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Bar Harbor lets most 2024 cruise calls stand, 2025 will see big reduction (updated)

Bar Harbor will be seeing dramatic reductions in cruise visitation in the years ahead. Here, a downtown shop
Maine's Bar Harbor is allowing cruise calls for the 2024 season that were booked before the November 2022 citizens' vote implementing a 1,000-person/day landing cap. But 2025 will see a big reduction.

The decision on how to implement the cap — which springs from a citizens' vote that was upheld in a US District Court ruling — was issued in a statement at a special Wednesday meeting of the Bar Harbor Town Council.

'Pending rulemaking, enforcement will begin immediately. 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,' the statement said.

'The disembarkation of passengers of cruise ships with reservations for the 2024 season that are made and accepted after this date are subject to the current ordinance. 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.'

50% reduction from peak year visitation counting prior MOA

The Council noted that together with the reductions already achieved by implementing a memorandum of agreement between the cruise lines and the town, Bar Harbor will experience a 50% reduction from peak year cruise ship visitation.

'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.

CruiseMaine's port schedule shows ships with total capacity for 182,000 passengers booked for this season but it is not clear how many of those calls were reserved after the November 2022 voter initiative. 


For the 2025 season, calls that were booked after March 17, 2022 will be subject to the cap.

'The town is prepared to go to court to obtain fines and injunctive relief against any landowner that exceeds the disembarkation limits, and any party that disobeys the orders of the harbor master,' the Council statement said.

Most cruise passengers are landed in tenders at docks run by companies that were party to the lawsuit challenging the voter initiative.

At least one plaintiff plans to appeal the US District Court ruling.

Major cruise callers

Seatrade Cruise News reached out to several of the big-ship cruise lines with the most Bar Harbor calls scheduled and will report their reactions. For the 2024 season, those include Norwegian Norwegian Cruise Line with 34 calls, Holland America Line (15) and Royal Caribbean International (13).

Update: A Holland America spokesman thanked the Town Council for its decision to honor 2024 reservations made prior to the November 2022 vote, adding: 'We’re pleased to say that all planned Holland America Line calls for 2024 will go as scheduled.' HAL had two calls in 2025 and will 'work to seek alternate ports for those voyages.'

CruiseMaine, a marketing agency for the state, plans to comment, according to a representative. 

The 1,000 persons per day cap has huge repercussions for Bar Harbor as a cruise destination. Judge Lance Walker in his court decision noted only 27 of the 134 ships that were scheduled to call in 2023 would be able to disembark their entire complement of passengers without exceeding the cap.

Canada/New England regional reaction

Bar Harbor is among three Class A ports of entry for Maine, along with Portland and Eastport. Many cruise ships arriving from Canada and other foreign ports undergo clearance there.

'From an Atlantic Canadian perspective, we are sensitive to the challenges facing the cruise industry because of Bar Harbor’s decision,' said Sarah Rumley, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association, 'We remain confident and steadfast that the remaining Canada/New England itineraries will continue to provide exceptional passenger experiences and contribute significantly to the regional economy. Together, we will continue to promote and grow our region responsibly and strategically while monitoring the conversation and sentiment within our communities.'

Update: 'We are grateful that the Bar Harbor cruise season will go as planned,' said Nancy Houley, co-chair, Cruise Canada/New England Alliance. 'We are all committed to sustainable development and social acceptability for our destinations. Our industry has made tremendous strides.

'Many of our ports and destinations have worked with their communities and industries to find solutions with success. We are hopeful Bar Harbor will also share a similar story.'

Town Council statement

In its statement Wednesday night, the Bar Harbor Town Council said it is pleased the US District Court affirmed 'what we have known to be true: The Town of Bar Harbor has the authority, under Home Rule, to enact ordinances to limit the volume of cruise ship visitations in order to ensure the Town's quality of life is preserved.

'While it is no secret that many of us on this Council have had concerns with some aspects of the cruise ship ordinance proposed by a citizen initiative, the fact remains that this initiative was voted on and approved at Town Meeting and is now the law of the land. This Council will now see to its immediate implementation and enforcement, in a way that is lawful, fair and fiscally responsible.'

The Council added that it disagrees with the 'demands from some to delay all enforcement until any appeal of the court decision is resolved which would result in no additional reductions. We also disagree with the demands from others to cancel all reservations made prior to the adoption of the ordinance, which would result in at least an 80% reduction.

'Most of the ships in question are scheduled to arrive in less than 90 days. Canceling 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.'

Draft rules coming

The Council directed the town manager to prepare draft rules for consideration to ensure the ordinance implementation in an efficient manner and in compliance with the court's decision. This includes updating the Cruise Ship Standard Operating Procedures to govern shoreside operations and any changes made to confirmed and honored reservations.

The draft rules will be subject to a public hearing and final enactment by the council.