They’re called “floating cities” and they can carry crews of 1,000 people and 3,000 visitors. Unleashed into the Port of Astoria, they are offered their choice of 17 local and historic excursions in the regions. “The Sights and Sounds of Seaside” is among the most popular choices of visitors, who come from every point on the globe. “Have lunch, walk the boardwalk or the beach, play at the arcade, ride the bumper cars, shop for souvenirs or rent one of several styles of family pedal bikes or mopeds to cruise around the town,” reads promotion from Sundial Travel, a booker of cruise ship excursions.
What brings long-distance visitors here? They want the shopping, the scenery and the history, members of the Seaside Downtown Development Association agreed.
They also lamented some of the problems facing merchants when welcoming cruise tourists: tight schedules, stormy weather and unpredictable arrival times.
The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Jewel of the City arrived Sunday with 1,916 passengers, while the Holland American Line’s Oosterdam follows Monday, Sept. 28, with 1,916 visitors and the Norwegian Pearl arrives with 2,394 passengers on the 29th.
This summer Jon Rahl of the Visitors Bureau and Tita Montero of SDDA met with Sundial Travel’s Bruce Conner to identify issues and devise ways to profit from the cruise ship influx. Conner figured about 80 percent of passengers leave the ship. Each couple spends about $125, translating to about $150,000 for 3,000 passengers. Fees for the excursion are almost $80 per passenger, not including tax and fees.
Too many stops, too little time?
This should be big business here in town.
But there are concerns: tight bus schedules, stormy weather, unpredictable hours of arrival and a hesitancy to explore.
A typical tour leaves Astoria at 11 a.m., stops in Cannon Beach, comes up to Seaside and arrives back in Astoria at 3 p.m. Since the tours use local school buses to transport passengers, when school is in session weekday tours take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to provide an opportunity for school bus drivers to drop kids off in the morning and to pick students up in the afternoon.
Anyone who has tried this without allotting any time for sightseeing knows how tight this schedule can be. Drumming this into visitors on vacation may encourage promptness, but it also cuts down on time for browsing and shopping.
“The first thing cruise ship visitors want to do when they visit is use the bathrooms,” Montero said, which knocks out facilities-limited sites like the Seaside History Museum.
Others are afraid to leave “home base,” so they “hover by the mall,” Montero said. “They want to see the ocean but don’t know if they could make it in time. People are scared to leave that central location.”
If excursions come in too early, shops may be closed.
Restaurants are also hindered by competition from the cruise ships themselves, Ginny Dideum of the American Association of University Women of Seaside and Beach Bay Buccaneers said. “The idea is the meal,” she said.
The four-hour blocks for the excursions, she said, are not only designed to accommodate school buses but so passengers can take advantage of the meals they’ve already paid for.
“They give you breakfast. All the excursions either go out in four-hour blocks in the morning and they’re back for lunch. Or a four-hour block in the afternoon so you’re back for dinner.”
“A lot of people will get off those cruise ships and go their own way,” Dideum said.
‘Something unique,’ and an ambassador
But what is it that draws visitors to one store or another?
“When we go shopping, we’re looking for something that relates to the community; they’re looking for something unique,” Dideum said.
“They want exclusivity, they want to feel they’re getting something nobody else is getting,” Rahl said. “It’s a challenge to keep it fresh.”
Ruth Swenson of Hillcrest Inn agreed. “When I go on a cruise, I want to see something no one else has done and knows about,” she said.
Association members considered the idea of greeters to be modeled on an Astoria-based program which now has 125 volunteers, according to Kevin Leahy of Clatsop Economic Development Resources.
“The best excursion is one where someone takes them,” Dideum said. “Even if it’s a half-hour, then they know how far it is and they’re free to go shopping. It’s always that guided tour that makes it so important.”
Jeff Ter Har suggested guides escort visitors to the Turnaround and back to home base. “It’s a matter of time,” he said. “They’re all worried about how much time. The big thing is getting them into the businesses. We need to give them a path.”