Famous ports that are (and aren't) coping with their cruise ship popularity

Emma Featherstone
A cruise ship creeps past Venice at sunset - istock

Cruise tourism is at a record high with 30m passengers expected this year, up from 17.8m in 2009. Seeing the world this way allows travellers to sample many incredible destinations in one trip, with ships and itineraries to suit every taste.

But both long-time tourist favourites and newly fashionable spots can struggle to cope with thousands of passengers arriving on their shores. Cruise ship collisions in popular destinations have recently made headlines. 

On May 29 the river cruise ship Viking Sigyn collided with a tour boat on the River Danube in Budapest during a rain storm. The tourist boat was carrying 33 South Korean passengers and immediately sunk. Seven passengers on the tourist boat have since been confirmed dead and 21 are missing – seven others were rescued. 

A criminal investiation has been launched into the collision. Following the incident, Viking told Telegraph Travel that it was “cooperating with the authorities as required”. 

There was another incident on the morning of June 2. MSC Opera, a 2,150 passenger ocean cruise ship, collided with The River Countess, a Uniworld river ship, which was moored in Venice's San Basilio cruise terminal. Four passengers on The River Countess were injured. 

The tour boat suffered a collision in Budapest by the Parliament Building Credit: getty

MSC Cruises said in a statement that the ship had experienced a technical issue while maneuvering towards Venice’s cruise terminal for mooring. The ship grazed the dock at San Basilio, which caused a collission with The River Countess.

"While the investigation to understand the exact causes of the events are currently ongoing, MSC Cruises has been closely collaborating with the competent maritime authorities," it added. No passengers were injured on MSC Opera. 

Uniworld confirmed in a statement that The River Countess had been hit by the MSC vessel. "Four guests with minor injuries were escorted to the hospital by Italian-speaking Uniworld staff. No crew members were injured," it said. 

MSC Cruises added that it is committed to offering its full support to all people involved in the incident, starting with the people of the River Countess and her owner Uniworld, her crew, and all passengers, especially the four passengers who were injured. 

Venice is among a number of busy ports working to improve how it handles cruise tourism. Here we take a look at the destinations that are and aren’t struggling to cope.

1. Venice, Italy

There are many issues associated with overtourism in Venice, and the city has made specific plans for measures tp stem the flow of cruise ships, and their passengers. In 2017, an Italian governmental committee decided that the largest cruise ships, weighing 96,000 tonnes or more, would no longer be allowed to dock in the lagoon in front of St Mark’s Square. Instead they will need to head to a terminal in the industrial port of Marghera on the mainland. Smaller ships, those 55,000 tonnes or less, will be allowed to continue along the current route.

This has yet to be put into practice because works on the new route could take as long as four years, and would require the dredging of the canal and a construction of a new port. 

Environment minister Sergio Costa tweeted that the incident on June 2 confirmed that ships must not pass the Giudecca area.

In a statement, the Cruise Lines International Association said CLIA cruise lines welcomed the statements by the mayor of Venice demanding an urgent solution that would allow cruise vessels to enter Venice via an alternative route to the Giudecca Canal.

Overtourism in Venice has long been straining the small city Credit: getty

Chairman Adam Goldstein said: “The cruise industry has worked diligently with the mayor of Venice, the Veneto Region, the Port Authority and many others, to find viable solutions to allow larger cruise ships to access the Marittima berths without transiting the Giudecca Canal.

“We are in agreement with the solution developed by Comitatone in 2018 to utilise the Vittorio Emanuele Canal as the best and most prudent means to move larger cruise ships away from the Giudecca. CLIA cruise lines welcome and will support the urgent implementation of this solution.”

2. Budapest, Hungary

River cruise passenger numbers are growing year-on-year. Bookings from UK passengers were up 21 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016, according to the latest river cruise review from CLIA UK and Ireland (an update is imminent). 

The Rhine and the Danube were the most popular rivers among cruise passengers from the UK and Ireland, with the Danube seeing 46,700 passengers in 2017 compared to 15,000 in 2012. However, according to Telegraph Travel cruise expert Jane Archer, overcrowding only really happens in popular port cities, such as Budapest and Vienna.

Vienna is another popular port of call Credit: getty

3. Kotor, Montenegro

This ancient walled town risks becoming the next Dubrovnik, the Telegraph reported last year. Ana Nives Radovic, the director of the town’s tourism organisation, said that up to 10,000 cruise passengers can debark ships each day. Kotor's population is just over 13,500.

While only two cruise ships can be in port at one time, Ms Nives Radovic said that as one ship departs another may later pull into its space a few hours later – so there might be four in port across the day. The town hosts around 420 to 430 ships a year, she added.

Ms Nives Radovic says while the number of ships is managable it would be better if arrivals were spread more evenly throughout the year, with more coming into port over winter. “You have a season where people are working so much then shops and restaurants are closed [in the off season].” 

There are negative impacts to the cruise industry's presence, Nives Radovic notes, but she also notes the benefits. “[The] industry helps Kotor to promote itself to people who wouldn’t come any other way.” Many tourists who first visit the medieval town on a cruise ship return for a longer visit.

Kotor is said to be struggling from the impact of its cruise ship popularity Credit: Getty

4. Galapagos, Ecuador

Thousands of wildlife species, many of which can’t be seen anywhere else on earth, are the draw for visitors to the Galapagos Islands. To restrict the influx the Galapagos National Park has strict regulations. Each day, a maximum of 1,600 on boats and 160 on day cruises are allowed into the park. Foreign tourists must also contribute towards the park’s upkeep, with an entrance fee of $100 (£78) per person ($50 for under 12s).

This tax goes towards the upkeep of the park (40 per cent), with the rest either invested in conserving the local flora and fauna or in the local community.

During a Galapagos voyage, cruise ships must stop at least one inhabited island so that their passengers might contribute towards the local economy. Metropolitan Touring hosts local school children. By sponsoring such trips the cruise industry helps foster the next generation's appreciation for the islands’ wonders.

5. Miami, US

In 2016, 4,898,000 cruise passengers pulled into the glitzy city of night clubs and art deco hotels, according to a recent report from Cruise Industry News. Many of the major cruise lines have headquarters here, and it is a popular departure port for many Caribbean voyages.

Miami is well-equipped to cope with its cruise popularity Credit: iStock

Miami is an example of a city well equipped for a huge number of visitors with one of the most modern cruise ports in the world. It has four terminals, each designed for specific vessels, including one to fit the world’s largest cruise ships. For context, the giant among these is Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, which holds 5,518 passengers.

Transport links from the cruise terminals, including shuttle buses, helps facilitate passengers' smooth transition into the city or onto Fort Lauderdale airport.

6. Svalbard, Norway

Larger cruise ships have been banned from entering the remote archipelago since January 2015 since a heavy fuel oil ban came into effect. The lines that run voyages to Svalbard are now all smaller, expedition ships and most are members of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). Members donate and contribute to the study and conservation of the regions in which they operate.

The region's polar bears are a major attraction, and cruise lines that visit must adhere to strict regulations in order to protect the local wildlife. Of course, this can go awry. In 2018, polar bear was shot dead when it attacked one of a cruise ship’s polar bear guards. As Telegraph writer Monty Halls explained, for this to have happened there must have been a dramatic failure in protocol and it will be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted with the full weight of Norwegian law.

Larger cruise ships have been banned from entering Svalbard since January 2015 Credit: iStock

7. Barcelona, Spain

The Catalonian city’s wealth of architectural gems, including Gaudí creations, puts it near the top of many a traveller's hit list. Cruise passengers are no exception, and in the year 2016 to 2017 it was the most-visited cruise port in Europe hosting 2,712,247 passengers through its six cruise terminals.

Barcelona’s overcrowding problem is not limited to cruise ships. In January 2017 the city’s officials approved measures to curb tourism, which limited the construction of hotels and stopped licenses being issued to new tourist accommodation rentals.

It is also among popular cruise destinations that have implemented tourist taxes that affect cruise passengers. In 2017, the Catalan government updated its tourist taxes to include cruise passengers staying less that 12 hours in the port of Barcelona at €0.65 per person. This followed a tax added in 2012 that included a €2.25 charge for cruise passengers staying longer than 12 hours in port. 

Amsterdam has recently added a similar tax.

8. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Named as a victim of overtourism by Telegraph Travel, Dubrovnik has taken steps to quell the crowds. The city’s mayor Mato Franković brought in a plan to stagger cruise arrivals in June 2017 so that fewer tourists would arrive at one time. The Cruise Lines International Association facilitated the coordination of cruise line schedules.

Frankovic hailed his plan as a resounding success at the 17th annual Responsible Business Summit Europe, held in 2018.

Since the start of 2019, only two cruise ships can stop in Dubrovnik each day with a total limit of 5,000 passengers.