Enchantment of the Sea seen from Bug Light Park last September. Fall is the peak season for cruise ships arriving in Maine and a new coalition is working to manage crowds of tourists in the Old Port when they do. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Old Port soon might be easier to navigate thanks to a new program that aims to ease the congestion and tourism traffic from the fall flood of cruise ship visitors.

Five groups, coming together as the Cruise Portland partnership, are launching a pilot program called PortShare Promise that will place traffic flaggers across the Old Port, offer better transportation options, and educate visitors on how to respect the city and its residents.

Part of the motivation behind the PortShare Promise is to help ease any friction between tourists, Portland residents and waterfront workers.

“Probably the biggest frustration we hear from residents is that Commercial Street can be a nightmare (with) the congestion,” said Lynn Tillotson with Visit Portland, one of the partner organizations that promotes local tourism. “The reason why we were looking at doing the PortShare Promise was to keep a balance between visitation, our residential community and our working waterfront, to make sure that everyone is happy.”

Launching on Sept. 21, PortShare Promise will start with three immediate initiatives in its pilot year. First, the project will bring five crossing guards to Commercial Street intersections to direct traffic.

Cruise Portland is working with Local 327 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America to see that part of the project through.


“You want to make sure that individuals that are in that area, whether they be working or walking across the street are safe, and that the traffic can flow at a rate that isn’t an inconvenience,” said Jason Shedlock with Local 327. “And we have five individuals who will be making family-sustaining wages with benefits because of CruiseMaine and Visit Portland engaging in high-road labor standards.”

Second, a free, hop-on, hop-off bus will bring tourists across the city through downtown Portland and East Bayside – a route that partner CruiseMaine is hoping to expand next year, Executive Director Sarah Flink said. CruiseMaine is the part of the state Office of Tourism that promotes cruise ship visits.

And third, PortShare Promise will offer a video introduction to Portland for cruise tourists. The video will include information on navigation, busing, recycling and “the local way of doing things,” Flink said. Thematically, it will give tourists a sense of how to respect the city and its residents.

“If they had visitors go into their community, they would want the same thing,” Tillotson said.

The pilot program also establishes a community feedback hotline where visitors, business owners, workers and residents in Portland, Kennebunkport and Freeport can submit compliments, concerns and critiques. Many of the passengers who disembark in Portland go on excursions to Freeport or Kennebunkport.

“It asks for some specifics, particularly if it’s an issue of concern or complaint – such as exactly where it happened, date, time,” Flink said. “(This is) so we can get that benchmark of data on what are some issues as our community perceives them or as the visitors perceive them so that we can, in future years, address those concerns.”



The program is launching during a tumultuous time in Maine’s cruise ship history. Residents along the coast are pushing back against cruise ship visits and the traffic, pollution, overcrowding and questionable economic impacts they believe come with it.

Bar Harbor is nearing the end of a lawsuit over a referendum its voters passed to limit cruise ship visitations. The referendum caps the number of passengers disembarking in Bar Harbor to 1,000 each day. Some cruise ships that have visited Bar Harbor carry up to 4,000 passengers.

A group of Bar Harbor businesses sued the town, claiming the cap is is unconstitutional and will hurt the local economy. A ruling is expected in late October.

Portland held a similar referendum last November, though an overwhelming majority of voters shot it down after opposition from waterfront workers and, eventually, the group that originally proposed it, the Maine Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. A 2018 report said the state gets about $35 million a year from cruise ship-driven revenue, such as passenger fees, restaurant business and retail shop revenue, as well as providing work for harbor pilots and tugboat operators.

That effort to restrict cruise ship visits is not the “prime driver” behind the PortShare Promise, Flink said. It is, however, a part of the “context.”


“I would love to see any concerns be addressed in this collaborative way about mitigation and management,” she said.

Flink and the other folks behind PortShare Promise are looking to Juneau, Alaska, for that path forward. That city launched a program in 1997 with a similar mission to balance the needs of residents, the industry and visitors while minimizing the impacts of tourism.

The Portland project has been funded by the five Cruise Portland partners: the city of Portland, CruiseMaine, Visit Portland, Visit Freeport and the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce. The budget is roughly $170,000 for its pilot year. It’s unclear how much each group has contributed. The city of Portland did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Flink and Tillotson are hopeful, though, that this might serve as a model for how Maine communities navigate the growing fleet of cruise ships along the coast.

“It is our hope that this is a really successful program. And that if so, other cruise-destination communities in Maine will want to pursue their own versions,” Flink said. “We’d want to share what successes and lessons we learned from this Greater Portland Area pilot and be there at the table helping support and facilitate anything we can.”

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 15 to correct the financial benefit of the cruise industry. A 2018 report said it brought $35 million to the state, not just the city of Portland. 

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