New England ports of call are popular destinations for fall foliage cruises, but one of the region’s most vibrant ports is seeking to cap cruise ship visits and the numbers of visitors each day. In a town council meeting on August 2, 2022, authorities in Bar Harbor, Maine heard two plans for cruise limitations, and is moving forward with both for further consideration.
Strict Caps Proposed to Bar Harbor Visits
Each proposed plan suggests caps on the total numbers of cruise ship visitors permitted in Bar Harbor each day, with variations for busier parts of the season.
According to the Bangor Daily News, one plan, suggested by local resident Charles Sidman, proposes a very strict limit of just 1,000 passengers per day debarking from cruise ships.
During the height of fall foliage cruises in September and October, there may be multiple ships visiting the seaside town on a single day. For example, in 2022, there are many days where two or even three ships are scheduled for Bar Harbor, which could bring as many as 6,500 guests or more to the port.
The largest ship planning to visit Bar Harbor in 2022 is Norwegian Breakaway. That single vessel has a guest capacity of 3,963 at double occupancy – well above the proposed visitor limit.
This strict limit, then, could have a dramatic impact not only on cruise ports of call, but also on cruises’ impact to the local economy.
Higher Limits With Cruise Line Agreement
A second plan, drafted by Bar Harbor town manager Kevin Sutherland, incorporates higher visitor limits that vary in different months. Under Sutherland’s proposal, daily and monthly visitor caps would be instituted, with no visits at all permitted in April or November. Both those months have low cruise ship visits anyway, and therefore have little impact on the community.
July and August would permit up to 3,500 cruise passengers per day, with no more than 40,000 for the entire month.
Spring visitors in May and June would be capped at 3,800 per day and totaled at 30,000 per month.
During the height of the fall foliage season in September and October, the daily visitor total would also not be able to exceed 3,800, but the monthly cap is raised to 65,000.
No more than three ships per day would be permitted at any time under Sutherland’s plan.
Each plan is implemented slightly differently. Sidman’s plan is proposed as a land use ordinance amendment, while Sutherland’s plan uses written agreements with cruise lines to regulate visits.
“I believe we’ve developed a path forward with the industry that results in fewer ships, smaller ships and some days off,” Sutherland said.
Legal authorities must be consulted to see which plan is most viable and how they could be legally implemented.
At the moment, Bar Harbor already has cruise visitor limits of 3,500 per day in the summer and 5,500 during the early and late parts of the cruise season. The town itself has a population of just over 5,000 residents.
What This Could Mean for Cruises
If strict limits and passenger reductions are successfully implemented for Bar Harbor, many cruise ships from the largest lines may not be able to call on the port at all, as their passenger capacities already far exceed those limits.
This could mean cruise lines begin to bypass Bar Harbor as a port of call, instead visiting other destinations in the region, such as Portland, Maine, or different destinations in Canada, such as ports in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Another option may be removing the port of call and instead relying on scenic cruising along the Maine coastline, which would provide cruise passengers with spectacular fall foliage views, but fewer opportunities to get up close with local towns and the unique culture of the region.
This could also have a devastating impact on local economies, which certainly get a significant boost from cruise visitors.
For the fall 2022 autumn cruising season, a variety of cruise lines are planning to visit Bar Harbor, including Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Seabourn, Holland America Line, and more. It is unlikely that either plan may be implemented in time to affect 2022 itineraries, but changes could be coming for 2023 and beyond.