Saint John may soon knock off Halifax as the number one Maritime stop for cruise ship passengers, according to an industry insider.

Large cruise ships docked in the uptown port are a common sight in Saint John during the summer months.

Saint John is expecting 211,000 passengers this year up from the 186,000 people that stopped in the city in 2009.

The ability to welcome more ships was boosted in 2009 when the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal opened and allowed the Saint John Port to attract 73 vessels, a record for the port.

Dennis Campbell, president of the Halifax-based Ambassatours tour company, said he looked closely at Saint John before deciding to open an office and move eight double-decker buses in the southern New Brunswick city this year.

Campbell said Saint John's cruise ship industry is now growing faster than Halifax.

"Saint John has been gaining on Halifax by leaps and bounds," Campbell said.

"If they keep going the way they're going, they will likely surpass Halifax with cruise ship passengers."

Halifax is projecting it will welcome 240,000 passengers in 2010 compared to the 211,000 cruise ship passengers that are expected to visit Saint John.

Campbell said Saint John has more passengers than Halifax did three years ago and is narrowing the gap between the two Maritime cruise destinations.

He credits the port and local cruise community for Saint John's rapid growth.

"I actually feel Saint John has a very real potential to grow beyond Halifax," he said.

Bigger may not be better

Melanie Colpitts, a spokesperson for Aquila Tours, said she is thrilled with the growing numbers of passengers stopping in Saint John.

But Colpitts said there may be problems with Saint John's growth.

She said she worries about a developing trend, the construction of new cruise ships that are so big Saint John can only accommodate one of them at a time.

"The ships that are coming out and the ships that are looking at coming to this region in coming years are bigger than what we can accommodate," Colpitts said.

"So we need to be able to respond to that in order to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to surpass Halifax in terms of passenger growth."

The Saint John Port has applied for funding to extend berths and add gangways to permit docking of more than one ship greater than 300 metres long.