New Details Confirmed About Port Cruise Ship Limits

With new cruise visitor limits taking effect this year in Bar Harbor, Maine, what does it mean for visits already scheduled for large ships?

Just days after Bar Harbor, Maine received federal judge approval to limit cruise ship tourists to no more than 1,000 visitors per day, new details have been confirmed about how cruise ships will be handled moving forward into the 2024 summer season and beyond.

The Bar Harbor Town Council issued some clarifications in a statement on Wednesday, March 6, addressing items such as when enforcement will begin, how ship reservations will be handled, and the status of future reservations.

Bar Harbor Town Council Reacts to Ruling

On February 29, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, led by Judge Lance Walker, upheld the local ordinance in Bar Harbor to limit daily cruise ship guest disembarkation to no more than 1,000 visitors. This landmark ruling gives unprecedented control to the community to decide how they will handle the ever-increasing sizes of cruise ships and their growing passenger capacities.

The ordinance went through the local legislature and all appropriate legal channels, including public comment periods and community surveys, though it was challenged by local businesses, many of whom rely heavily on tourism.

The cap of 1,000 cruise guests per day is scheduled to begin with the 2024 sailing season, which runs from early May through late October. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem and Royal Caribbean International’s Adventure of the Seas are the first and last ships of the season, respectively.

Now, Bar Harbor Town Council has clarified how the ordinance will be handled as the season’s cruise ships are just weeks away from arriving.

“Enforcement will begin immediately,” the council said. “This Council has already directed the Harbor Master to cancel, or reject, requests for reservations made after the day of the vote for all ships with lower berth capacities greater than 1,000 passengers.”

“However, the Council will honor reservations made before the town voted. Passengers from these 2024 ships will not be subject to the disembarkation limits of the Ordinance.”

Cruise Passengers In Bar Harbor
Cruise Passengers in Bar Harbor (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

Any new reservations made will be confined to the terms of the ordinance. The town voted on the ordinance on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Of 3,053 total votes cast regarding the ordinance – a 61% turnout for the town’s registered voter population on that date – 1,780 (58%) voted for the ban while 1,273 (42%) voted against.

Because cruise lines generally plan and secure itineraries years in advance, it is likely that most of the 2024 calls will not be changed. Calls for 2025 and beyond are likely to see greater impacts and cruise lines will have to adjust their itineraries to other destinations without similar visitation caps.

How Much Will Cruise Visitation Be Cut?

For 2024, it is expected that the visitor reduction will be approximately 50% from peak year numbers. If the proposal were fully implemented, the reduction could be as much as 80% or higher.

“This will be a good opportunity for us all to experience the impact of such a reduction on our quality of life and Town operations,” the council said. “This is the fairest and most legally responsible approach, based upon careful consideration of costs and risks associated with enforcement.”

“Cancelling the bulk of the 2024 season now would be fundamentally unfair, would potentially expose the Town to additional legal liabilities, and would have a drastic fiscal impact on an already strained and nearly complete municipal budget.”

Cruise Ship Visitors in Bar Harbor
Cruise Ship Visitors in Bar Harbor (Photo Credit: New England Photo)

The council is already reviewing the 2025 season, confirming that reservations made and accepted after March 17, 2022 will be subject to the ordinance. If necessary, the town will pursue legal action in the event of visitor cap violations.

Read Also: Alaskan City Rejects Petition to Limit Cruise Passengers

Rules for enforcement are still being drafted and will be made public as soon as they are ready for a public hearing. Should there be a need for any additional amendments to the ordinance, they will require a town meeting vote to be confirmed.

“The Council remains committed to listening to all individuals, parties, and stakeholders to ensure that the regulation of cruise ship tourism works for the entire community,” the statement from the town council concluded.

Have you cruised to Bar Harbor, Maine? Is it a port suitable for large ships, or better preserved for smaller vessels? Share your thoughts on the Cruise Hive boards!

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