Staff captain Michele Bartolomei stood at the bridge of the Grand Princess as the ship glided toward the Port of Nanaimo.
He woke up early for this, excited to be sailing home after three months away from his wife and sons. He looked over at the panorama of “Gabriola Island and all the places.”
“It was really nice,” he said.
A few miles off Gabriola he spotted his first pod of whales and their calves.
By 7 a.m. the Italian-born staff captain and second-in-command was on standby to manoeuvre the vessel into Nanaimo’s $24-million terminal.
It would be the first time he’d bring a cruise ship into his home harbour.
“You get the butterflies in your stomach because not many ships are coming here,” he said. “The company has 18 ships and you are in one of the ships that is coming to your home town.”
The Grand Princess, a 17-deck vessel carrying more than 2,000 passengers, docked in the city last Friday.
It stopped in Nanaimo for 16 hours – the longest cruise ship stay in our local berth – as part of a four-day repositioning cruise between San Francisco and Vancouver. It was the last leg of the journey for Bartolomei, who is now on a two-month break with his family.
For eight years Bartolomei has called Nanaimo home and he believes the city has the potential to become more of a cruise ship destination. He said cruise ship companies are scared to invest in the city because they don’t know what the Harbour City offers compared to main ports in Vancouver and Victoria, but that can change with commercials and more tours.
On this trip, Princess Cruises offered nine tours to passengers, three of which were based in the Nanaimo-area, including a Cedar pub and farm tour and sightseeing excursion to Morden Mine, Piper’s Lagoon and downtown.
Bartolomei said he was surprised not to see WildPlay on the list. There were also no kayak tours or shuttles to bring people to Newcastle Island or local malls. According to the Port Authority, a complimentary shuttle took people downtown.
Bartolomei says people on the cruise ship – many of them Americans – seem most interested in shopping, including at stores like Wal-Mart. Other ports offer mall shuttles and he suggests Nanaimo could do the same, with free or dollar rides to places like Woodgrove Centre.
“The cruise ships are coming always more and more and they will try to find more ports,” he said. “Slowly, rumours will get around about Nanaimo.”