Cruise ship visits not a big economic impact — yet

Crew ferries passengers to the shore from the American Spirit cruise ship in Liberty Bay.  - Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald
Crew ferries passengers to the shore from the American Spirit cruise ship in Liberty Bay.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

POULSBO — Poulsbohemians have a new seasonal visitor to the shores of Liberty Bay.

Not seals or an orca.

American Cruise Lines has added Poulsbo to its current schedule of Puget Sound stops.

“We’ve increased the number of our Puget Sound cruises this year because of the response to our inaugural year last year,” said Britt Rabinovici of American Cruise Lines.

The cruise company’s recently established tour began making a journey to Poulsbo last cruising season, and now lists the town on its itinerary, along with Seattle, Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Victoria, B.C., Port Angeles, Port Townsend and the San Juan Islands.

The cruise ship, American Spirit, has made four stops so far this year to the small Norwegian-themed town. Its first trip was canceled, however, because of high winds. Guests were taken to Seattle instead and bused over to the area.

The North Kitsap region has proved to be a decent draw for the company, mainly because of its diversity and history.

“We did our research and we thought it was such a beautiful cruising ground,” Rabinovici said. “We chose Poulsbo because passengers on our cruises are there for a nice relaxing vacation, but also because they want a cultural experience.”

She added, “Poulsbo is historically rich. It is perfectly in line with what passengers are looking for. And it’s beautiful.”

Not to mention the neighboring Suquamish Reservation, which passengers also visit while stopping in Liberty Bay.

The ship will typically anchor in the bay, just south of the city, in the early morning hours of a Friday. Passengers are then ferried to the shore, near Oyster Plant Park, where they board one of two shuttles. One takes guests to downtown Poulsbo, the other to the Suquamish Museum.

American Cruise Lines’ ships are not the cities-on-the-sea that are common in TV commercials. The American Spirit has a passenger capacity of 100. It boasts four lounges and the largest staterooms in the industry, according to its website. The observation deck has a putting green.

“There are a lot of cruises out there, but our particular cruise is unique,” Rabinovici said. “It’s more upscale and very elegant.

“The concept we center our cruises around is immersing our passengers in the culture and history of places.”

Rabinovici notes that the formula works; American Cruise Lines has many repeat guests.

A room on the American Spirit can cost anywhere between $3,860 and $6,575 for the trip.

The cruise visit is being touted by the Port of Poulsbo as a local economic success. While the visit, lasting only a handful of hours, may not have an “earth-shaking” impact, Port Commissioner Stephen Swann said, it is a feature that can grow into something more.

The port has eyed the Puget Sound cruise industry as one way to attract outside dollars into the city. But one hurdle to attracting the boats is the port’s lack of dock space. It is in the planning stage of dock expansion, with accommodating larger ships in mind.

“There’s a dock expansion project — we don’t have a price on it yet — to extend D dock out and put a 400-foot T connector out there that would be big enough for the larger tour boats, like Argosy,” Swann said.

The port considered installing mooring buoys in the bay, closer to the city, but the costs did not seem feasible.

“I think the last number we looked at was $85,000 to put in a commercial mooring buoy,” Swann said.

With an expanded dock, the port hopes to attract boat loads of outside money for the downtown economy, as well as encourage other business.

“It would be nice to attract a tour boat business from Seattle as a regular visit,” Swann said. “I would like to see passenger service between Poulsbo and Seattle. It would be really neat to walk down on Friday afternoon and take shuttle down to Seattle and come back.”

Swann said the port has a goal of persuading American Cruise Lines to switch from a brief visit to an overnight stay. Such a move could attract nighttime customers at shops and restaurants.

“We would favor them coming in on a Thursday afternoon and having Friday night activities here in Poulsbo,” Swann said.

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