For Bar Harbor, the long-simmering cruise line debate will reach its climax this fall — Maine Public | Directory Mayhem

On this early October day in Bar Harbor, the skies are clear and crowds line up at the pier to board one of the last tenders of the day

The boats transport passengers back to one of the two cruise ships anchored behind Bar Island.

Atlanta’s Barbara Sansing returns to Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas after a day in Acadia National Park and downtown Bar Harbor.

“This is our first time,” she said of the tender line. “We love it, we don’t want to leave.”

Sansing’s cruise ship can carry up to 3,838 passengers. The Nieuw Statendum anchored next to it can carry 2,666 passengers, making this one of the busiest days of the year.

But a day like this may never happen again in Bar Harbor as the city government recently implemented more restrictive passenger restrictions for next season. A citizens’ initiative is up for a vote next month and could lower these passenger caps even further.

Three decades ago, Bar Harbor residents came to the waterfront to greet incoming cruise ships. But those days are long gone. Cruise ship passengers make up less than 10% of Bar Harbor’s visitors each year. But as Mount Desert Island’s tourism economy has grown in recent years, cruise lines have become a focal point in a year-long debate about how much is too much.

Nicole Ogrysko


Maine public

Crowds line the pier on October 3, 2022 to board a tender boat that will take passengers back to one of the two large cruise ships anchored behind Bar Island.

“We don’t need them. We don’t want them,” says Charlie Sidman, the lead organizer of the citizens’ initiative.

The initiative would limit the number of daily cruise passengers to 1,000 through changes to the city’s land use ordinance.

“Too many and not enough time, not enough space and in too precious a setting,” Sidman, who owns an art gallery in town, said of the ships. “I’ve been to McDonald’s too. I don’t want a McDonald’s in the Grand Canyon or on Cadillac Mountain.”

But the city’s new plan will limit daily cruise passengers to 3,800 people, except for July and August when daily caps of 3,500 will apply. It will also set monthly caps for cruise passengers — 30,000 each in May and June, 40,000 each in July and August, and 65,000 each in September and October. No ships come in April or November.

“I think there will be a difference. I think it’s going to feel better,” said Bar Harbor City Council Chairman Val Peacock. “And I think we’ve started a professional conversation with the industry that we can adjust if things aren’t better.”

Peacock participated in the city’s negotiations with the cruise lines. She personally said she would have liked more ship reductions herself. But the city’s plan is a compromise, she conceded.

The plan has already drawn criticism from some companies, who are wondering whether they will open later for the season or close earlier, given the April and November cancellations of ships.

“If we’re going to restrict people’s access, we should probably just put a gate at the top of the island and also only allow that many cars because parking is an issue,” said Shawn Porter, who owns Little Village Gifts with her husband .


Nicole Ogrysko


Maine public

Shawn Porter owns Little Village Gifts with her husband. They have three locations in Bar Harbor.

“But we haven’t limited the number of cars that are allowed on the island yet,” she says, laughing.

Porter’s family owns three businesses in Bar Harbor. If cruise ship passengers are capped at 1,000 a day, they’d probably close their little shop closest to the pier, she said.

She estimates that cruise passengers make up 25% to 30% of her business, which has been up and down since the pandemic.

“We shouldn’t change anything until we figure out what our new normal is, because as of 2020 we haven’t,” Porter said.

The conversation is also frustrating for Eben Salvatore of Ocean Properties, which owns some of the city’s hotels and the tender facilities at the pier. Operations on the water have become less chaotic over time, and the flow of passengers and coaches is better organized.

“Millions of millions of people come to Bar Harbor every year; 200,000 at most leave a cruise ship and walk around,” Salvatore said. You have a wallet in one hand and a pair of sneakers in the other. How much damage can they really do?”

If the citizens’ initiative is passed, city officials fear legal action will be taken by the cruise industry.

“We’re ready for the fight,” Sidman said. “I think we’re going to win in a courtroom.”

If Bar Harbor’s tourism industry is allowed to grow with few limits, the price of defending in court will pale in comparison to the environmental costs the city will later pay, he added.


Nicole Ogrysko


Maine public

A tender boat approaches alongside the Nieuw Statendum, a 2,666 passenger cruise ship anchored in Frenchman’s Bay off Bar Harbor.

For Shawn Porter, all of the uncertainty weighs on her and her family. It’s relying on a busy, seven-month tourist season to pay the bills over a long winter, and the prospect of a 1,000-passenger limit is troubling, she said.

“For us, it means my children’s future,” Porter said. “My son is probably thinking about continuing this right now if we don’t want to anymore and we’re like, I don’t know, are we going to sell it all off or are we going to keep it up and see what happens?”

Around 3 p.m. the rush at the pier thins out. The charter buses are gone and the last tenders are taking passengers back to their ships.

Barbara Sansing’s ship will be heading to Portland next, but she’s already planning her return trip.

“I want to come back and stay in one of these hotels,” she said.

Business owners around Bar Harbor say they often meet customers like Sansing, who discover Bar Harbor during a short cruise visit and return another year for a longer stay.

But in years to come, those who return might have a different experience.

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