Cruise Port in Maine Votes To Restrict Cruise Ship Visitors

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At most, one thousand cruise ship passengers and crew will be allowed to disembark a cruise ship while in port in Bar Harbor, Maine, from 2024. This was the outcome of a vote in the quaint seaside town on the Atlantic Coast on Tuesday, November 8. 

The decision from residents will likely not be welcomed by the cruise industry, as Bar Harbor plays a vital role during the popular autumn cruises to New England and Canada.

While cruise ships play an important role in bringing money into the local economy, more than 55% of residents said in 2021 that cruise ships have a negative impact on the town. 

1,000 Cruise Ship Visitor Limit

A petition that was voted on November 8 in Bar Harbor, Maine, had a very unwelcome effect on the cruise industry. Residents voted on November 8 to restrict the number of visitors from cruise ships to the town to a maximum of 1000 per day. 

The petition, brought forward by Bar Harbor resident Charles Sidman, had 3098 voters casting ballots out of 5016 registered voters, a 61.7% turnout. The total was 1780 voting in favor of the ban and 1273 against the ban. “There is a vast and deep feeling in the town that we have been overrun by cruise ship traffic,” Sidman said earlier this summer.

Cruise Ship at Bar Harbor
Photo Credit: Eric Jeremiah photos / Shutterstock

The feeling from locals is not surprising. Back in 2021, a survey found that most locals were unhappy about the number of ships coming to Bar Harbor. 55% of respondents said cruise ship tourism is more negative than positive for Bar Harbor. Only 35% perceive it as more positive than negative.

The quality of life also was perceived to go down by 53% of respondents due to the impact of cruise tourism, while only 26% said they perceived it as positive. Cruise ships would also be detrimental to the overall feel and image that Bar Harbor tries to convey. 

Bar Harbor already had a ban for cruise ship passengers, restricting traffic to 3,500 per day in the summer and 5,500 during the early and late parts of the cruise season. With just over 5,000 residents, the number of people in the town doubled during large cruise ship visits. 

Before the global pause in operations, the cruise industry contributed $68 million in direct economic spending and created over 1,000 jobs in Maine, amounting to $36 million in wages. A second plan, drafted by Bar Harbor town manager Kevin Sutherland, did not make it to the vote. 

What Will Happen to Cruises Scheduled to Bar Harbor?

Cruise lines have so far not responded, but cruise industry lobby group CLIA will likely do so in the coming days, potentially looking at the ramifications of the Bar Harbor petition. In April of this year, CLIA released a press release stating the importance of Maine for the cruise industry:

“Maine is a marquee New England destination offering spectacular scenery, recreational opportunities, and terrific cuisine, and also serves as the gateway to the United States and a port of call along the way to and from destinations in Canada, the Caribbean, and beyond for ocean-going cruise ships,” said Kelly Craighead, President and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association.

Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

Eighty-four cruise ships with a passenger capacity of 1,000 or more guests are scheduled for cruise calls to Bar Harbor between May and November next year. However, these will likely not be impacted by the vote. 

The petition allows for a gradual transition, which means that any cruise ship calls booked before the spring of 2022, which is the majority of calls, will be allowed to proceed as planned. 

From 2024, the new rules will apply to all cruise ships. This would mean that larger ships would still be able to visit Bar Harbor, but only 1,000 guests and crew would be allowed off the ship. Cruise companies will likely bypass Bar Harbor entirely, opting to go to ports such as Portland, or ports in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada.

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