Summer’s Great Satan

As the debate about the future of the former Marine Atlantic ferry terminal property continues in Bar Harbor, there seems to be a disturbing trend toward the demonizing of cruise ship passengers.

On an island that officials in Acadia National Park said some 3.3 million people visited last year, the estimated 100,000 people that came ashore from cruise ships represents about 3.3 percent of the total.

They did not arrive by private automobile, contributing to traffic and congestion. They did not stay overnight in hotels making major demands on municipal water or sewer systems. They did not arrive in giant campers or SUVs powered by motors with efficiencies measure in gallons per mile.

Test after test over the years have shown ships are not polluting water in Frenchman Bay.

Granted, for a few hours each day, the sidewalks in a few blocks of downtown Bar Harbor are often jammed with cruise ship passengers. “You can’t get down the sidewalk” is the frequent refrain. But few ships stick around for more than several hours, arriving around 8 a.m. and leaving by 6 p.m. Considering how much time they spend being shuttled to and from the ship, folks are ashore for barely six hours.

Yet later those same evenings, the sidewalks are equally congested long after the ships have departed. The same innkeepers that warn people away during the day send their guests downtown at night. So what makes having visitors on the sidewalks more of an insult during the day than in the evening?

Cruise ship passengers can’t be blamed for the lack of on-street parking, for the lack of room for residents to park at the grocery store lot because tourists have left their vehicles there and walked off for the day.

On a true scale of summer complaints, it could be argued that one outlaw riding through town on a motorcycle without a muffler late on a hot summer night causes more disruption. What about the constant buzzing of tour planes overhead?

Several hundred independent motor coach tours bring thousands of people here. Of the buses counted each year in Acadia National Park, the preponderance are operated by local concession operators and other tour companies. Last summer on the majority of days Cadillac Mountain Road in Acadia had to be shut down temporarily, including the longest shutdowns, there were no large ships in port, or vessels already had left for the day.

Some, undoubtedly, just don’t like the sight of cruise ships. But we’ll wager that for everyone who looks out and frowns, there are others who delight in the discovery. Especially on the days when the storied ships of the Cunard Line are in port, the shore path is mobbed with people just wanting to get a look – hardly an evil eyesore in need of exorcism.

If thinning the seasonal crowds is the real aim, consider that Air BnB alone advertises more than 300 Bar Harbor rentals, with a capacity to host more visitors than arrive annually by cruise ship. Meanwhile, the island’s year-round housing market has been further tightened. If residents believe too many people are coming to Mount Desert Island, that we’ve reached our limit for sharing, then that’s a separate discussion.

Before singling out cruise ship passengers as the major problem, perhaps critics need to take a long, hard look in the mirror first.

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