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Cruise passengers start their sampling of New London

Been on Bank Street at midnight lately? The place is French Quarter North.

It wasn't exactly dead, though, at 7 a.m. Saturday — even if the late-night local vampires were still deep asleep. Silhouetted against the sun climbing through a cloud bank over the Thames River, a towering cruise ship, the Crown Princess of Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., was docked in New London Harbor. It had just arrived, and the first wave of the ship's 3,000 passengers was disembarking to explore The District.

New London was ready for them.

A bazaar set up on the newly completed Parade Plaza featured a dozen local merchants proffering all manner of goods and souvenirs.

"I'm so excited to see the cruise ships coming again," said Cindy Jordan from her kiosk. She runs CJ's Fine Designs, a children's jewelry business. She participated in the marketplace two years ago, when the last cruise ships docked in New London, and had such a good time she volunteered to organize the Parade Plaza merchants for this fall's cruises. A second cruise ship will visit New London on Oct. 9.

"I got here to set up at 5:30 this morning, and it's worth it," Jordan said. "The Parade is beautiful, I think any bad weather will hold off, and I think we're going to have a good day. We've already had about 20 people through — and those are just the early risers. A lot of passengers will sleep in and around 10 a.m. downtown will start getting really crowded."

Passengers from the Crown Princess were shuttled into the city on a steady rotation of buses.

David and Julie Reade, cruise passengers from Wales, made a slow tour through the Parade shopping tents and said they were among the early-birds for a reason.

"We wanted to watch the sun come up as we came up the river," David said. "We studied up a bit on New London when we found out we were stopping here. We'd like to walk the Heritage Trail and then see the currachs at 10 a.m. We have very similar boats in Wales, so it's a bit like home."

The New London Currach Rowers' first North American Currach Association Regatta is just one of many events scheduled during the cruise ship's time in New London. The Garde Arts Center is screening period films and giving tours of the venue; there are blow-out tag sales along Bank Street; and, coincidentally, the third annual New London Americana Music Festival kicks off its final day in the Hygienic Art Park.

At 8:30 a.m., a shuttle bus stopped at the corner of Bank and State streets. Onboard, a volunteer from New London Main Street with a hand-held microphone was describing historical and civic minutiae. The bus was mostly full.

Walking down Bank Street just outside the park, sisters Cheryl and Norma Harbottle of Edmonton were among the first visitors into downtown. Clutching New London tourist maps and wearing Crown Princess sweatshirts, they were already impressed by the city.

"People have been so friendly," Cheryl said. "They explained downtown to us, told us where we could eat or get coffee, and it's just beautiful here." The women said they were interested in exploring New London's architecture and trying a few restaurants.

The Crown Princess is schedule to leave New London at 4 p.m. today.


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