Nearly eight years after it was ordered, the cruise ship Pearl Mist will embark finally on its maiden voyage Wednesday from Baltimore's Inner Harbor, ending the vessel's protracted saga.
The 335-foot cruise ship, which spent the past year being finished at a Salisbury shipyard, will depart for an 11-night "Maritime New England Cruise" that will take the 210-passenger vessel north to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it was built.
A lengthy legal dispute between the ship's buyer and its builder delayed its cruise schedule for years.
Charles Robertson, who owns Chesapeake Shipbuilding Inc. in Salisbury, established the Pearl Seas Cruises line in 2006, eyeing a growing market for smaller, more intimate ships calling on international ports. With his own shipyard running at full capacity at the time, Robertson hired Irving Shipbuilding Inc. of Halifax to build the Pearl Mist, the line's first ship, for $43.5 million.
Disputes between Pearl Seas and Irving over the construction of the vessel began just months later. Pearl Seas eventually would accuse Irving of not building the ship to specifications, question whether the ship met safety and environmental standards, and say it had failed multiple sea trials, according to court filings.
Over the years, the two companies fought over the ship contract before a board of maritime arbitrators and in court. The legal wrangling only ended last year, when both parties asked a federal appeals court in New York to close the last remaining case.
A spokeswoman for Irving told The Baltimore Sun last year that the two companies had "reached a settlement," but declined to discuss it or the dispute in detail. At the time Robertson called the long contract dispute "surprising and disappointing," and said his company took the ship back to finish fitting it for travel at his Chesapeake Shipbuilding yard.
During the dispute, the ship's delivery, originally scheduled for 2008, slipped to 2010. After Pearl Seas refused to accept the ship, it was tied up in the tiny port of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, until last year when it was moved to Baltimore to await an opening at the Salisbury shipyard.
The Pearl Mist arrived in Baltimore in April 2013 and sat at a Canton pier for about a month before being towed to Salisbury.
Robertson could not be reached for comment on the Pearl Mist's finally beginning cruises.
The ship is set to arrive at Pier 4 in the Inner Harbor at 6 a.m. Tuesday and depart at 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Adrienne Barnes, a city Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
The ship's smaller size and ability to maneuver into areas like the Inner Harbor — larger cruise ships out of Baltimore operate out of large port terminals — is one thing that sets the Pearl Mist apart for travelers who are adventurous and "want to get a little closer to the ports" on their itineraries, said Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com.
Major cruise lines don't often offer luxury amenities and adventures on land, focusing instead on one or the other, McDaniel said. Peal Seas Cruises provides both with the Pearl Mist, she said.
"You'll have those luxury accommodations, you'll have the world-class dining, that kind of thing," McDaniel said. "But you'll still have the historian on board who will lecture and maybe the next day lead a tour."
The Pearl Mist will stand out in the industry for its itineraries, McDaniel said, from travel around the Great Lakes to smaller island ports in the Carribbean that major cruise lines skip.
The Pearl Seas website says the bright white ship has six decks and large staterooms, viewing balconies, a library, a fitness area and a glass-enclosed dining room. The cruise line says the ship is "the perfect size to provide an exceptional luxury experience without feeling overwhelming."
In addition to the New England cruise, the ship has scheduled cruises from Portland, Maine, to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island; from Portland to Quebec City; and from West Palm Beach through the Caribbean to St. Martin.