A proud port, and rightly so

Gerry Phelan
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My “other wife” came to town this month. Perhaps you saw her. She was tall and majestic, and looked like something we used to dream about when we watched shows like “The Love Boat.”

Her name is Caribbean Princess, a sister to the Emerald Princess which was in port Saturday.

Having sailed on Caribbean Princess twice (soon to be three times), I was pleased to welcome her to my home.

Actually, my real wife kind of likes Caribbean Princess, too. Sheila is convinced, though, that I have become addicted to cruising.

We ventured downtown when the Princess ships were here to meet some of the passengers and to try to experience our hometown the way we have St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Grand Turk and the islands of Hawaii. Well, St. John’s, we measure up beautifully.  

Of course, that’s no surprise to Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, chairman of Cruise St. John’s.

He tries to greet each ship personally, and is the consummate host. The welcome at harbourside is warm and organized, not the rushed feeling passengers can get in some other ports.

I recall my first visit to San Juan, when I felt like I was running a gauntlet of hawkers and tour operators.

Not so here. There are smiling faces everywhere, from the drivers of the neatly parked cabs and buses to the City of St. John’s representatives.

I heard taxi drivers quote very fair rates to take visitors to Quidi Vidi, Cape Spear, and “that big building at the top of the hill we saw as we sailed into the harbour.”

Downtown stores and businesses go all out as well. There are signs welcoming cruise passengers, and even the workers seemed to have slightly wider smiles and offer heartier greetings than on an average day.

We dined with a number of passengers at YellowBelly Brewery, where our young server — who told us later she had only been on the job for a week — went above and beyond to cater to our needs.

Some tourists simply wanted to taste the local brew, others went for the fish and chips and got a generous helping of cod.

Many spent close to $50 per couple, even though food is free and almost unlimited on the ship.

Street musicians were superb, smiling and acknowledging all, and passing motorists seemed more inclined to stop on a dime to allow the visitors to cross the street.

“Are you from the ship?” was the familiar question from passersby.

And as the final passengers hustled aboard for the sail away, St. John’s was not to be outdone, as cameras clicked and people waved to strangers they had barely or never met.

Many on shore are of the wishful thinking variety, those that hope some day to take a cruise; some are content to watch others live that dream.

Still, just by a wave of a hand or the honking of a car horn as a salute to our visitors and a wish for safe travels, they have accomplished that simplest of things, the gesture of friendship.  

Thousands of cruise ship passengers have come to our city this month. They bring their wallets and credit cards and leave with memories they will pass on to family and friends.

They share stories of their stay — things as simple as what one passenger posted on the online forum Cruise Critic:  “We are enjoying life ashore and the free WiFi at ‘The Rooms,’ which is a quite new museum about Newfoundland life and culture from the earliest times. Well worth visiting, it will give you an insight into Newfoundland life.”  

Another said simply, “St. John’s is an amazing city!”

On more than one cruise I have met people who have visited this province, many by ship. They have always spoken highly of the welcome they received. It is something we can take pride in.

Some years back, I might have questioned the value of these eight-hour tourists to our shores. No more.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: San Juan

Geographic location: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico Grand Turk Islands of Hawaii Newfoundland

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