BAR HARBOR — The 2018 cruise ship season, which begins April 20, is set to include 180 ship visits, 14 more than in 2017, Cruise Ship Committee Chair Eben Salvatore told the Town Council in the committee’s report last week.
That bump brings an estimated 6,000 more passengers.
The council here accepted two reports containing visitation data at the meeting, one from the Cruise Ship Committee and one from the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce visitor services.
The first ship of the season is scheduled to arrive on April 20, earlier than last year’s kickoff date of April 23; the last will be on Nov. 4 instead of Nov. 1. Salvatore said lengthening the season is good for business in Bar Harbor.
One cruise line cancelled eight trips in October with less than a year’s notice. He said cancellations like this could be harmful for the town’s economy, and the committee discussed how to prevent these cancellations from happening again.
“I don’t think they intended to hurt us,” he said. “We chose, this time, to leave it be, but to monitor that activity.”
Changes were made to the cruise ship tour bus policy in order to address traffic and congestion around the town pier. The rules are to be enforced by the Bar Harbor Police Department, Salvatore said, and police may apply alternative rules at their discretion.
Tour buses also are no longer allowed to park on the lower section of Main Street after 11 a.m. The committee hopes this will encourage buses to queue around the town’s athletic fields.
Councilor Erin Early Ward suggested that buses queue on the north side of Agamont Park instead of the east side. Several years ago, council Chair Paul Paradis said, it was decided that queued buses would block the scenic view from the park. Early Ward brought a motion asking the committee to review parking at Agamont Park, and it passed unanimously. The report is expected by the end of the cruise ship season.
Salvatore said the website Cruise Critic has voted Bar Harbor the second-best port in the United States, behind San Francisco. Councilor Gary Friedmann said that Bar Harbor should embrace that rating and think big with future town development.
“We have a world-class opportunity and resource,” Friedmann said. “I think Bar Harbor is a leader in the state, and we’re an economic driver, and we need to start looking at ourselves that way.”
The only recommendation made by the committee in 2017 was to expand Harbormaster Charlie Phippen’s ability to exceed daily passenger caps by 200 passengers at any point during the season. The Town Council accepted that change in December.
Martha Searchfield, executive director for the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber served more than 167,000 visitors during the 2017 cruise ship season, more than last year’s tally.
Searchfield said the chamber now shares its Cottage Street visitor center with staff from Acadia National Park in the off-season. This change led to a 270 percent increase in visitors in December. ANP staff will be in the visitor center until April 15 and return on Nov. 1. She said visitors liked being able to get their information in one place.
Searchfield said buses had timing issues this year in large part because of the ongoing construction of Route 3. She expects a “rocky” year for buses again this year, but the chamber will convene a downtown drop-off committee to assess areas of improvement for buses.