Saint John’s waterfront was bustling with activity on Wednesday for the first time since the 2019 cruise ship season, as the city welcomed its biggest-ever cruise ship.
It was also opening day for the Area 506 container village along the waterfront.
Ray Gracewood, founder of the Area 506 music festival, said the opening couldn’t have gone any smoother.
“Day one exceeded our expectations,” said Gracewood.
Watch: Shipping containers now a vibrant waterfront shopping district
“And to think this area was essentially a parking lot six weeks ago is pretty astounding.”
He said there are still a few things that need to be done and others that will be tweaked in time for the next big cruise ship.
“But for the most part, I think we’re in good shape for the season and we’ll see how [Wednesday] goes, and then do a bit of a re-evaluation and see if there’s any further changes that we want to make before the next cruise ship comes in late July.”
The village is designed to cater to music events and cruise passengers. The venue will be open on all cruise ship days, but there are also standard operating hours when there are no ships in port so locals can browse the site and its assortment of vendors.
Gracewood said there are 27 vendors already lined up and only a few available spots remaining. Most vendors are in converted shipping containers — either by themselves or sharing one — but there are also food trucks on site.
“I think for the most part, the feedback has been incredible,” said Gracewood, minutes after he returned to land after getting a tour of the Oasis of the Seas.
He said the captain and crew were impressed with the container village — especially the area designated as a crew-only lounge.
“The first impression of the city for cruise ship passengers … has really paid off. And I think the feedback so far has been pretty positive,” he said.
Gracewood said the “soft” opening of the container village was deliberately planned for the arrival of the Oasis of the Seas and its 5,400 passengers. The massive cruise ship docked alongside the container village on Wednesday.
Jacqui Diaz and Suna Kneisley are frequent cruisers and were traveling together aboard the ship from Sacramento, California.
Diaz said she wondered if there are parts of the ship they just won’t have time to see during their five days on board.
“We’re on the level where they have a park. There’s a park in the middle, Central Park, and you walk and there’s trees and birds singing and it’s amazing.”
Both women loved Saint John’s new container village.
Kneisley said using shipping containers is a “super smart idea.”
Gracewood said people like the use of shipping containers and the vibrant colors, including the hyper-colourful Graffiti Alley.
“I think at the end of the day it helps people re-imagine what it is to be a port city, I think that’s the perspective that I’m getting from people, that it’s a great use of the waterfront and just a great example of an innovative project for the city.”
Gracewood said June is a very busy opening month for the container village. After Wednesday’s soft opening, the venue will host an open house for locals on Thursday. Friday will feature an outdoor film festival, and on Saturday, July Talk will take the main stage for the venue’s first concert.
By next week, the container village will begin gearing up for the Memorial Cup and the Bash on the Bay concert series.