Small port ramps up its appeal as a niche destination thanks to dedicated volunteers and an expanded menu of excursion options
Cruise ships returned to Atlantic Canada in the spring of 2022 after a two-sea- son hiatus caused by COVID-19. Four of those ships arrived in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, where a committee of cruise volunteers — a.ka. the Cruise Crew— was waiting to roll out the welcome mat.
Cruise Crew organizers, led by Shelburne’s chief administrative officerSherry Doane, knew it would take a collaborative effort to provide the passengers with a world-class experience, says Charlene Harris, vice president of the Shelburne and Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Cruise Crew was formed by drawing on individuals and organizations within the community.
The primary goal was to “wow” the passengers and distinguish Shelburne as a thoroughly enjoyable port of call. Attractions included period re-enactments, local vendors marketing their wares in the Guild Hall, visits to local museums, traditional Indigenous smudging ceremonies, and guided walking tours of the historic waterfront and a nearby collection of 18th-century United Empire Loyalist homes. The Crew also organized transportation to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown and the Sandy Point Lighthouse.
Quantitative information isn’t available yet for 2022, but anecdotal evidence suggests the Cruise Crew exceeded expectations when it came to the wow factor. Australian visitors aboard the Seabourn Quest described their November 2022 stop in Shelburne as the highlight of their cruise. Other passengers told Harold Locke, Mayor of Shelburne and chair of the port committee, that Shelburne paid attention to them in a way that surpassed other ports of call.
“The feedback from tourists was fantastic and the boats were equally impressed,” says Daniel Khan, a Cruise Crew member who serves on the board of the Shelburne and Area Chamber of Commerce. “Tourism is sometimes seen as a single silo item, but really the opposite is true. There can be a snow- ball effect when cruise passengers tell their friends and family about what a wonderful experience they had in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.”
With all four of the 2022 ships returning for the 2023 season, and six more completing the complement of 10 permitted under the Port of Shelburne’s licence capacity, the 2023 Cruise Crew, along with local businesses and the Shelburne Area Chamber of Commerce, is busy planning for the potentially 7,888 visitors plus crew who are set to arrive between May and November. One ship, the Norwegian Sky, is slated to arrive in September with about 2,450 passengers on board.
“Shelburne is growing in popularity as a niche cruise ship port of call and we are thrilled to see so many ships planned for the coming season,” says Sarah Rumley, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association. “The lo- cal community is coming together to showcase everything the area has to offer and they are seeing economic benefits from each visit.”
The major difference for the 2023 cruise season is that rather than focusing on nearby attractions, activities for cruise passengers will be expanded to include all of Shelburne County, with visits to the Barrington Museum complex, the UFO sighting site in Shag Harbour, and beaches in the town of Lockeport.
“We are excited to now be working with this larger community and all of us are delighted to highlight the uniqueness of our shores,” says Doane. “It has been an incredibly successful restart of cruise ships to our port, and one that we hope will continue to engage passengers and cruise lines alike for years to come.”
While Shelburne is presently restricted to a maximum of 10 cruise ships each year, adding to this number in the future is a possibility, according to Doane — but not until the community can ensure the same quality experience it offers now. “As the world’s third-largest natural harbour, we now know cruise lines are seriously interested in adding the beautiful Port of Shelburne to their itineraries,” she says. “We will step forward carefully.”
As Shelburne steps forward, cruise passengers will continue to step back in time as they come ashore in an historic seaside town renowned as a filming site for The Scarlet Letter, Wilby Wonderful, and Virginia’s Run. With luck, some of these visitors may be so enchanted they will decide to live or invest in the area.
“The Cruise Crew has a wonderful opportunity to show our town to its best advantage,” says Mayor Locke, who enjoys greeting cruise passengers as they disembark from the tenders that bring them ashore. Locke is a sterling example of how community members are going above and beyond the call of duty to promote the area: he even took one of last year’s passengers to the dentist as part of his welcoming duties.
There are beautiful ports all over the world, but where — other than Shelburne — can cruise passengers enjoy lobster lunches, white sand beaches, festive visits to the Boxing Rock Brewery, and dental work facilitated by an elected official? It’s that unique experience that is bringing cruise ships back year after year.
For More Information Cruise Nova Scotia novascotia.com/travel-trade/cruise Visit Shelburne County visitshelburnecounty.ca Shelburne County Tourism municipalityofshelburne.ca/shelburne-county-tourism-association.html History of Shelburne shelburnens.ca/history-of-shelburne.html