In this June 4, 2010, file photo, the Maasdam, a 1,258-passenger cruise ship, sits at anchor in Frenchman's Bay off Bar Harbor. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The 2022 Maine cruise ship season will officially begin this week with the arrival of the Norwegian Pearl in Bar Harbor on Thursday morning.

Two years after COVID-19 brought cruise ship travel to a standstill, the ships are returning to Maine ports in numbers not seen since before the pandemic, according to CruiseMaine, which is part of the Maine Office of Tourism.

While the number of ship visits scheduled for Maine this year is similar to pre-pandemic levels, CruiseMaine said the occupancy levels aren’t expected to be as high as they were pre-COVID, at least for the early part of the season.

In 2019, cruise ships made 408 port calls in Maine. This year, 360 visits are on the schedule, with an estimated passenger count of more than 450,000.

“It’s exciting to see these ships and their passengers coming back to Maine,” said Sarah Flink, executive director of CruiseMaine. “These visitors love coming to Maine and seeing our beautiful coast. They are an important part of Maine’s tourism industry, contributing millions of dollars a year to Maine’s economy in passenger and crew spending alone.”

In 2019, the 408 port calls brought just under half a million passenger visits and $30 million in passenger and crew spending to Maine. In 2020, cruise ship visits stopped completely in Maine due to a “no sail order” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That meant revenue to Maine communities dropped to zero.

Last year, American Cruise Lines — which runs smaller, U.S. flagged cruise ships —returned to Maine. American made 165 port calls in 2021, bringing more than 18,000 passenger visits to the state, according to CruiseMaine. Spending by passengers and crew was estimated at $1.2 million.

American Cruise Lines will be visiting Bangor this summer for the first time in more than 10 years after the city entered into a 20-year, public-private partnership with it to invest in the downtown waterfront and bring visitors to the city.

Flink said planning for the restart of Maine’s first full cruise ship season in two years has been going on for months. The port agreements include detailed protocols created by the cruise lines and local, state and federal authorities aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring the safety of passengers and community members. The agreements cover the four Maine ports — Portland, Rockland, Bar Harbor and Eastport — that host visits from larger cruise ships.

Hurtigruten Expeditions’ MS Roald Amundsen will be making its maiden voyage to Maine this year, and it is one of the ships that will call in Eastport. The 459-foot, 530-passenger ship has a hybrid electric propulsion system that will reduce fuel and CO2 emissions by 20 percent. MS Roald Amundsen will also call in Rockland and Bar Harbor.