New London is back in the cruise ship game.
The port, which hasn't seen a major cruise ship since 2010, will host the 88-passenger Grande Mariner twice next month. And in 2014, Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess, with a capacity of nearly 2,000 passengers and a crew of more than 900, will arrive for one port of call in New London.
The Grande Mariner, run by Blount Small Ship Adventures, is scheduled to arrive at noon Oct. 14 and depart at 6 a.m. the next day, reappearing at 1 p.m. Oct. 22 and setting off eight hours later. The Dawn Princess is expected to stop in New London July 22, 2014, according to George Cassidy, executive director of the Stonington-based Connecticut Cruise Ship Task Force.
"We are in contact with the cruise lines all the time," Cassidy said in a phone interview. "My goal is to get at least one cruise line that calls here on a regular basis."
Cassidy said he wasn't aware of the Grande Mariner's arrival next month, saying it was off the radar because of its small size. He called the ship a boutique cruise line, and said the smallest vessels he deals with have capacities of 300 to 600 passengers.
The first cruise ship to stop here in recent times arrived in September 2002. The 612-foot Regal Empress seemed impressive at the time with its capacity of up to 500 passengers, but was quickly dwarfed by other ships, including the m/s Maasdam, the m/s Veendam and the m/s Explorer of the Seas.
The m/s Royal Princess visited Connecticut five times in 2008. It was a year in which nine cruise ships visited New London, the latest arriving in November.
At the time, officials estimated that the cruise ships infused $1.2 million into the local economy, based on an average port-of-call spend of a little more than $100 per passenger.
"Many of the passengers have an extraordinary love and interest in history," Cassidy said. "Once they get to New London, they go nuts."
Passengers aboard the Grande Mariner will be taken to the Mystic Seaport on both its ports of call, according to the ship's itinerary. Anyone not interested in being taken to Mystic will be free to walk around New London, according to the cruise line.
Cassidy said cruise line visitations to the city were hurt by the nation's economic problems as well as the high cost of docking rights at State Pier - charges that once were nearly as high as for a stop in Boston. He gave credit to Logistec USA Inc., which runs the pier, for lowering the rates recently.
He added that Newport is expected to have up to 40 cruise ship stops this year. He said New London can compete if it emphasizes all of the nearby attractions it offers, including Mystic Aquarium and Essex Steam Train.
One added national attraction, still in the planning stages, could help as well in the coming years, he added, since it will be located in the heart of downtown right by State Pier.
"The Coast Guard Museum is going to help us," Cassidy said.