For first time in four years, cruise ship docks in New London
New London — When the British tourists disembarked from their tour buses at 1:30 p.m. Monday, most made a beeline for the security checkpoint to get on the M/S Hebridean Sky, eager to eat their lunch.
But not Sue Lockett. Wearing her newly purchased Essex baseball cap, and marveling at how many Connecticut towns are named for British ones, she waited at City Pier as her husband retrieved some items from the 298-foot cruise ship.
"We like to explore," she said, and so the couple — from Suffolk, England — intended to explore downtown New London. They left the ship with fellow passengers at 9 a.m. to take a bus to Essex Steam Train & Riverboat tours, and had just returned.
"It was very, very nice, on sort of old-fashioned railway carriages, and everybody is very, very pleasant," Lockett said of the excursion.
Monday marked the first time a passenger cruise ship had made a planned stop in New London since 2014.
Mayor Michael Passero got onboard the ship with Connecticut Port Authority and city officials to present Captain Niklas Peterstam with a plaque "in recognition of the maiden visit to the Port of New London, Connecticut."
Chief Officer George Hendry said the idea of docking in New London first came up about 18 months ago.
"Charters that decide on the itinerary are always looking for new destinations that no one else is covering, to keep us ahead of the curve," Hendry said. The charter behind this voyage, he said, is the London-based Noble Caledonia, which bills itself as "the world's leading small ship cruising expert."
Hendry said the M/S Hebridean Sky had never been to the United States before, and therefore had to go through security checks and approvals.
Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews said the agency worked closely with the Coast Guard to get a security plan approved.
The cruise, carrying 109 passengers, left from New York City on Saturday. But it was a rainy day, so some just stayed inside the ship and watched royal wedding coverage, which was on TV screens throughout the ship.
The itinerary after New London is Newport, R.I., Martha's Vineyard, Boston, Portland and Rockland, Maine, New Brunswick, Canada, and three stops in Nova Scotia.
City Pier is one of two piers in New London where cruise ships can dock, along with State Pier.
Matthews said the Port Authority is working with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to activate Pier 7 — at Fort Trumbull — for cruise ships, and Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates said engineering studies are being done. Pier 7 would be able to accommodate larger cruise ships.
Bates said the Port Authority has been active in promoting Connecticut as a cruise destination and is working with the private sector to market the state.
"New London's the perfect entry point, perfect welcome point for southeastern Connecticut," he said. There are not yet any cruise ships scheduled to stop in New London in the future, but Bates hopes "this is the first of many more such visits."
The last cruise ship to dock in New London, in July 2014, was the 856-foot Dawn Princess, which was on a round-the-world trip from Australia. The city's best year for cruise ships was 2008, when nine ships docked in New London.
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