It was a scene straight out of a bygone era.

A rare and magical flotilla of tall ships headed to the open ocean after looping around Halifax Harbour in a spectacular Parade of Sail, attracting tens of thousands of spectators on the near perfect day.

“It brought tears to my eyes. They thought of us,” said Phil Silver, who was on hand for the ship’s departure.

“I think it's cool for the people on the ships to know that so many people are so excited to see their ships,” says spectator Savannah Hall.

The arrivals started mid-morning. Dignitaries joined tourists and local by the thousands yet again, with many staking out their place on rooftops or high perches in preparation for the main event.

Even for those who've walked on board the ships the last several days, watching them sail by in full mast is an experience.

“I was here about five years ago and heard about the tall ships so that's when we started planning to come,” said Lee Pickett. “We couldn't have had better seats, sitting right here, having ‘em go right by us.”

The event itself is more than a decade in the making. The idea for Rendezvous 2017 began back in 2004.

“We knew coming in here we were dealing with people who've done it many times before, done it with us many times before, and it's as near to perfect as we could have hoped for,” said Doug Prothero of Sail Training International.

In charge on the water was a former harbour master named Gord Helm. The veteran kept things sailing smoothly, even with so many tall and small ships on the water.

“It's a way to say thank you,” says Prothero. “These ships love to set sail and show their stuff.”

With thousands of tourists in the city, hotel rooms were nearly impossible to come by.

“Things have been pretty tight for the last little while,” said hotel general manager Scott Travis. “It also helps - or hurts - that there are two hotels under renovation right now across the harbour.”

Economic impact studies are being prepared and will be released along with attendance numbers in the early fall. But it's clear the busy hotels have translated into busy ships. The busiest, in fact, in Canada.

And there have been a lot of stops.

“We normally would have one Canadian port,” says Prothero. “We had 30.”

Admission this year was free in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary. Organizers say while they'd hoped for a little more wind, it's been a success.

Lineups for the ferry service Monday was much shorter than they've been the last several days, likely because so many opted to stay in Dartmouth, where the view was just as good.

“Another busy day at the terminal, but no issues,” says Nick Ritcey. “I think people really enjoyed taking the ferry back and forth and getting to see the Parade of Sail.”

As the ships bid farewell to Halifax, the crowds will likely continue to flock to the waterfront.

The Buskers Festival begins Tuesday, along with this weekend’s Natal Day Parade featuring Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup.

Hotels are booked steady through October.

“It's lots of jobs, it's lots of money, and this is when we showcase the best that Halifax is,” says Travis.

For now, organizers hope word of this host city travels as far as these international visitors.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Sarah Ritchie.