Bar Harbor Town Council Defers Cruise Limits to 2023 

Bar Harbor delays cruise ship limits to 2023
Cruise ships anchored at Bar Harbor in prior years (CC BY 2.0 / Smudge9000)

Published Feb 18, 2022 8:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

The town council for Bar Harbor, Maine decided this week to delay efforts to place limits on cruise ships arriving at the popular destination this summer. The council has been debating for months its policy to limit cruise ships after residents strongly expressed the belief that the number of passengers is overwhelming the small town, especially during the peak tourist months of July and August. Similar efforts raised by concerns of overtourism have appeared in many destinations but so far have failed to result in definitive actions.

Located on the picturesque Maine coast near the popular Arcadia National Park, Bar Harbor has long been a popular port for cruise ships. However, in the past decade, the small town has seen a dramatic increase in the number of annual visitors to a total of four million in 2021 without cruise ships. The port has been closed to all cruise ships since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, with the pause giving time for the council to debate its policy, conduct a referendum among business and residents, and seek consensus on its approach. 

Currently, Bar Harbor has no annual limit on the number of cruise ships visits but it does have a limit of 3,500 passengers per day in July and August when the overall tourist season is at its height. The limit is for 5,500 passengers per day in the other months between May and October when most cruise ships arrive. Concerns have been expressed both over the increasing size of the cruise ships and the frequency of calls.

By a vote of six to one, the town council decided this week to defer its actions until the 2023 season using the additional time to develop its policy. The council recognized that residents wanted it to impose a policy for 2022, but felt that it was too close to the cruise season to introduce limits. On the advice of legal counsel, they feared that the cruise industry would start a lawsuit after the town accepted more than 150 scheduled visits for 2022. By some estimates, the cruise industry could bring more than 295,000 passengers to Bar Harbor this year which would be an increase from the estimates of 270,000 passengers in 2019.

Members of the council argued that the residents had been clear during the referendum that they wanted limits on the cruise ships. The majority of residents responded in the survey that the number of cruise ship passengers was negatively impacting the town saying there were too many days with cruise ships and that the average number of passengers was too many in 2019.

Members of the town council had proposed a 30 percent reduction for 2022 in the number of cruise ship visitations. A draft proposal adopted in December 2021 had also proposed setting a maximum capacity for the cruise ships calling at Bar Harbor of under 3,000 passengers. 

In a unanimous vote, the council also authorized the town manager and its representatives to negotiate with the cruise industry to arrive at an agreement for limits for 2023. Critics of the council noted that they had been unsuccessful in past discussions with the cruise industry to reach an agreement for limits.

Other popular destinations have also sought to establish limits on cruise ships. An attempt last year in Juneau, Alaska to place a referendum on the ballot fell short of the requirements, while in Key West residents voted for limits only to have the Florida legislature and governor override their vote. The groups in Key West continue their protests and are pressing their local government to take additional steps to stop large cruise ships from coming to the port.


Photo courtesy of Smudge 9000 via CC by 2.0 license)