Cruise Lines Sail for Vineyard

By MANDY LOCKE

Destination: Martha's Vineyard. That's the proclamation this season for two new cruise line companies and this speaks to a larger trend for the Vineyard.

Norwegian Cruise Lines will deliver 1,500 to 1,800 passengers to Terry McCarthy's Dockside Marina in Oak Bluffs starting next Friday. This wave of tourists will arrive every Friday through the summer. Oak Bluffs will continue to host Regal Cruise Line throughout the summer as well.

American Classic Voyage will launch the new cruise line Delta Queen Coastal Voyage this season with Martha's Vineyard as a premier stop. This ship, carrying just 224 passengers, will land at R.M. Packer's dock in Vineyard Haven.

"It's found money for the business community," said Oak Bluffs selectman Kenneth Rusczyk.

In terms of desired tourists, these cruise line passengers fit the criteria.

"They spend money, and they bring passengers, not cars," said Vineyard Haven selectman Tristan Israel.

Norwegian Cruise Lines predict that each passenger will spend between $80 to $100 a person, according to Scott Dario, owner of Island Transportation Company. His company will be arranging bus tours for the cruise lines.

"We depend on daytrippers," said Island Transportation tour manager Gus Schroeder. In a two and half hour bus tour, the drivers will show the visitors the down-Island sights along with West Tisbury, giving them shopping time in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The company planned ahead for the rush the cruise ships will bring.

"We needed more bus drivers to handle this load, so we recruited college students from the University of Massachusetts," Mr. Dario said.

Norwegian Cruise Line plans to dock at noon and be on the open water again by 8 p.m. Delta Queen Coastal Voyage will arrive early in the morning and leave by 3 in the afternoon.

"They are low maintenance, and they make a contribution," Mr. McCarthy said.

While the money these passengers bring to Island businesses is hard to dispute, questions of sidewalk clogging, bus traffic and harbor congestion are under evaluation.

Oak Bluffs executive secretary Casey Sharp said she will offer the cruise lines a "cautious welcome."

"We need to balance the needs of our taxpayers and our status as a tourist attraction," Ms. Sharp said.

She raises questions about the drain on their limited bathrooms and the increased bus traffic.

"We intend to keep monitoring. If there is clogging, we'll discuss it," Mr. Rusczyk said. He believes the cruise ship passengers won't be a burden.

Ms. Sharp asked Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport earlier this week to examine whether or not the town could be compensated for the strain the cruise ships will put on the town's resources.

"We are looking for ways to get the town reimbursed for using the town's infrastructure," Ms. Sharp said.

Mr. Rappaport said it is a bit premature to determine if the town can legally charge the passengers and the cruise lines for use of the town.

Oak Bluffs harbor master Todd Alexander said the Oak Bluffs harbor will experience a bit more traffic but that they will be able to handle it.

"Any change in traffic is something we all deal with," said Josh Williams, Oak Bluffs marina manager.

With the larger and more frequent of the two new cruise companies docking in Oak Bluffs, along with the cruise ship business of Regal Cruises, Vineyard Haven selectmen said they may want to recruit more ships for the sake of town businesses.

"Maybe we need to promote ourselves better," Mr. Israel said. He also noted that Oak Bluffs has done a good job of promoting itself to cruise companies.

Mr. Israel said that logistics in the Oak Bluffs harbor might be easier for cruise liners, but that Vineyard Haven harbor can handle cruise ships and welcomes them.

Mr. Rusczyk said there appears to be no rivalry between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven regarding the cruise ships.

"Right now, it's a given that they come to Oak Bluffs. We haven't heard any word of them trying to court them away from us," he said.

This increase in cruise ships this summer may continue in the coming summer seasons.

"We are committed to this area in the coming years," said Lee Lennon, shore excursion director for Delta Queen Coastal Voyages.

Norwegian shore coordinator Joanne Salzedo said her company included Martha's Vineyard on the cruise itinerary in response to customer demand.

Why the Vineyard attracts cruise passengers is no secret.

"It's the Vineyard that attracts people to the Vineyard. It's the Island mystique. The same thing that attracted us here attracts them," Mr. McCarthy said.

If the influx continues, harbor masters, selectmen and business owners will evaluate rising interest in the cruise line industry.

"It's not to say that everyone in the town will be in favor of it," Mr. Israel said.

"I'm not in favor of opening the floodgates and letting 6,000 ships in," Mr. McCarthy said. "I'm willing to try out the cruise lines. Hopefully they'll come and go and not leave too many footprints in the sand."