'Relief' for Old Port businesses as Montreal welcomes first cruise ship in two years

The Port of Montreal welcomed its first cruise ship since the fall of 2019, after the COVID-19 pandemic grounded the cruise and travel industry.

On Saturday, hundreds of American tourists disembarked to explore the city.

"We've been stuck pretty much in Houston for the last two-and-a-half years, so this is our venture into the outside world," passenger Karen Chapman told CTV News.

The Ocean Navigator left Portland, Maine last week, and after stops in Halifax and Quebec City, sailed down the Saint Lawrence River to Montreal.

Tourists spent the day in the city before heading for their next destination: Toronto.

The Port of Montreal is expecting 45 cruise ship visits this season, bringing about 50,000 passengers to the metropolis.

But that's roughly half the number of ships and people as there were in the 2019 season, before the pandemic shut the industry down.

Cruise ships became hot-beds for COVID-19 infections and were banned from Canadian waters until this year.

Along with border restrictions, it was yet another blow to the tourist shops and restaurants of Old Montreal.

"It was a ghost town down here. At one point, someone was walking down the street reading a book because there were no cars," said Michelle Riglin of John Fluevog Shoes.

For businesses reliant on tourist dollars, there's hope that this Spring's slow return of travellers is a sign of a busy summer ahead, especially for the hard-hit service industry.

"It's a good relief for us. We are very happy to welcome everybody," said Adrian Becerra of restaurant La Catrina. "It's been very challenging times, but we have strong resilience at this point and [are] looking forward to welcoming everybody back."

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