Bar Harbor Adopts Limits on Cruise Ships to Reduce Overcrowding

Bar Harbor Maine cruise limit
Bar Harbor will limited the number of passengers and cruise ships to reduce overcrowding (Smudge 9000 photo - CC BY 2.0 license)

Published Aug 18, 2022 6:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a long debate and polling of the community, the town council in Bar Harbor, Marine has adopted a plan that will both shorten the season for cruise ships and in some cases reduce by up to a third the number of daily cruise visitors in the popular destination. After negotiations with the cruise industry and approving its new limits, they will prepare a formal agreement between the cruise lines and Bar Harbor.

The town council was trying to strike a balance between residents that complained the tiny hamlet is becoming overcrowded due to the size of the ships and businesses that depend on tourists during a fairly short annual season. Residents had been advocating for the new limits threatening to sue the town council while in a survey sponsored by the local government they overwhelming called for limits or an outright ban on cruise ships.

A special committee reported to the town council that it had studied the issue and found a few unanticipated issues. They said that the issue was not solely based on the size of the cruise ship. They highlighted an example where a cruise ship with under 500 passengers included the price of a tour to the nearby Acadia National Park resulting in 10 busses but a larger cruise with approximately 2,300 passengers which sold the tour as an added expense had only required two busses.

In addition to the argument of overcrowded streets and traffic another hotly debated issue was the financial impact of the cruise passengers versus land-based tourists. Many in town argued that the cruise passengers are a negative influence on land-based tourists that spend longer time in town, stay in the local hotels, and spend more money versus cruise passengers who are only ashore for a limited amount of time. It was also highlighted that Maine has two other Class A ports nearby, Portland and Eastport, that could also accommodate cruise ships.

Adopted in several motions each approved by a vote of 5 to 2, the plan sets a series of limits. Bar Harbor will no longer accept cruise ships at all in April or November, which are considered shoulder season for cruises. No cruise ships historically called at the port in the winter months and limited numbers in these outlying months beyond the primary tourist season.

There will also be daily limits on the number of passengers permitted into Bar Harbor. In May and June and again in the absolute peak during the autumn months of September and October, Bar Harbor limits passengers at 3,800 per day. In July and August, it is further restricted to 3,500 passengers per day, which in some cases could be just one cruise ship. The town has a limit of three cruises per day. 

In addition to the daily limits, Bar Harbor will also have a monthly limit of 30,000 passengers in May and June, 40,000 in July and August, and a maximum of 65,000 in the peak months of September and October. The harbor master has the discretion to exceed the limits by a small number, but all the smaller coastal cruise ships with under 200 lower berths and U.S.-flagged cruise ships with less than 200 passengers are exempt from the limits.

The town council said the object of the plan is to lessen the intensity of the cruise industry on the town, with smaller and fewer ships and days without cruise ships. For 2022, they reported that cruise bookings could bring 90,000 passengers a month in September and October which would be lowered by 30 percent with the new caps. With no restrictions, they suggested that cruise passengers could have exceeded 160,000 per month in the spring and fall months. 

A question was presented if the town council has the legal authority to impose these restrictions. To avoid legal concerns, the town council voted to instruct the town manager to develop a formalized agreement with the cruise lines. 

The town council chose this course of action in an attempt to head off stricter limits proposed in a citizen’s petition that calls for a cap of 1,000 cruise passengers per day. The citizen group presented their proposal for the residents to vote on it in the upcoming general election.

The town council believes it has struck a fair balance that can also provide a model for others to approach similar concerns. Reports are that neighboring Portland, Maine has also begun to consider its own limits on cruise ships.


Top photo - Cruise ships from Cadillac Mountain - photo by Smudge - (CC BY 2.0 license)