They’re called “floating cities” and can carry crews of 1,000 people and 3,000 visitors. Unleashed into the Port of Astoria, visitors are offered their choice of 17 local and historic excursions in the regions. The Coral Princess arrived Sept. 19, carrying 1,974 passengers. Two hundred of those visitors signed up to travel on one of the motor coaches to Cannon Beach, Seaside and destinations south.

The “Ultimate Coast Tour” is among the most popular tours offered by Sundial Travel in Astoria, which books many of the excursions.

“One of the first coastal villages you’ll pass is Seaside,” is how Sundial describes the tour. “This charming resort offers boutiques, art galleries, miles of beach and not a single parking meter. Continuing southward, you’ll pass Cannon Beach, famous for the natural phenomenon known as Haystack Rock. Composed of basalt, this 235-foot-tall rock formation is the home to puffins, sea gulls and cormorants.”

The excursion travels over Neahkahnie Mountain to Tillamook for the dairy experience before heading back northward to Cannon Beach. “Immerse yourself in this quaint coastal town noted as a ‘photographer’s paradise,’” Sundial writes. “You have several options at your own leisure, a quick stroll on the beach and shopping.”

Jim Paino of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce meets visitors on their arrival at the Visitor Center. He said he never knows how many visitors will arrive as excursion tickets are sold up to the last minute. “People will come in to Astoria and make their decisions then,” he said.

“With only an hour to see the sights, visitors walk downtown or to the beach “to get a quick sense of what Cannon beach is all about,” he said.

Each guest is greeted with a bag of candy from Bruce’s, flyers and coupons.

Twenty to 25 new cruise ships come into Astoria from the Mediterranean and Caribbean, Cruise Marketing Manager Bruce Conner of Sundial Travel said in a cruise ship report to the Port of Astoria Commission earlier this year. Conner figured about 80 percent of passengers leave the ship. Each couple spends about $125, translating to about $150,000 for a 3,000 passengers.

Fees for the excursion are almost $78 per passenger, not including tax and fees.

A typical tour leaves Astoria at 11 a.m., stops in Cannon Beach, comes up to Seaside and arrives back in Astoria at 3 p.m. Since the tours use local school buses to transport passengers, when school is in session weekday tours take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to provide an opportunity for school bus drivers to drop kids off in the morning and to pick students up in the afternoon.

What are visitors looking for? “They want exclusivity, they want to feel they’re getting something nobody else is getting,” Jon Rahl of the Seaside Visitors Bureau said at a meeting of the Seaside Downtown Development Association this month. “It’s a challenge to keep it fresh.”

Jeff Ter Har of Ter Har’s in Cannon Beach and Seaside suggested a guide system to direct visitors through South County communities. “It’s a matter of time,” he said. “They’re all worried about how much time they have. The big thing is getting them into the businesses. We need to give them a path.”

Along with the Coral Princess, Jewel of the City arrived in Astoria Sept. 20, with 1,916 passengers. The Oosterdam will follow Sept. 28, with 1,916 visitors and the Norwegian Pearl arrives with 2,394 passengers Sept. 29, and the Norwegian Pearl will be carrying 2,394. The Noordam comes in Sept. 30, carrying 1,916 visitors. The Norwegian Jewel arrives Oct. 1 bearing 2,376 passengers.

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