For the first time since the fall of 2019, a cruise ship is docking in Charlottetown Friday — a welcome sight for businesses that depend on passengers spending money on the Island.
"We took a big hit.... So I'm completely exhilarated, and excited, and looking forward to this season," said Nessya Neemron, who runs Nessya's Gems and Jewels' from a kiosk inside the Port Charlottetown terminal.
Nearly 400 passengers are expected in Charlottetown Friday, aboard the Viking Octantis. It's the first of 74 cruise ships expected in the P.E.I. capital in 2022.
"It's lower than 2019 numbers, but I think it's a great restart," said Mike Cochrane, the CEO of Port Charlottetown.
Cochrane estimates the two cruise ship seasons lost to the COVID-19 pandemic robbed the Island economy of more than $80 million and "a lot of jobs."
Julia Campbell, co-owner of the Anne of Green Gables Store, saw it first hand.
The store typically opens in late April or early May, and depends on cruise ships for 70-80 per cent of its spring and fall sales.
Bringing back staff
The last two years, the store held off opening until July.
"We've only been able to employ, not even half our staff," said Campbell, who's opening the store Friday. "What I'm most excited about this year is that we're able to bring back employment of 50-60 people, which for us is huge, to be able to provide that support for staff."
Though it's unclear just how many passengers will be aboard the 74 cruise ships docking in Charlottetown.
The industry hasn't fully recovered from the early days of the pandemic, when several ships faced major COVID-19 outbreaks that grabbed news headlines.
Cochrane maintains the industry's "really stepped up" to ensure its ships are safe, and the risk to passengers and the ships' destinations is low.
Under Transport Canada regulations, crew and passengers have to be fully vaccinated and undergo testing prior to boarding. Cruise ship companies have also put their own measures in place.
"They've really stepped up and put the processes and procedures in place to try to mitigate any risk right now from vaccination requirements to, you know, more doctors on ships, more nurses on ships," said Cochrane.
"They have floating hospitals now, for the most part, to to handle any isolation or quarantine, and it's a controlled environment."
Neemron said she's not expecting a record year for her jewlery sales at the Port Charlottetown terminal.
"We don't know how many people are going to be filling the ships. But I'm just happy to be here. I'm hopeful it's going to be a decent year. I don't think it'll be like past years, where it was really amazing. But I know it's going to be a good year," she said.