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No more cruisers! Top Maine port votes to severely restrict cruise ship visitors

Nov. 09, 2022
4 min read
Cruise Ship at Bar Harbor
No more cruisers! Top Maine port votes to severely restrict cruise ship visitors
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The citizens of Bar Harbor, Maine, have had it with cruise ships and cruisers.

By a wide margin, they voted on Tuesday to severely restrict the number of cruise passengers that could visit the resort town on any given day, in a move that could have a significant impact on cruises to the region.

The voters passed a citizens initiative that would limit the number of cruisers and cruise ship crew who can come ashore in the town to just 1,000 a day, far fewer than currently visit Bar Harbor on some days during the the peak summer tourist season.

Some cruise ships that visit Bar Harbor such as Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas can carry nearly 5,000 passengers.

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The vote, which came in the wake of growing complaints about cruise-ship visitors in the town, could mean many of the vessels that currently stop at Bar Harbor will no longer be able to call there. It amends the town's municipal code.

The ballot measure exempts cruise ship visits that already were on the books as of March 17, the date when the measure was first submitted for inclusion on Tuesday's ballot.

About 58% of 3,053 residents who voted Tuesday were in favor of the measure, with roughly 42% against it — a 16-point margin. Bar Harbor has a population of around 5,000 people.

The vote came just two months after Bar Harbor's town council voted to implement limits on cruise-ship passengers that were strict but not nearly to the degree of what was laid out in the citizens initiative.

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The town council in September officially approved an agreement with the cruise industry that placed caps on cruiser arrivals during the tourist season of between 30,000 and 65,000 a month starting in 2023. The agreement included daily caps in cruise visitor arrivals that ranged from 3,500 to 3,800 people a day, depending on the month.

The agreement also banned ship arrivals during the shoulder-season tourism months of April and November.

Related: 6 ways you can ruin your cruise in an instant

“We have had a clear message from the public that they want cruise ships decreased,” Bar Harbor town council member Erin Cough said at the time. "We've been asked by our community to do something, and this is our best effort at doing something that is reasonable."

Both the town council's effort to limit cruiser visits and the success of Tuesday's ballot measure come amid growing unease in the town about soaring numbers of cruise visitors. Some residents have called for a complete ban on cruise ships, while others have wanted to see significant cutbacks in ship arrivals, citing growing congestion in the town.

The number of vessels visiting Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park, has grown rapidly in recent years, with the exception of 2020 and 2021, when the COVID-19-related shutdown of the cruise industry caused ship arrivals to decrease.

In 2019, Bar Harbor welcomed 157 cruise ships that carried 250,164 passengers. This year, projections called for 174 cruise ships to arrive carrying 292,212 passengers. Final numbers for 2022 have not yet been released.

In a 2021 survey of Bar Harbor residents and business owners, 55% of respondents said they viewed cruise ships as having a negative impact on the town.

Bar Harbor is just one of a growing number of destinations including Venice, Italy, and Key West, Florida, where residents have been calling for limits on ship arrivals, citing congestion and other detrimental effects.

Cruise lines that operate voyages with stops in Bar Harbor include Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Windstar Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Tuesday's vote to severely limit cruise ship passenger arrivals to Bar Harbor could face legal challenges from the cruise industry.

A similar measure to restrict cruise ship visitors on the ballot Tuesday in Portland, Maine, failed by a significant margin.

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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.