 'when you come to Prince Edward Island you have to have a COWS Ice Cream.' It's been really great for us."

Experience PEI owner Bill Kendrick spent the long winter months planning a strategy for this banner season.

He and his wife Mary plan to make hay while the sun shines by offering cruise passengers a variety of experiential tours of the Island.

First Cruise Ship of the 2013 Season

Island tourism operators explain how the cruise ship season is vital to Prince Edward Island's economy.

View from the cockpit of the Holland America Maasdam cruise ship docked in Charlottetown Harbour.

One of the tours they offer is the Taste of Charlottetown culinary walking tour of eight popular dining spots.

Guests will start their day with a raw oyster at MacKinnon's on the Wharf at 9 a.m. "which works for some people, not for others" and meander through our historic streets to places like Young Folk and the Kettle Black for Rob Pendergast's famous smelt chowder; to Terre Rouge Bistro Marche to sample some house-cured charcuterie; sip some craft beer at Gahan House; and finish off with hand-cut, Prince Edward Island french fries at Queen of Fries.

"The idea is to give them a taste of what we have here on the Island," Kendrick said.

Other unique experiences the Kendricks will offer are oyster tonguing -- learning how oysters are grown and harvested and how to shuck one -- and a Lobster, Lighthouse and Eco-Friendly beach walk in Covehead.

"The cruise ship market has a lot of potential here," he said. It's growing and there's room for more unique products to offer as shore excursions."

The record-breaking 2013 season started May 8 with an inaugural visit from the Holland America Veendam on its Canada-New England itinerary. Two more ships will arrive for the first time this year, the MV Alexander von Humboldt -- both German ships -- on July 22 and the Astor on August 24.

Tourism and Culture Minister Robert Henderson compared cruise ship visits to a "one-day infomercial of what Prince Edward Island is all about."

The variety of interesting and entertaining shore excursions are making cruise ship operators want to drop anchor in our harbour, he explained. "The next challenge is to disperse them across the Island."

Kendrick has hosted visitors from across the globe and in most cases this is their first introduction to Prince Edward Island.

Many tell him they're impressed by our uniqueness and friendliness.

"We always end with a personal invitation: 'we'd like you to come back and spend a week.'"

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