The Emerald Princess can hold up to 5,000 people. (Princess Cruise Line)

Saguenay, Que. welcomed 5,000 unexpected visitors Sunday, when the largest cruise ship ever to ply the Saguenay River docked at the port, diverting from its route in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy.

The Emerald Princess had no plans to stop in the city, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City, after leaving the provincial capital on Saturday, but with Sandy expected to hit ground as a severe tropical storm, the cruiseline was worried for passenger and crew safety.

The Emerald Princess carries up to 3,780 passengers and 1,200 staff members and includes 15 passenger bridges, 14 elevators, four exterior pools and eight restaurants.

The ship was supposed to make its way to Boston, Portland in Maine and Newport in Rhode Island, but the stops were canceled as the forecast worsened.

The plan is to dock the Emerald Princess in Canadian cities to make up for the missed visits.

The ship will be dropping off passengers in Sydney and Halifax in Nova Scotia, New York, Norfolk in Virginia and Charleston in South Carolina before ending its voyage in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Nov. 7.

"Last year, we had two ships [in the same situation]," said Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay. "We are happy with the visit, but it is a lot of work for us. We have to coordinate with volunteers, busses… We also have to bring employees at the boutiques at our welcome centres back to work from vacation."

The mayor pointed out the steep cliffs on either side of the Saguenay River offer ships protection from severe storms, which is one reason ships choose to take shelter in the port.

The ship is expected to leave the Saguenay port at 4 p.m.

with files from The Canadian Press