Portland (Maine) Cruise Port

Port of Portland (Maine): An Overview

Portland, Maine, is all about lobster. It's hard to imagine this crustacean was once deemed poor man's food, but it's true -- lobsters would wash up on Portland's shores after a storm and be used primarily as fertilizer and bait. But with the advent of land transportation, lobsters were brought inland by the mid-1800's, and as the demand for lobsters increased so did the price. Today, the city boasts numerous restaurants -- all of which feature lobster (in some form) on their menus.

But Portland has more to offer than a bunch of crustaceans. The coastal New England port boasts a vibrant working waterfront, an abundance of Victorian-era architecture and numerous historic lighthouses. Nestled on a picturesque seascape, the city is perched on a peninsula jutting out into the island-studded Casco Bay, protected from the Atlantic Ocean. The romantic movie "Message in a Bottle" was filmed in this seaside town and even the famous Portland-born poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Portland a "Jewel by the Sea" in one of his poems. The city welcomes close to 50,000 cruise ship passengers annually.

The historic port was once a major shipbuilding center, as well as one of the busiest fishing ports on the Atlantic as far back as the 18th century. Its success as a port made it a prime target for the British during the War of 1812 and also for the Confederates during the Civil War. The coastline and islands are still dotted with forts that were built to protect the city. Ironically, during an Independence Day celebration in 1866, a firecracker ignited a fire that quickly spread across the city's east end, destroying 1,800 buildings.

The city quickly rebuilt, resulting in lovely Victorian-era architecture, and today the Old Port (sometimes referred to as the Old Port Exchange) is a bustling seaport with a high concentration of quality eating and drinking establishments. With less than 65,000 residents, Portland is compact enough for visitors to explore the town thoroughly -- tourists can stroll along the working waterfront of Commercial Street, walk the cobblestone streets of the restored Old Port district, or visit a historic building or two.

What will you remember most from a visit to Portland? Will it be the lobster traps piled on the wharf, the smell of sea air combined with the chatter of seagulls or a visit to a historic attraction? If you're like the majority of visitors, a succulent lobster lunch may be your most savory memory of this New England port.

Find a Portland (Maine) Hotel

Port Facilities

The terminals are located adjacent to Commercial Street, which runs alongside the waterfront and features restaurants, quaint shops and fishermen at work. A visitor information booth is located just outside the cruise terminal, where you can pick up city maps.

Don't Miss

Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad: Take a ride on a historic narrow gauge steam train. The train departs on the hour between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and passengers can enjoy the view of Casco Bay while riding along the waterfront by the Eastern Promenade (58 Fore Street).

Portland Head Light: Maine's oldest lighthouse, built during George Washington's presidency, is located on the shores of Cape Elizabeth. Originally, the 80-ft. tower was lit with 16 whale-oil lamps. Today there are a number of interpretive displays at the onsite museum (1000 Shore Road).

Portland Observatory: Climb the 103 steps to the top and enjoy the views of Portland and Casco Bay. This signal tower is the only remaining wooden maritime signal station in the U.S. It was built in 1807 and is currently listed on the National Landmark Registry (138 Congress Street).

Victoria Mansion: Originally built in 1858 for a wealthy New Orleans hotelier, the Italian villa-style mansion has graceful verandahs, a four-story tower and a lavish interior. The house was named for Britain's Queen Victoria when it was turned into a museum in 1941. Visitors can tour the property, which still boasts 90 percent of its original contents such as gas light fixtures, elaborate wall paintings and exquisite woodwork (109 Danforth Street).

Wadsworth-Longfellow House: Built in 1785, this is the boyhood home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was the first wholly brick dwelling in Portland and now features a collection of Maine's historical artifacts (489 Congress Street).

Maine Historical Society Museum: Located next door to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, this museum houses exhibitions that feature art and artifacts that bring Maine history to life (489 Congress Street).

Explore Peaks Island: Take the 15-minute ferry ride (56 Commercial Street) from Maine State Pier to Peaks Island. On the island, you can rent a bike from Brad's Recycled Bike Shop for $14 per day (115 Island Ave.), or take a guided kayak trip to explore the protected waterways of Casco Bay -- you'll paddle past Civil War-era forts, lighthouses and seal-covered ledges (70 Luther Street).

Shop in Freeport: The well-known outlet shopping destination includes the L.L. Bean flagship store, which is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year (95 Main Street). New attractions in the store include a 24-ft. riverbed aquarium alive with fish and turtles native to Maine.

Stroll the Village of Kennebunkport, Maine: Located about 45 minutes south of Portland, this charming coastal village features several Federal- and Victorian-style homes built by wealthy merchants and sea captains in the 1700's and 1800's. Today it is regarded as one of the most expensive vacation areas in the Northeast (the Bush family has a home here). Visitors can explore the small district of art galleries, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops.

Getting Around

On Foot: It's easy to walk from the ship to shops, restaurants and attractions. While walking around downtown, look for Portland's Downtown District Guides, recognizable in their "outback" hats. They are on the streets of Portland in the summer to help visitors find their way around -- and their services are free! Alternately, 60-minute guided historical walking tours are offered daily at 1:30 p.m., June to September, for $10 per person. (489 Congress Street)

By Public Transportation: Visit Portland at your own pace on the seasonal 8A bus service and the other routes offered by Greater Portland METRO. Convenient stops are within walking distance of museums, galleries, retail shops, restaurants and historic landmarks. Ride all day for $5.

By Trolley: Take a 105-minute narrated trolley tour, passing many popular attractions (adults $22, kids 3 to 12 years $16). Tickets can be purchased at 170 Commercial Street on Long Wharf or online.

By Bike: Rent a bike just outside the Portland Ocean Terminal from Ring's Marine Service for $30 per day or from Cycle Mania, located a few short blocks from the Old Port, for as little as $25 per day (59 Federal Street).

By Car: Although most rental car companies are represented at the Portland Airport, Hertz (207-797-7156) and Enterprise (207-772-0030), open every day except Sunday, also have downtown locations that are just a quick taxi ride away. Rentals start from about $60 per day, and advanced reservations are strongly encouraged.

Food and Drink

According to the Maine Restaurant Association, Portland is home to about 230 restaurants. Although many restaurants are within the downtown area, some good ones are located on the outskirts and are worth the trek. Seafood is a staple, with lobster being the star. Almost every restaurant features a "lobster roll," which is basically fresh picked meat from the lobster brushed with sweet butter and served on a toasted roll with (or without) mayonnaise. Other traditional dishes include whole lobster boiled or steamed under seaweed at a seaside lobster bake.

Casual Dining:
The Portland Lobster Company: For a truly Portland seafood experience, head to The Portland Lobster Company, specializing in you-know-what -- lobster. Big appetites can order the Downeast Feast, which includes lobster, steamers (Maine steamed clams), corn on the cob, coleslaw and fries (180 Commercial Street).

Dimillo's on the Water: Situated in a converted car ferry on the Portland waterfront, Dimillo's on the Water offers fresh seafood with an Italian flair. Choose from items like the Lobster Roll, Beer Battered Fish and Chips, the Maine Crab Club, plus a number of traditional Italian dishes such as Chicken Parmigiana. While you dine, you can watch the sights and sounds of Portland Harbor from the outside decks or enjoy the water views from every window in the dining room. (25 Long Wharf; open daily at 11 a.m.).

The Front Room: Serving American comfort food made from local ingredients, The Front Room offers classics such as Croque Monsieur (French for grilled ham and cheese), eggs benny, or biscuits and gravy. The cozy restaurant boasts warm woodwork and lots of windows overlooking the scenic Eastern Promenade (73 Congress Street; daily brunch 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.).

Becky's On Hobson's Wharf: Eat where the locals eat at Becky's On Hobson's Wharf. Here you'll see a mix of waterfront workers sitting at the long counter, elbow-to-elbow with tourists in the know. This diner-style restaurant serves generous breakfasts made from local ingredients, such as their French toast cooked with fresh-baked Italian bread. And the vast lunch menu includes items ranging from the ubiquitous Lobster Roll to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, along with typical diner fare such as all-day breakfasts and burgers (390 Commercial Street; open at 4 a.m. daily).

Duckfat: Duckfat is a European-style fry and sandwich shop with reasonable prices. Their Belgian fries are cooked in duck fat for a unique flavor and served in a paper cone, and the milkshakes are made from locally produced ice cream (43 Middle Street; open daily at 11 a.m.).

Gourmet Dining:
555: For an exciting gastronomical experience, 555 offers a brunch menu that is far from just bacon and eggs. Try the Traitor's Eggs -- poached eggs served with lobster meat and a lemony hollandaise sauce. Maine Restaurant Association named Owner/Chef Steve Corry 2011 Chef of the Year (555 Congress Street).

Eve's at the Garden: Combine sophistication, a garden setting and artfully presented lunches, and you have Eve's at the Garden. Located in the Portland Harbor Hotel, the restaurant offers seating outside in the courtyard by the fountain or inside the contemporary dining room. For a twist on traditional lobster dinner, try lobster ravioli with butternut squash, or for a change consider grilled quail with fig and honey (468 Fore Street; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Casual, Out of Town:
Freeport: Gritty McDuff's is a brew pub that offers more than just pub fare. Enjoy New England's classic seafood complemented by a pint of hand-crafted ale. There's even a playground onsite for the kiddies to play while you wait (187 Lower Main Street).

Peaks Island: The Inn on Peaks is owned by the Shipyard Brewery and its pub offers views of the Portland skyline. Choose from menu selections such as burgers wraps or the signature Buffalo-fried Maine Shrimp -- beer-battered shrimp served with a blue cheese dip and a spicy Buffalo sauce (33 Island Ave.).

Cape Elizabeth: On the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, adjacent to the famous Portland Head Light, sits The Lobster Shack at Two Lights. Enjoy the inexpensive yet fresh menu selections at picnic tables that overlook the surf, or eat inside the dining room, which features simple furnishings and large picture windows (225 Two Lights Road).

Where You're Docked

Major cruise ships dock at the Portland Ocean Terminal and the Ocean Gateway Terminal, both on the fringe of the Old Port.

Good to Know

Although Portland is a fairly safe port, it's always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and leave unnecessary valuables and cash in your stateroom safe.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

There are ATM's and banks located throughout the city. One of the closest ATM's can be found at the Casco Bay Line Terminal adjacent to the Maine State Pier and the cruise terminal at Portland Ocean Terminal (56 Commercial St.). To exchange other currencies into U.S. dollars, TD Bank has regular weekday and limited Saturday hours. (1 Portland Square; Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.)


English is spoken in Portland.


Buy a souvenir that celebrates Maine's lobsters, lighthouses or maritime industry. Porte 4, 366 Fore Street, sells fine jewelry with nautical designs such as 18K gold sailboat and lighthouse pendants. For unusual and historical nautical artifacts, check out Shipwreck and Cargo, 207 Commercial Street. Another unique souvenir is Sea Bag's handmade water-resistant tote bag made in Maine from recycled sails. The company's headquarters is located on the working waterfront, 24 Custom House Wharf.
  • Overall, this Pearl Seas cruise compared well with AMA Waterways' European river cruises, but on a more informal and less elegant basis. The food and table service were excellent, though they did an unsatisfactory job of accommodating a vegan ... Read more
  • In my opinion it all begins with the Captain of the ship and this Captain was on top of everything. His presence was constant and he put an emphasis on the passenger’s well-being. This attitude flowed downward to his directors and ... Read more
  • Best Cruise Ever
    The food, the service, the attention to detail were awesome from the Captain down to every staff person on deck. The rooms were very spacious! All the ports of call gave a different view of Maine and displayed the current life plus the history.r ... Read more
  • We love the small ships and had never seen this part of the country. The embarkation & disembarkation went very smoothly. The bed in the cabin was very comfortable & the shower was great - full size, unlike some small ships. The food was ... Read more
  • Excellent Cruise of Maine
    American Cruise Line definitely knows how to service small ship cruising. The service, food, land tours, and overall benefits of small ship cruising are obvious after a few days on board. The selection of lobster every day was excellent. This was ... Read more
  • I have been on the larger ships several times. This was the first time to sail on a small ship and I will sail small from now on! The American Cruise Lines Independence carries only 100 passengers. We were able to meet and make friends with ALL of ... Read more
  • Fabulous time!
    After an flawless embarkation, this cruise took us to the parts of Maine we were interested in seeing, and because it was a small ship without all the amenities we never used on the big ships of past cruises (disco, swimming pool, casino, etc.) ... Read more