Venice Cruise Limits Raise More Questions than Answers

November 7, 2013
(3:10 p.m. EST) -- When MSC's Armonia sails into Venice on April 2, 2014 it will be the first cruise ship to come under Italy's new rules limiting marine traffic in Venice's Giudecca Canal. Beginning January 1, Venice will cap at five a day the number of cruise ships more than 40,000 gross tons transiting the Giudecca Canal, resulting in up to 20 percent less traffic than that of 2012. In November, any cruise ship over 96,000-gross tons will be banned from the canal altogether. The ruling also capped the number of ships over 40,000 tons at five a day.

At a little over 58,000-gross tons, Armonia will be subject to the limit, which shouldn't be a problem for the cruise ship, as it's the only one scheduled to visit Venice that day. But once the Mediterranean cruise season really kicks in -- from June to October -- Venice is scheduled to see six ships or more at least nine times. Is it safe to assume that all those scheduled ships will therefore be able to visit Venice as scheduled?

Cruise lines seem to think so, as most told Cruise Critic their 2014 itineraries are unaffected by the new rules.

Still, the vagueness of the ruling leads to several questions, such as who decides which ships will be permitted to transit the canal, how will it be decided and when will cruise lines be notified that their ships will be barred from entering Venice?

On September 22 Costa Fascinosa, Holland America's Noordam, Regent Seven Seas' Mariner, MSC Orchestra, Regal Princess and Celebrity Silhouette are all scheduled to be in Venice. All are more than 40,000 gross tons. Which will not be docking in Venice? And when will people already booked on that ship find out?

The government's ruling doesn't address these issues.

Cruise Ship Shuffle?
Also unclear is how the ban on 96,000-gross ton ships will play out beginning in November 2014. Currently, MSC's Preziosa and Fantasia, and Costa's Fascinosa and Magica are scheduled to call in Venice that month; all are more than 100,000 gross tons.

MSC Cruises told Cruise Critic, "the recent law passed by the Italian government concerning large cruise ships traveling to or from Venice's Giudecca Canal, which is expected to come into force in November 2014, will not affect the company's 2014 sailings from Venice or itineraries including Venice as a port of call."

Itineraries will not be affected, MSC said, because Preziosa and Fantasia will simply dock outside Venice (in Marghera, for instance). Fortunately for cruise passengers, most of the ships deployed to Venice or on itineraries that visit Venice are under the 96,000 gross tons. But not all are. Celebrity's Equinox and Silhouette, Princess' Regal Princess and Emerald Princess, and a handful of MSC and Costa ships will all be banned in 2015 and beyond. Celebrity, Princess and MSC told Cruise Critic they haven't set their 2015 itineraries yet, so only time will tell whether they redeploy smaller ships to the region or simply cut Venice out of Mediterranean itineraries.

A Multiyear Bump in the Road
Per the government's ruling, the difficulties the cruise industry could face because of the reduction of cruise traffic in Venice's Giudecca Canal should be temporary while authorities find either a new route to Venice's current Stazione Marittima cruise terminal or build a new terminal farther away.

As it stands, the new route to Stazione Marittima terminal will be Contorta Sant'Angelom a new branch of the Malamocco-Marghera Canal, which would take cruise ships farther away from Venice's most renowned areas. But many city residents and environmentalists say digging out the canal, which would be necessary to accommodate large cruise ship traffic, will do too much damage to the city and its eco-systems. Should yet-to-be-started environmental impact reviews find that the new canal isn't the right solution, the limit on cruise ships visiting Venice could last much longer.

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor