PORTLAND (AP) – Eight months after its launching, the largest and most costly ocean liner ever built is poised to make its first visits along the Maine coast.

The $800 million Queen Mary 2 will call on Bar Harbor on Sept. 27 and Portland on Oct. 9.

With the visits expected to draw large crowds during the height of the fall foliage season, the two communities plan to mark the occasion with special events.

In Bar Harbor, the state’s top cruise ship destination, the Queen Mary 2’s visit caps a three-day arts and music festival weekend. Town councilors voted last month to close off several downtown streets and create a pedestrian mall to accommodate passengers and visitors.

“The town is really rolling out the red carpet,” said Costas Christ, executive director at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Planning is still under way for the Portland visit. Ben Snow, manager of marine operations for the city, said a fireworks display is being discussed for when the 1,132-foot vessel weighs anchor. Live music and other festive touches also are being planned.

Because the ship will be at the harbor’s anchorage, the public will have many vantage points from which to view it. Charter boats and other vessels also are expected to take visitors out for a closer look.

The Cunard Line vessel, launched in England last January, boasts 10 dining rooms, a planetarium, five swimming pools and the largest ballroom, library and wine collection at sea. It can carry more than 2,600 passengers and a crew of 1,250.

Maine officials view cruise ship visits as a growth industry that brings tourists who might not otherwise visit the state, and may later return for longer stays.

Cruise lines, their passengers and crews spent nearly $31 million on direct purchases in Maine, according to a new study commissioned by the International Council of Cruise Lines. The activity supported 571 jobs that paid $16 million in income in 2003.

Bar Harbor is slated to host 60 vessels this season while Portland anticipates 32.

The Queen Mary 2 will be coming to both Portland and Bar Harbor after leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia. In both instances, the ship will depart New York for tours of the New England coast and Atlantic Canada.

Cunard Line said the ship plans to visit Maine again next year.

AP-ES-09-08-04 0229EDT

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