“We have to keep up the quality of our offering,” said Rene Trepanier, executive director of the Saint Lawrence Cruise Association at the 2012 Cruise Canada New England Symposium in Quebec City. “We have a welcoming policy at ports that underlines that. We have invested in port infrastructure, now we are investing in training, guides, and the welcoming committee.”

Trepanier pointed to the model put forth by the Port of Saguenay, which has 26 calls in 2012, up from starting at zero in 2006. The port has some 75 to 80 local volunteers that come to the pier and put on a local welcoming show for the ship, said Priscilla Nemey, tourism development director for Saguenay.

A proactive port alliance in the Saint Lawrence Cruise Association has aligned to beef up infrastructure and offerings in the region. Also notable, and mentioned by some, is no formal board of directors to hold the organization back.

The Canada/New England region will welcome more summer traffic next year, as Holland America Line will sail the Maasdam in the Saint Lawrence for the summer, taking one ship out of Bermuda service.

Helping the cause for turning around in the Saint Lawrence is improved airlift from Quebec City, helped by a recent partnership among Delta Airlines and WestJet, explained Martin Lachance, manager of tourism media relations for Quebec, talking to Cruise Industry News.

The region will see some 277,000 cruise passengers in 2012, according to the Cruise Industry News Annual Report.

New to the region this year is Disney Cruise Line, with departures from New York with the Disney Magic. In 2013, Disney will redeploy the ship to Europe, but according to port officials, Disney is expected back in 2014.

The influx of children coming off the Disney ship has led destinations to tailor their offerings.

Long a fall foliage destination with older passengers, Disney has brought more families to the Canada/New England region in the summer.

At the Port of Saint John, Betty MacMillan, manager of cruise development, worked with local tour operators, including visiting Disney shore excursions in Alaska, to help offer relevant tours to Disney passengers. The result was Disney offering a character experience in Saint John, an Alice in Wonderland Garden Tea Party, with Saint John being the only port in Canada/New England with a character experience.

Saint John expects to open its new cruise terminal this coming September and can berth up to three ships at once.

In Sydney, the local port authority is leaning on tour operators to up their game, according to Bernadette MacNeil, director of marketing and administration for the port.

“We’re seeing growth, and the demographics are changing,” she said, noting that berth bookings for 2013 are strong. “The tour operators need to develop their offerings to the family demographic … families aren't as interested in getting on a bus. The offerings have been the same for a long time.”

The region is also showing more homeport potential, with Saga Cruises using Halifax to turnaround a handful of cruises later this year, said Catherine McGrail, manager of cruise development.

A little more west, in Bar Harbor, plans are underway to take a now-defunct ferry terminal and turn it into a cruise pier. Bar Harbor has long tendered in passengers on bigger ships, but a local building for a ferry service to Canada now goes unused. The ferry service, a long money-losing operation, was suspended in 2010, with the ferry sold to China. The building and land are owned by the Canadian government, but a plan is in the works to buy it and turn it into a dedicated cruise berth, capable of handling two ships at once, said Paul Paradis, town councilor for Bar Harbor.  

Read the full report from the 2012 Cruise Canada New England Symposium in the 2012 Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine – Summer Edition.