Published October 10. 2010 4:00AM Updated October 10. 2010 4:36AM
New London - Even the citizens of a giant floating city appreciate the small-town touch.
Shirley Harris of North Vancouver, British Columbia, who was one of the 3,000 passengers to arrive in New London Saturday aboard the massive Crown Princess cruise ship, spent plenty of time volunteering earlier this year during the Winter Olympics.
So, she made a note to pay a visit to the 15 volunteers working at the welcome center at Union Station.
Harris struck up a friendly chat with New London Waterfront coordinator Barbara Neff, who was dispensing information and passing out brochures about sights in the city, then she reached into her bag.
" I want you have this," Harris said, pulling out a Canadian flag pin and handing it to Neff.
In turn, Neff dashed to her nearby office to retrieve a gift for Harris - a pin of the official seal of the City of New London.
"You can't buy one of these," Neff said, who was then the recipient of warm hug.
Volunteers both at Union Station and at State Pier proved to be an essential part of the Crown Princess' six-hour sojourn in New London.
Connecticut Cruise Ship Task Force director George Cassidy enlisted members of his family to help direct traffic around the pier and to provide information to passengers.
"It helps that a lot of the volunteers are cruisers and know what they like," Cassidy said.
New London Main Street provided trained tour guides to staff the coaches that ferried passengers from the pier to downtown New London.
As a Peter Pan bus made its way along Crystal Avenue, tour guide Mary Christina pointed out several of the city's architectural features, including the Mohican Hotel and First Congregational Church.
Christina also noted the region's connection with submarines.
"With some luck you might see one," she said.
Members of Bike New London had bicycles painted Whaler green and gold available for passengers to use for free, along with a map of scenic routes in the city.
"It's a great way to see the city," Rob Bareiss from Bike New London said.
Bareiss said that at one point all of the eight available bikes were in use.
Downtown New London swelled with tourists visiting shops or having lunch outside on an abnormally warm October day.
Traffic on State and Bank streets was clogged for a short while around 11 a.m. as a freight train in the station blocked the entrance to the Waterfront Park, leaving some tour buses stuck.
The Crown Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, which also visited New London on Sept. 18, entered the Thames River before dawn and was docked at the pier by 7 a.m.
As has become a cruise ship visit tradition, the Nutmeg Volunteers fife-and-drum corps played Revolutionary War area music, as passengers looked on from the ship.
Around 8 a.m., passengers disembarked, with some boarding buses bound to area attractions such as the Essex Steam Train, Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium and the Submarine Force Museum, home of the USS Nautilus.
The ship departed on time at 2 p.m., dwarfing a ferry as it motored toward the mouth of the Thames.
The Crown Princess left New York on Thursday and stopped in Newport, R.I., on Friday.
It is scheduled to make calls at Boston, Portland, Maine, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John, New Brunswick, and will end its 10-day trip in Quebec City.
Cassidy said there are currently no cruise ship visits planned for New London next year, but the task force is lobbying cruise lines for more port calls.
"It's very competitive," Cassidy said.
But he added that the city, with its deep-water port and long pier, makes it easier for ships to dock, unlike stops like Newport, where the boats must anchor and ferry passengers to shore.
"They all say they like New London," Cassidy said. "They should come back."