Overcrowded ports

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Editor’s note: In my “Boarding Pass” column in the September and October 2011 issues, I talked about the impact of having several cruise ships, some with thousands of passengers each, visiting the same port at the same time.

I then asked, “If you have taken cruises outside of the US in the last couple of years, let us know which destinations you’ve found to be particularly affected by crowds of ships’ passengers. Did you find that the day of the week or time of day made a difference? In addition to sharing your observations, let us know when your cruise took place. Add any advice that might help others considering visits to popular cruise stops.” Following are responses received. — DT

I don’t often visit port cities, but three come to mind when you ask about overcrowding: Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2004 and 2011; Venice, Italy, in 2007, and Rhodes, Greece, in 2008.

In Venice and Rhodes it was possible to escape the crowds by avoiding the most popular streets, but Dubrovnik’s Old Town is too small for that to work, as I found on my first visit. I wound up in Dubrovnik again in October ’11 (due to problems with bus schedules to Bosnia). It was so crowded the day I arrived, I had to queue to get into town, but the next day it was MUCH quieter.

Dubrovnik’s Port Authority now has the schedule for cruise ships on its website, so it’s possible to avoid the worst days. (Visit www.portdubrovnik.hr and click on “English,” then on “Arrivals/Departures [cruise ships].” Next choose the year, then, on the list, the month you are interested in [1 = January, etc.], then click “Prikaz Izvješća.” A file will come up with the extension “.aspx.” If clicking on that does not bring up the cruise ship schedule for that month [in English], change the extension to “.pdf” and, if you have a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat installed, that should work.)

The sheer size of any of the new megaships, compared to the port cities, is just crazy. You only have to watch one approaching Venice to see how out of scale they are.

KATHY WILHELM, Cary, NC

I’ve been to Dubrovnik twice. I sailed there from Venice aboard the Rotterdam about six years ago on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise, and I visited on a bus tour with smarTours in July ’11. Both times there were such crowds of tourists on the streets that you could barely walk. I suggest traveling there in winter, not mid summer.

I went to the Caribbean island of St. Martin by plane approximately 11 years ago. While having a late breakfast on the second floor of a main-street restaurant, I stood transfixed as three large cruise ships arrived, dumping passengers on the street below me. Quite suddenly all the streets as well as the shops were full. I could barely amble back through the crowds to my hotel.

W.S. POSTON, New York, NY

Europe is definitely “maxed out.” We took back-to-back Holland America Line cruises, the first from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Barcelona, Spain, and the second from Barcelona to Venice, ending April 30, 2011.

It wasn’t even summer and Barcelona on April 18-19 was very crowded with cruisers from several ships. The crowd at Sagrada Família wound all the way around the four sides of the cathedral.

Rome on Good Friday was a mob scene. We were on a shore excursion and there were at least five other HAL groups there plus other ships’ tour groups. You could hardly move in the Vatican. The Colosseum was jammed with people; if we hadn’t had a “reservation,” we would have waited over an hour to start our tour there.

Venice on April 29 was even worse. You could hardly move at the Rialto Bridge and through the narrow streets to St. Mark’s Square.

Sailing with Oceania Cruises from Rio, Brazil, to Valparaíso, Chile, in January ’11, we found Buenos Aires, Argentina, to be very crowded with cruise tours, even with torrents of rain. Other ports weren’t so bad.

WANDA WALKER, Palo Alto, CA

My wife and I are not cruisers. We stopped taking cruises due to, largely, the crowded ships, having little time to enjoy the sights, there being little for middle-aged people to do on board and, number one, passengers’ smoking. We might make an exception for a smaller ship or Antarctica.

We prefer to travel to a city and set up camp to enjoy all the sights, using their public transportation. It’s fun until the cruise ships come in.

When we were in Barcelona in May ’10, I counted eight variously sized cruise ships in port. We tried to walk into town, and all we found were crowds of ships’ tour groups. Some of the sights, such as La Sagrada Família, had long lines and took over an hour to enter. It was hard to get around. The metro was full of tourists, and I felt sorry for the locals who depended on their transportation system to get to work and back.

The same for Venice in June 2010 — the water taxis were full of cruise ship tourists and there were long waits.

So what do we do? I try to find out the best days and times when cruise ships are not in port or when the tourists are not out on excursions. Most hotels can give you this information when you book.

If need be, I try to get a hotel away from the port. Or when ships are going to be in dock, I’ll plan our day at some faraway place, such as taking a train up to Figueres in Girona, Spain, to see the Dalí museum or to the canal town of Roses to enjoy the beach.

Most port towns, especially their transportation systems, can’t handle a large influx of tourists for a short period of time. We’re getting to the point of avoiding large-cruise-ship port areas and concentrating on smaller coastal or inland cities.

STEVE JONES, Valencia, CA

I returned in August ’11 from a 17-day Mediterranean cruise on which we ran into this problem in Venice. There were four ships in port: two Princess, one Costa and one Celebrity. We were never able to get into St. Mark’s, as the line was too long.

My wife commented that our gondola ride was like being on a Disney World ride with a line of gondolas on an underwater chain. (Tip — price shopping pays; we walked across a 10-foot-wide canal and saved €50!)

Cruise lines need to take some responsibility. Was it really necessary for Princess Cruises to have two ships in at the same time?

And ports simply may have to start putting limits on the number of ships they allow at a time, which would force cruise lines to revamp some of their sailings.

JAMES DAHMANN, Cincinnati, OH

I can’t imagine booking onto one of these oceangoing cities, many of whose passengers seem to regard ports of call as an Epcot experience.

My own experience of too many people in too small a place occurred on a (land) trip to Sicily and the Sorrento Peninsula in Italy in October 2007 (since 1957 my sixth trip to that pretty country). The charming towns of Taormina, Sorrento and Amalfi became much less charming when a cruise ship was docked and the streets were overcrowded with people.

Similarly, Pompeii was crowded with large numbers of passengers from ships berthed at Naples, causing lines of people waiting for a glimpse inside buildings. In 1957 I toured Pompeii with a guidebook and only guards for company. In 2007 it was a different experience.

I accept that many of my own travels to 82 countries were the result of the development of mass tourism, but I wonder if we are lessening the places we travel to see? My suggestion for the serious traveler is to travel in the off-season (but, then, October is in the off-season!).

JAMES McGEE, Sun City, CA

On a 6-week trip that included a week driving in Italy, my husband and I took a 12-day Med. cruise on the Star Princess. We found overcrowding in lots of ports, but the worst was eight ships tendering at Santorini on Aug. 31, 2011.

Both the donkeys and the tram were backed up 1½ hours, and it was announced on the ship to not go out until lines were shorter. We had been there before and finally gave up because of the long wait. Passengers on the ship’s optional shore excursions had gone out first, and they also had a wait unless they went to other spots.

We came back on a repositioning cruise from Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale aboard the Emerald Princess. The highlight was Qaqortoq, Greenland, on a lovely, warm day (Sept. 21), and tendering in was very easy!

PHYLLIS MUELLER, San Jose, CA

On a 15-day “Viking route” cruise from England to New York aboard the Crown Princess in September ’09, we had to skip one of the two ports in Iceland because the dock was inadequate to handle a ship holding 3,600 people. (It was just as well.) The same thing happened with one of the two stops in Greenland.

The real problem happened when everyone, not wanting to miss their only chance to debark in Greenland, got off at Nuuk. Nuuk touts itself as the “cool capital,” but it’s also little, being a town of only 16,000 people. Its population went up by almost a third that day.

My wife, Judy, and I grabbed one of the few available taxis and got a one-hour tour for $100, but most people either stood around or lined up to go through the excellent, but small, museum.

The local school let out that day so the kids could interview us and ask where we were from. The children, a cross between Inuit and Danish, were beautiful, like little Eskimos with blue eyes. They spoke good English.

The wait in line for one of the tenders back to the ship took well over an hour.

I note that Princess, on a similar route, now stops at Qaqortoq, Greenland, instead of Nuuk.

JIM THORSON, Omaha, NE

My husband and I sailed on the Star Princess for 30 days from Bangkok, Thailand, to Venice, Italy, in March 2004.

One stop was the port of Aqaba, Jordan, to tour Petra. I had been to Petra in 1995 with a group of about 35, so I knew what we were seeing. Thank heaven! I think the ship had 2,800 passengers that were dumped at Aqaba. With that number of people, plus the fact that they were filming a movie with actors on horseback, Petra was a nightmare.

Our stop in Safaga, Egypt, was pretty bad also. We had a caravan of 58 buses going from the Red Sea to Luxor. Of course, all the traffic along th our caravan passed.

JEANNE THEISSEN, Covington, KY

On a sailing with Oceania Cruises in July ’11, we went to the Baltic countries, Scandinavia and, in Russia, St. Petersburg.

I have always dreamed of going to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and we were there for three days. The day we docked, there were 10 cruise ships lined up and ours was the smallest.

It was 100°F outside. I can’t describe the crowds at the Hermitage, and I can honestly say that I have almost no memory of anything inside. All I wanted to do was get to an open window in each room, as there was no air-conditioning. It was a very big disappointment.

Wherever we went in Russia, there were large crowds. I understand that some of the docked ships had 4,000 passengers each; ours held only 600. I think if I ever go back, I’ll go in the fall or spring when there are fewer cruise ships and no heat.

LEE HANLE YOUNGE, Big Flats, NY

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Editor’s note: In my “Boarding Pass” column in the September and October 2011 issues, I talked about the impact of having several cruise ships, some with thousands of passengers each, visiting the same port at the same time.

I then asked, “If you have taken cruises outside of the US in the last couple of years, let us know which destinations you’ve found to be particularly affected by crowds of ships’ passengers. Did you find that the day of the week or time of day made a difference? In addition to sharing your observations, let us know when your cruise took place. Add any advice that might help others considering visits to popular cruise stops.” Following are responses received. — DT

I don’t often visit port cities, but three come to mind when you ask about overcrowding: Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2004 and 2011; Venice, Italy, in 2007, and Rhodes, Greece, in 2008.

In Venice and Rhodes it was possible to escape the crowds by avoiding the most popular streets, but Dubrovnik’s Old Town is too small for that to work, as I found on my first visit. I wound up in Dubrovnik again in October ’11 (due to problems with bus schedules to Bosnia). It was so crowded the day I arrived, I had to queue to get into town, but the next day it was MUCH quieter.

Dubrovnik’s Port Authority now has the schedule for cruise ships on its website, so it’s possible to avoid the worst days. (Visit www.portdubrovnik.hr and click on “English,” then on “Arrivals/Departures [cruise ships].” Next choose the year, then, on the list, the month you are interested in [1 = January, etc.], then click “Prikaz Izvješća.” A file will come up with the extension “.aspx.” If clicking on that does not bring up the cruise ship schedule for that month [in English], change the extension to “.pdf” and, if you have a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat installed, that should work.)

The sheer size of any of the new megaships, compared to the port cities, is just crazy. You only have to watch one approaching Venice to see how out of scale they are.

KATHY WILHELM, Cary, NC

I’ve been to Dubrovnik twice. I sailed there from Venice aboard the Rotterdam about six years ago on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise, and I visited on a bus tour with smarTours in July ’11. Both times there were such crowds of tourists on the streets that you could barely walk. I suggest traveling there in winter, not mid summer.

I went to the Caribbean island of St. Martin by plane approximately 11 years ago. While having a late breakfast on the second floor of a main-street restaurant, I stood transfixed as three large cruise ships arrived, dumping passengers on the street below me. Quite suddenly all the streets as well as the shops were full. I could barely amble back through the crowds to my hotel.

W.S. POSTON, New York, NY

Europe is definitely “maxed out.” We took back-to-back Holland America Line cruises, the first from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Barcelona, Spain, and the second from Barcelona to Venice, ending April 30, 2011.

It wasn’t even summer and Barcelona on April 18-19 was very crowded with cruisers from several ships. The crowd at Sagrada Família wound all the way around the four sides of the cathedral.

Rome on Good Friday was a mob scene. We were on a shore excursion and there were at least five other HAL groups there plus other ships’ tour groups. You could hardly move in the Vatican. The Colosseum was jammed with people; if we hadn’t had a “reservation,” we would have waited over an hour to start our tour there.

Venice on April 29 was even worse. You could hardly move at the Rialto Bridge and through the narrow streets to St. Mark’s Square.

Sailing with Oceania Cruises from Rio, Brazil, to Valparaíso, Chile, in January ’11, we found Buenos Aires, Argentina, to be very crowded with cruise tours, even with torrents of rain. Other ports weren’t so bad.

WANDA WALKER, Palo Alto, CA

My wife and I are not cruisers. We stopped taking cruises due to, largely, the crowded ships, having little time to enjoy the sights, there being little for middle-aged people to do on board and, number one, passengers’ smoking. We might make an exception for a smaller ship or Antarctica.

We prefer to travel to a city and set up camp to enjoy all the sights, using their public transportation. It’s fun until the cruise ships come in.

When we were in Barcelona in May ’10, I counted eight variously sized cruise ships in port. We tried to walk into town, and all we found were crowds of ships’ tour groups. Some of the sights, such as La Sagrada Família, had long lines and took over an hour to enter. It was hard to get around. The metro was full of tourists, and I felt sorry for the locals who depended on their transportation system to get to work and back.

The same for Venice in June 2010 — the water taxis were full of cruise ship tourists and there were long waits.

So what do we do? I try to find out the best days and times when cruise ships are not in port or when the tourists are not out on excursions. Most hotels can give you this information when you book.

If need be, I try to get a hotel away from the port. Or when ships are going to be in dock, I’ll plan our day at some faraway place, such as taking a train up to Figueres in Girona, Spain, to see the Dalí museum or to the canal town of Roses to enjoy the beach.

Most port towns, especially their transportation systems, can’t handle a large influx of tourists for a short period of time. We’re getting to the point of avoiding large-cruise-ship port areas and concentrating on smaller coastal or inland cities.

STEVE JONES, Valencia, CA

I returned in August ’11 from a 17-day Mediterranean cruise on which we ran into this problem in Venice. There were four ships in port: two Princess, one Costa and one Celebrity. We were never able to get into St. Mark’s, as the line was too long.

My wife commented that our gondola ride was like being on a Disney World ride with a line of gondolas on an underwater chain. (Tip — price shopping pays; we walked across a 10-foot-wide canal and saved €50!)

Cruise lines need to take some responsibility. Was it really necessary for Princess Cruises to have two ships in at the same time?

And ports simply may have to start putting limits on the number of ships they allow at a time, which would force cruise lines to revamp some of their sailings.

JAMES DAHMANN, Cincinnati, OH

I can’t imagine booking onto one of these oceangoing cities, many of whose passengers seem to regard ports of call as an Epcot experience.

My own experience of too many people in too small a place occurred on a (land) trip to Sicily and the Sorrento Peninsula in Italy in October 2007 (since 1957 my sixth trip to that pretty country). The charming towns of Taormina, Sorrento and Amalfi became much less charming when a cruise ship was docked and the streets were overcrowded with people.

Similarly, Pompeii was crowded with large numbers of passengers from ships berthed at Naples, causing lines of people waiting for a glimpse inside buildings. In 1957 I toured Pompeii with a guidebook and only guards for company. In 2007 it was a different experience.

I accept that many of my own travels to 82 countries were the result of the development of mass tourism, but I wonder if we are lessening the places we travel to see? My suggestion for the serious traveler is to travel in the off-season (but, then, October is in the off-season!).

JAMES McGEE, Sun City, CA

On a 6-week trip that included a week driving in Italy, my husband and I took a 12-day Med. cruise on the Star Princess. We found overcrowding in lots of ports, but the worst was eight ships tendering at Santorini on Aug. 31, 2011.

Both the donkeys and the tram were backed up 1½ hours, and it was announced on the ship to not go out until lines were shorter. We had been there before and finally gave up because of the long wait. Passengers on the ship’s optional shore excursions had gone out first, and they also had a wait unless they went to other spots.

We came back on a repositioning cruise from Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale aboard the Emerald Princess. The highlight was Qaqortoq, Greenland, on a lovely, warm day (Sept. 21), and tendering in was very easy!

PHYLLIS MUELLER, San Jose, CA

On a 15-day “Viking route” cruise from England to New York aboard the Crown Princess in September ’09, we had to skip one of the two ports in Iceland because the dock was inadequate to handle a ship holding 3,600 people. (It was just as well.) The same thing happened with one of the two stops in Greenland.

The real problem happened when everyone, not wanting to miss their only chance to debark in Greenland, got off at Nuuk. Nuuk touts itself as the “cool capital,” but it’s also little, being a town of only 16,000 people. Its population went up by almost a third that day.

My wife, Judy, and I grabbed one of the few available taxis and got a one-hour tour for $100, but most people either stood around or lined up to go through the excellent, but small, museum.

The local school let out that day so the kids could interview us and ask where we were from. The children, a cross between Inuit and Danish, were beautiful, like little Eskimos with blue eyes. They spoke good English.

The wait in line for one of the tenders back to the ship took well over an hour.

I note that Princess, on a similar route, now stops at Qaqortoq, Greenland, instead of Nuuk.

JIM THORSON, Omaha, NE

My husband and I sailed on the Star Princess for 30 days from Bangkok, Thailand, to Venice, Italy, in March 2004.

One stop was the port of Aqaba, Jordan, to tour Petra. I had been to Petra in 1995 with a group of about 35, so I knew what we were seeing. Thank heaven! I think the ship had 2,800 passengers that were dumped at Aqaba. With that number of people, plus the fact that they were filming a movie with actors on horseback, Petra was a nightmare.

Our stop in Safaga, Egypt, was pretty bad also. We had a caravan of 58 buses going from the Red Sea to Luxor. Of course, all the traffic along th our caravan passed.

JEANNE THEISSEN, Covington, KY

On a sailing with Oceania Cruises in July ’11, we went to the Baltic countries, Scandinavia and, in Russia, St. Petersburg.

I have always dreamed of going to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and we were there for three days. The day we docked, there were 10 cruise ships lined up and ours was the smallest.

It was 100°F outside. I can’t describe the crowds at the Hermitage, and I can honestly say that I have almost no memory of anything inside. All I wanted to do was get to an open window in each room, as there was no air-conditioning. It was a very big disappointment.

Wherever we went in Russia, there were large crowds. I understand that some of the docked ships had 4,000 passengers each; ours held only 600. I think if I ever go back, I’ll go in the fall or spring when there are fewer cruise ships and no heat.

LEE HANLE YOUNGE, Big Flats, NY