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Citing long lines at Perrotti Park and capacity issues, the city recently canceled two cruises set to dock in Newport next J uly and August.The cruises were rejected by the harbormaster, Stephen Land, because of their scheduled visit on the weekends of the Newport Folk Festival (July 26-28) and Labor Day (Aug. 31-Sept. 2). Combined, they would have brought about 9,000 passengers to Newport.

Land, who recently took over the role of harbormaster, said he learned a lot about cruise ship operations over the summer. He said unsuccessful days came when cruise ships were double booked on weekends. “Too many people,” he said. “We had 9,000 people in Perrotti Park on a weekend in September. Everyone saw the lines. It’s not the kind of Newport that I want to represent. I can’t handle a 5,000-person cruise ship during Folk Fest. There’s absolutely no way to do it.” “We have found we’re really oversaturated with the cruise ships in the summertime,” said Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “We got nothing but complaints from locals. It became really difficult.”

About 85,000 people, the most ever, entered Newport in 2023 from the nearly 100 cruise ships that visited, resulting in about $450,000 in revenue for the city and additional economic benefits for local businesses. Nearly 110,000 people are scheduled to visit Newport from cruise ships in 2024, though Land expects that number to decline. “There’s a notion out there that passengers don’t shop, spend money or eat at the restaurants when they visit the city,” Land said. “It’s simply not true. They all have bags in their hands upon returning.”

Despite the cancellations, some cruises are still slated for the summer, including the QUEEN MARY II in the second week of July and a smaller cruise of about 300 passengers that is set to visit five times between May and September. “The cruise companies and passengers get it,” Land said. “They want to have a successful trip, too, so they don’t want to come to a place that’s totally mobbed.” Land said. “We need to manage this.”

Newport is the highest-rated cruise destination in New England. That distinction is owed to the attractions of the city being in close proximity to docks, quality services and facilities, according to Land. At present, there is extremely limited regulation of cruise ships at the city level. For example, there are no time constraints on what time of day they may unload passengers, what time passengers must return to the ship or what time of year they may visit. “We don’t want to be a cruise ship destination only,”

Currently, the city focuses on September and October for cruises. Typically, passengers disembark around 8 a.m. and return to the boat by 4 p.m. Cruise ships do not stay overnight.

Councilor Mark Aramli said cruise ships are great for the local economy, but pointed out “a capacity issue.” “I see how many cruise ships are out there every day and I see the lines at Perrotti Park on my way home,” he said. “There have clearly been days that are out of control down there when we’ve had two cruise ships.” Aramli said he has observed passengers lined up past the Harbor Hotel for hours to board and voiced support for the cancellations. “I think careful management of capacity is critical,” he said. “If I was one of those passengers with that experience, I wouldn’t want to come back to Newport again.”

Land said the docks and surrounding areas crowd quickly because cruise ships supply only two or three tender boats to transport passengers to and from the cruise ship. Each tender boat usually holds about 125 people, Land said. “I will get on the horn with the cruise ship captain and tell them to put four more [tender boats] in,” Land said. “They tell me they don’t have drivers for four more. So, if it’s a 4,500-passenger cruise, it is what it is. It’s not our fault. There’s only so much yelling I can do. It’s definitely an issue.”Land said long lines persist for up to 45 minutes. “The passengers aren’t mad at Newport,” Land said. “They see and they know what the problem is. They’re used to it, and Perrotti Park is not the worst place to hang out. People do enjoy it. It’s not a hostile environment; it’s just a lot of people.”

According to Land, many New England municipalities are now regulating the number of cruise ships, when they can come and passenger capacities. He hopes to schedule more cruises for Newport in the spring to offset the summer burden.The city is likely to petition the state for permission to increase a per-passenger fee assessed to cruise ships for docking and disembarking. The increase will be used to supplement capital improvement projects totaling an estimated $16 million along the harbor, including about $1.3 million for three new docks in Perrotti Park and an estimated $3 million for the expansion of public restrooms and facilities.

Source : newportthisweek