First cruise ship of season pulls into Ogden Point

Christine and Matthew Miguel of Los Angeles were the first passengers to disembark Monday afternoon from the Star Princess, the first cruise ship of the year to pull into Ogden Point.

It’s the couple’s first cruise and first visit to Victoria. They were greeted on the ship by Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

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As the Miguels left the ship, the cloudy skies parted for a short time, allowing sunshine to warm up the dock.

Christine, 29, and Matthew, 28, are part of a six-member family group on the cruise, which started in Los Angeles and leaves Victoria just before midnight for Vancouver. Matthew’s sister Lizzy, 9, father Anthony, his wife, Linda, and Anthony’s mother, Connie, make up the rest of the group, which planned to visit Butchart Gardens and Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Matthew’s first impression of Victoria was fresh air. “We saw a lot of green on the cruise. It’s beautiful.”

Izzy’s dream is to see enough snow to make a snowman when they visit Whistler on Tuesday.

Today marks the start of this year’s cruise-ship season, which includes 241 scheduled ship visits. Most will carry passengers to and from Alaska.

Victoria and Esquimalt town crier Robert Alexander — who will turn 90 in October — used his booming voice to officially welcome the Miguel family to Victoria, pointing out this is the 150th anniversary of Confederation. He finished by saying: “God save the Queen.”

Alexander, who has put in 16 years as town crier and will be greeting ships regularly on Saturday evenings, said ship visits are “good for the economy of the city and the country.”

He has seen numbers of visits rise significantly since his first season, when there were 97 ships.

In all, ships are expected to bring 550,000 passengers to the region this year, including more than 2,000 passengers from the Star Princess.

Next to arrive will be the Zaandam on April 25. The final ship of the season is expected to be the Explorer of the Seas, with room for 3,114 passengers.

The visits signal another successful cruise season in Victoria, said Robertson, who is campaigning for this city to become a port of call for small or mid-sized cruise ships by 2020. He said Victoria moved closer to this goal following local participation last month in the Seatrade Cruise Global, the largest cruise trade show in North America.

When the 951-foot-long Star Princess ship pulled in shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, a small group of watchers stood at Pier B. Anne and William Cree, who enjoy taking cruises, are regular visitors when the ships come in. Anne wore a yellow bonnet and long Victorian-style dress to greet passengers.

Walt Gschiel came into James Bay from the West Shore to welcome the ship. He’s been on three cruises already and has another planned this summer, all to Alaska. “It is a relaxing way to have a holiday,” he said.

Friday and Saturday nights deliver something of a party atmosphere at Ogden Point, where other activities are often staged. Weekends can see three or four ships in dock. On June 30, five ships are scheduled, including the World, a privately owned live-aboard ship that travels around the globe and resembles a floating condo. It is home to residents from more than 40 countries.

The Harbour Authority expects the ships to generate $100 million annually in economic value to the region.

Greg Weston, who co-owns Victoria’s Best Tours, counts on the cruise ships to support his business. Waiting in a 2003 green London Taxi, Weston, a former real estate agent, said: “I love talking to people from all over the world.”

The Pier B terminal has been renovated at a cost of $200,000 so that passengers move through customs more efficiently. Improvements have been made to the buses that transport ship passengers throughout Greater Victoria, including reduction of noise and emissions, and use of an electric bus.

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