Cruise season has begun in the Pacific Northwest with the arrival of gleaming cruise ships. They'll be steaming back-and-forth to Alaska all summer from Vancouver and Seattle.
At the beginning and end of the cruise season, those large cruise ships also call on smaller Northwest ports such as Astoria, Oregon; Port Angeles, Washington; and Nanaimo, British Columbia.
A visit from a veritable floating city such as the Crown Princess swells the population of Astoria by about 30 percent. Small Northwest ports rely heavily on volunteers to greet the ships and make things go smoothly.
In Astoria, Marian Soderberg coordinates the deployment of volunteer cruise hosts around the city.
"Passengers enjoy visiting with somebody who lives in the local area -- but clearly isn't selling them anything -- in order to get a feel for how we live here," she says.
Soderberg says the results show in post-cruise passenger surveys. The small Northwest ports-of-call get top marks for friendliness. They're rated lower in the category of "things to do."
Overall, the main home ports of Metro Vancouver and Seattle say the anticipated 2014 cruise passenger count looks to be roughly on par with last year.
The Port of Astoria estimates 28,000 cruise visitors will swarm Astoria this year during 16 port calls -- mostly in spring and fall. The Crown Princess kicked off the season by sailing in on Thursday.
Port Angeles hosts two large cruise ship port calls this year. They are stopovers on Holland America sailings between San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia. The first, the MS Oosterdam, is in port Friday.
Years ago, cruise ships also visited Aberdeen-Hoquiam on the central Washington coast. Port of Grays Harbor spokeswoman Kayla Dunlap says the port couldn't justify the security upgrades required after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so the big cruise ships stopped calling after 2001.