A man surveys gazes at the huge, 2,038-passenger ship Summit from the South Portland in 2015. Officials have announced that small cruise ships with fewer than 250 passengers, are set to return to Maine in May. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — After canceling the entire 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, small, domestic cruise ships will return to Maine, starting in May.

CruiseMaine, an arm of the Maine Office of Tourism, announced Thursday that New England-based American Cruise Lines was given the go-ahead by the Maine Center for Disease Control.

The 96-passenger “Independence” will commence a Maine-only itinerary on May 22 in Portland. The larger, 175-passenger “American Constitution” will set sail from Boston, bound for Maine, on June 14. All passengers will be required to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We continue to keep public health in the forefront of all we do,” said Sarah Flink, executive director of CruiseMaine, “but we also know Maine is ready to get back to work. And our tourism and hospitality sector – which was hit especially hard – is ready to welcome back visitors of all stripes and by every mode of transportation, as long as proper safety measures are in place.”

Besides Portland, expected Maine ports of call include Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Rockland and Bar Harbor.

American Cruise Lines currently has six vessels operating across eight states, with the Pacific Northwest market also set to resume in early May.

The future of the 2021 season remains unclear for cruise ships larger than the 250-person threshold set by the federal CDC.

Large vessels are currently prohibited from operating in U.S. waters until they have been granted a “conditional sailing permit” by CDC. So far, CDC has not provided all the necessary technical documentation for that permitting to happen.

According to CruiseMaine, large vessels require 90 days to get ready for passenger operations, which puts Maine’s early summer season out of the question, in any case. A late summer or fall season remains possible, but unlikely.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.