Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel sailed into Eden this morning as the first ship to visit the town as it reopens for visitors after the region’s devastating bushfires.

The 2,376-guest ship was greeted by Cruise Eden, the local community, and members of the tourism industry.

The brave town, which suffered from the holiday fires and continued to be on alert today after local blazes were downgraded, is known as the town that loves cruise.

Local volunteers from the rescue services also made it to the welcoming of some 2,000 guests that will visit Eden and its surrounding areas on a series of tours and shore excursions.

The Jewel’s arrival underlines the message that the NSW South Coast is open for business, with the tourism industry taking its first steps on the road to recovery, according to Norwegian Cruise Lines.

It’s a symbol that Australia’s home ports are operational, and will bring some much-needed tourism business to Eden, after it opened a new wharf last year and organised a grand welcoming committee for the first ships.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be going to Eden and being the first ship in. I know the area well as a surfer, and I am very pleased that Norwegian Cruise Lines can help,” said Mr Ben Angell, the line’s Vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific.

Mr Angell added that cruise tourists were among the first to be aiding the recovery of Australia’s regional tourism businesses.  Norwegian Jewel has an international passenger list comprising many Americans, Europeans as well as Australians.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said the ship’s visit was an important step forward for the Australian tourism industry as it worked to support regional economies in many parts of the country.

“With the return of cruise tourism to Eden, 100% of Australia’s cruise ports are now open for business and welcoming visitors,” Mr Katz said. “More than 60 cruise ships will call on Australian ports over the current summer season and the fact they’re all continuing to operate as scheduled will help lift confidence in many parts of the tourism industry.”

Despite the fire reports, Mr Angell said bookings had held over Christmas and the New Year, and the line had carried out a constant dialogue with trade partners.

“So far, we’re on track and not as bad as expected. We saw a soft two weeks in January, but things picked up in week three.”

At Eden itself, the arrival was anticipated with excitement. A stellar reception committee, including Mr Angell, Jewel’s captain Giogio Vousolinos, Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Kristy McBain, Stuart Ayres NSW Tourism Minister, CEO and Director Port Authority of NSW Phillip Holliday, and Communications Director for Cruise Lines International Association Jon Murrie.

One of the local tour highlights, Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours says that they are “ready to welcome all passengers to our lovely port of Eden tomorrow no problems”.

Karen Lott the owner of Sprout Café who has had to shorten opening hours and cut back on staff since the bushfires, is also “delighted” and “excited” for the arrival of Eden’s first cruise visit since the reopening.

“The cruise ship passengers will be the first tourist we’ve seen since the town closed due to the bushfires. It is definitely delightful, we’re excited and it is going to be a big boost not only psychologically but also as the passengers spend money as they visit different places around town. Every little bit helps us to get back on our feet.

“Most of our tourists come across the border of Victoria which is still closed unless they come around the long way. But we’re expecting a couple of hundred of customers as the cruise ship pulls in tomorrow, sharing the joy with other cafes in the area. We’ve made sure we have enough cakes on hand as many cruise passengers come in to have cakes and coffee before going back on board.”

“Eden still has plenty of natural beauty for passengers to explore although some of them are a little singed. The recent rains have also brought a bit of green back.”

Last week, Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess was the first cruise ship to visit Kangaroo Island as it reopened after the bushfires and locals are showing their appreciation for the arriving passengers.

There was a market set up near the port to welcome passengers, with tour operators like Kangaroo Island Charters & Touring offering tours to guests, fundraiser stalls and many others.

In a touching post, Margaret Edwards wrote on Princess Cruises Facebook page: “Thank you Princess Cruises. I am a resident of Kangaroo Island … a friend of mine was travelling with you on Sun Princess so we picked her up and spent the day driving her around our beautiful Island home … she made purchases at the markets and also throughout the community … every little bit will help us to get back on our feet … thank you once again.”