As cruise ships get bigger – and they’re getting huge – the number of passengers they disgorge can flood a small port. This can be unpleasant for residents, and also for the passengers who find themselves part of a tourist mob.
But those passengers can also bring in an awful lot of money for local businesses.
So it’s a balancing act for port towns — and for passengers. The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, for example, is setting new limits on the number of cruise ship passengers allowed in its port. The new rules effectively will allow only one large ship at a time during the summer season.
But, meanwhile, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce is opposing a proposed change in the interpretation of a federal law that could reduce the number of cruise ship visits to town.
Passengers, too, are conflicted. Many like the expanded amenities – miniature golf courses, skating rinks, water parks, bowling alleys – found on larger ships. But many also dislike being sucked into the crowds that surge ashore at every port call.
Yet ships keep getting bigger. When it was launched in 1988 the Sovereign of the Seas was the biggest cruise ship in the world, carrying about 2,800 passengers.
Now Royal Caribbean has two huge new ships on order, what it calls Genesis class vessels (I keep thinking of the Star Trek movie where Spock dies), each with a capacity of 5,400 passengers. One is scheduled for delivery in the fall of 2009, the other in 2010. (USA Today is sponsoring a contest to name the first one. My pick: Godzilla of the Seas)
These ships are too large to fit in the Panama Canal — so now it’s being enlarged to accommodate bigger cruise ships and the largest cargo vessels.
Still, there must be some upper limit on the size of cruise ships. Even if passengers are still willing to get on bigger and bigger ships, will ports still be willing to accept them?