Saint John has welcomed its first cruise ship to port after a pandemic pause lasting longer than two years.
Seven Seas Navigator sailed into the city’s harbour shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday night, signifying one massive step towards normalcy for New Brunswick’s port city.
“After 912 days, we want to let to let the world know that Saint John, New Brunswick, the Bay of Fundy, our city, our region and our beautiful province of New Brunswick is now officially open for cruise business,” Andrew Dixon, Port Saint John chief operating officer, said Friday morning.
The ship, operated by Regent Seven Seas, sailed in from Boston with almost 500 souls on board.
It’s the first of 69 ships set to stop in the city through November – a far cry from the record-breaking 90 vessel calls expected in 2020 before COVID-19 brought the industry to a halt, but a welcome step no less.
The port says that before the pandemic, cruise ships injected about $68 million a year into the New Brunswick economy – with tourist traffic becoming a summertime staple in Saint John.
Nancy Tissington, executive director of Uptown Saint John, says the absence of that traffic has been palpable.
She says pedestrian counters put in place by the organization tallied 234,000 fewer folks Uptown through the pandemic as compared with a “normal” cruise ship season (May through November).
“The retailers, restaurants and our members are ecstatic in anticipation to have those sidewalks filled again,” Tissington said.
For Mayor Donna Reardon, it’s the first ship to arrive with her leading the city – though her experience in municipal politics and as a resident in Saint John have afforded her the benefit of comparison.
“When you get a three-ship day in the Uptown, it’s almost like you’ve been transported to New York,” she said.
“It’s so busy!”
Port Saint John’s schedule shows five days this season with three ships in the harbour.
COVID-19 on board
At a reception Friday morning kicking off the cruise season, the elephant in the room is the very virus that kept ships away so long.
This first ship arrived in Saint John with one reported case of COVID-19 on board.
The ship’s captain, Luksa Kirstovic, says it’s in a male crew member who’s asymptomatic and has been in isolation.
He says a host of pandemic protocols means the situation is under control — but it’s still enough for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to give “orange status” to the vessel, a designation for ships with at least 0.3 per cent of souls on board suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
Of the 95 cruise ships tracked by the CDC presently, 55 are at orange status while 22 are yellow and 18 are green.
Kirstovic said in these times, COVID-19 on board is unavoidable.
“This is something that is part of our life today,” he said.
“It’s inevitable to happen, but all the guests onboard are required to be vaccinated. Same with the crew.”
After a short call to port, Seven Seas Navigator set sail again Friday afternoon.
A ship carrying 216 passengers is expected to arrive on May 11, according to Port Saint John’s schedule.
Followed by one with over 5,000 in June.