Port Seeks to Increase Cruise Ship Visits

A small Maine community is increasing limits on cruise ships to bring more visitors to the region, especially for fall sailings.

Contrary to a trend of restricting visits at many ports of call, the city of Rockland, Maine is hoping to increase the number of cruise ship visits to their harbor.

With a unanimous vote, the Rockland City Council hopes to permit more small ships to visit as well as larger ships during the peak autumn cruise season.

City Council Votes for More Cruise Ships

More cruise ships may soon be able to visit Rockland, Maine – a quaint maritime community on Penobscot Bay, 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Portland.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Rockland city officials have unanimously voted to allow more cruise ship visits both to the local dock as well as anchoring in the harbor.

The ordinance, passed during a city council meeting on Monday, September 11, 2023, would increase ship limits that were initially imposed in 2018.

Under the new guidance, up to three small ships (fewer than 500 passengers each) would be permitted to visit at once, while one large ship (up to 3,000 guests) could visit each week during September and October.

Cruise Ship in Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

Rockland is a small coastal town with approximately 7,000 residents. While the initial limits were intended to preserve the community and keep it from becoming overwhelmed, growth and the development of additional tourism in recent years can now support a greater number of visitors.

The ordinance clarifies language concerning ship visits and reflects what the town can now support.

“It’s just the mindset of the Harbor Management Commission,” said Tom Luttrell, city manager. “They were trying to clean the language up to make it more understandable. I guess the language was old and didn’t make much sense for what we can actually do today.”

Harbor Master Molly Eddy also commented that despite the change in ordinance language, it is unlikely that many more ships would choose Rockland as a destination, though the harbor is equipped for the extra visits. Revenue from visiting ships helps support harbor infrastructure improvements, as well as provides income for local retail establishments and restaurants.

Rockland is already regularly visited by ships from the regional American Cruise Lines and American Queen Voyages fleets, with occasional visits from Princess Cruises, Hurtigruten, TUI Cruises, Holland America Line, and Celebrity Cruises. The town’s cruise season stretches from late April or early May through mid- to late October, depending on ship scheduling.

Autumn sailings are the most popular with multiple cruise lines when fall foliage is at its peak and travelers can enjoy the brilliant colors of the season.

More Ports Restricting Ships

Rockland’s positive approach to welcoming cruise ships is a distinct difference from many other ports of call that are seeking to limit, rather than expand, cruise visits.

For example, Bar Harbor, Maine – 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Rockland – has an ordinance that limits cruise ship visitors to 1,000 per day, though that limit is facing legal challenges from local businesses that rely on tourism.

Saga Cruises' Spirit of Adventure
Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Adventure in Fowey

Different types of cruise ship limits have also been attempted, proposed, or already enacted in Juneau, Alaska; Fowey, England; and Venice, Italy, among other destinations.

Such limits may be imposed for a variety of reasons, including noise or pollution concerns, overcrowding, or not as much revenue generated as expected.

To counteract such restrictions, some cruise lines are rescheduling itineraries to alternative ports, or choosing nearby destinations while offering tours to the original port of call if possible.

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