Many cruise ships ply the waters of Alaska in the summer and the sunny Caribbean in the winter, but Astoria is becoming quite a popular stop in-between.

Five ships visited this spring, and another 10 are stopping by this fall, bringing thousands of passengers and crew to the North Coast. While here, cruise visitors browse booths at the Never on Sunday Market, check out stores and restaurants downtown, and enjoy area attractions like the Columbia River Maritime Museum or the Astoria Column. But they also seem to remember the region's people.

"The number one compliment that Astoria gets is the reception at the pier, the friendliness from the community when the folks are asking questions," said Bill Cook, deputy director of the Port of Astoria and the chairman of Astoria's cruise committee.

The team of volunteer cruise hosts hear over and over again from visitors who appreciate the reception they get, said Marian Soderberg, who heads the volunteer program with her husband Mike. Some visitors even said they search out itineraries that include Astoria, she said. When visitors arrive, the blue-vested volunteers answer questions and steer visitors in the right direction.

"We have many reasons to be proud of the opportunities that the area affords passengers, and we encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity that they have time for, or the stamina for," Soderberg said.

One new addition this year is a shuttle that takes people from downtown, in front of Steven's Fine Clothing, to the column. The number one question volunteers get is how to get to the "tower," and volunteers had been begging for such a shuttle for a while, Soderberg said.

While visitors are enjoying what the area has to offer, they're also providing an economic boon for the community, Cook said. Studies have shown that the average visitor spends $125 to $150 per person per shore visit, and doing some quick calculations Cook estimated that the cruise visits this year will bring $2 to $3 million to the North Coast, if not more.

"Any time we have a call here, it's just amazing to me how many (shopping) bags come back," Cook said. The port hopes to eventually attract 30 cruise visits a year, including stops that are part of a regular route and not simply ships in transit.

There will be eight more cruise ship visits in 2005: one Sept. 24, two Sept. 25, and one each Sept. 27 and 28 and Oct. 6,16 and 26. The port already has 13 visits scheduled for 2006.

To volunteer as a cruise host, contact the Soderbergs at (503) 325-2354.

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