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Updated: November 4, 2022

Anchors aweigh: Portland, Bar Harbor to vote on cruise ship visitor limits

Alexis Wells At the height of the cruise ship season in mid-October, Portland was seeing as many as 20,000 passengers a week.
A recent Mainebiz poll asked, Does your business benefit from the cruise ships? Around 295 readers responded. A relatively small percentage — 17% — said their business benefited directly from the cruise ships. Another 56% said their businesses don't directly benefit from having the cruise ships here, but they think they benefit the overall economy. A smaller portion, 13%, said they thought there should be limits on cruise ships. 
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Maine hosts an estimated 36 million visitors a year, contributing $7 billion to the economy. Many of those visitors are crowding beaches, shops and restaurants in July and August.

One of the goals of the tourism industry has been to take advantage of the warm "shoulder seasons" — and a significant number of visitors are arriving in the fall on cruise ships. The height of the season is October, when major cruise ship companies look to Maine as a relatively safe haven from hurricane season.

A 2018 study by the Maine Office of Tourism showed that in 2018 some 400,000 cruise ships passengers and crew spent a total of $29 million in Maine. The report said the industry supports nearly 400 Maine jobs and provides $1.7 million in tax revenue.

This year — the first full season of cruise ship visits in three years — Maine was expected to host 360 vessels, with passengers and crew expecting to spend an estimated $30 million, according to Sarah Flink, director of Cruise Maine.

Peter Van Allen
A pair of cruise ships seen from the Eastern Prom in Portland.

On peak weeks in October this year, Portland hosted at least six cruise ships with a capacity of 3,000 or more, bringing in some 20,000 passengers.

Yet for the apparent benefit, the two major cruise ship ports — Portland and Bar Harbor — are each debating whether to limit cruise ship visits. 

Measures to curtail cruise ships

In Portland on election day Nov. 8, voters will have their say: Question E asks Portland voters whether they want to approve a change in the city's ordinances that would cap the number of cruise ship passengers who could disembark at 1,000 per day. The ordinance would go into effect in 2025.

Alexis Wells
A ballot measure in Portland, Question E, will allow voters to decide whether to limit cruise ship visits.

The law would have a major impact on the cruise ship industry in Portland, which in October routinely has two ships with capacity of 3,000 or more in port a day.

Critics say the cruise ships bring excessive congestion, traffic and pollution in waterfront areas.  

Bar Harbor, which heavily relies on tourism for its downtown shops and restaurants, has had a long-running debate about cruise ships and whether to limit the number of passengers who can disembark in the town. 

On Nov. 8, Bar Harbor residents will vote on Article 3, which would limit the number of number of people allowed to disembark each day to 1,000. 

Complicating the debate is the desire by some cruise ship passengers to visit nearby Acadia National Park. The park had record visitors in September. 

tour buses and cruise ship
File photo / Laurie Schreiber
In Bar Harbor, cruise ship visitors are transported by bus to Acadia National Park.

Alf Anderson, director of the Bar Harbor’s Chamber of Commerce, said the park’s numbers show a jump in commercial tour bus passengers from 10,000 in September 2021 to nearly 30,000 in September — and he cited the impact of the return of cruise ships to Bar Harbor.

The business response

With the general debate in mind, Mainebiz spent some time in the past two weeks talking to Portland merchants and trying to gauge the impact of cruise ships.

Brad Moll

Brad Moll, co-owner of Brickyard Hollow, a restaurant directly across Commercial Street from where most of the cruise ships are tied up, says the restaurant sees a "significant flow" of cruise ship passengers. 

"It's easy for people to get in and out since they don't have much time on land," he said. 

Along Commercial Street near the cruise ship terminal, vendors sell art, crafts and homemade goods to incoming tourists.

Vendors we talked to said they hope Question E does not pass on election day. 

"Having the cruise ships come to Portland is certainly a great boost for the economy for the entire area," said the vendor, Cindy Fletcher. "Between all the tours that people go on, the shops, the restaurants and the vendors here at the waterfront. It is a great opportunity for the vendors, Maine's craft people who have the chance to greet the people coming off the ships, and great ambassadors for the city of Portland. The folks coming off the ship are always happy, so grateful, gracious and so happy to come to spend their day here. So I can't imagine why we would want to stop that from happening. They add so much to our city and our culture."

One vendor said that Maine businesses had suffered enough due to the lockdown, and it was time to help them rebuild.

"Meeting people and people coming off the ships from all over the place it's a wonderful way to get out there, meet people and do things," said the vendor, Kathy Quintana. "A little extra money helps, but that isn't the main reason why I am here; it's because I enjoy being out. I think it is good for us because if we lose the cruise ships, we are going to lose a lot in our area."

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