Venice to Ban Large Cruise Ships From City Center

MSC Divina in Venice

PHOTO: Large cruise ships will be banned from docking in Venice by 2021. (photo via Flickr/Martin Cooper)Venice has taken action against cruise ships in a move that isn’t likely to sit well with future passengers.

According to The Independent, an Italian government committee has ruled to ban cruise ships over 60,000 tons from docking in the city centre by the year 2021.

Instead, the large ships will bypass the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square for the mainland at Marghera, a destination that pales in comparison to the photogenic Venice.

The controversial decision comes in the wake of concerns expressed by both locals and activists that the vessels are harming the city’s historical infrastructure as well as the environment.

Venice hosts approximately 30 million tourists annually, according to CNN. While the large cruise ships that enter the city represent a key driver of its tourism-based economy, Venice’s 50,000 or so residents have warned that the city can’t withstand all the attention.

“We want it to be clear to UNESCO and the whole world that we have a solution,” said Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro via The Guardian. “This takes into account all the jobs created by the cruise industry, which we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose, and we can start to work seriously on planning cruises.”

Ships under the specified mass will continue to travel along the iconic Zattere waterfront and into Venice’s city centre.

While 99 percent of Venetians who voted in an unofficial referendum this past June supported the ban, not everyone is optimistic about the committee’s ruling.

Activist Tommasso Cacciari of the No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) protest group told The Guardian that the “declaration means nothing.”

“They haven’t found a solution, there is no plan—basically, nothing will change. They say the largest ships will go to Marghera—but where will they put them?” he asked. “They say all of this will be done within four years, but even projects in Dubai do not get completed in that space of time.”

Cacciari also argued that the ban won’t quell environment concerns.

This week’s decision comes four years after authorities banned ships over 105,000 tons from sailing through the city. That ban was subsequently overturned in 2015.

Celebrity Silhouette’s final cruise in Venice

The Grand Canal and Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy

The Grand Canal and Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy. Picture: Supplied.

AS gondolas glide among vintage speedboat taxis, the modern cruise liner looms large above all. Like a large, white palace set adrift in Venice, the ship floats along the lagoon toward the sea.

From the top deck, it’s an unbeatable view across the antique city’s jumble of terracotta roofs, dome-topped marble churches and bell towers that tilt with old age. Two thousand passengers are tightly packed around the edges, surveying the lively scene below. Cruise ship entertainment doesn’t get much better than departing Venice as it settles into sunset.

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The curtain is coming down, though, on one of cruising’s best spectacles. New laws are set to ban the biggest vessels from Giudecca Canal next year, amid concerns about environmental damage or disaster. This means 2014 is the final season for ships exceeding 96,000 tonnes to be permitted the pleasure of passing the Piazza San Marco.

The ship leaves Venice on one of its final voyages from the city. Picture: Louise Goldsbu

The ship leaves Venice on one of its final voyages from the city. Picture: Louise Goldsbury

Peering down from my position on the helipad of Celebrity Silhouette, I have a better vantage point than the hundreds of people staring back at me. Better sounds, too, as Madame Butterfly is played over the bow’s loudspeaker. The dramatic Italian opera cuts the perfect soundtrack to this almost-theatrical event.

Smaller ships will continue to be allowed into the Venetian lagoon, under the government’s new rules. This means the 91,000-tonne Celebrity Constellation, measuring 294m long, will be welcomed, while our 122,000-tonne, 319m Celebrity Silhouette will not.

Cruise companies insist their ships are harmless to Venice’s structure, but the industry – through the Cruise Lines International Association – has agreed to support plans for an alternative route.

“Venice is one of the most breathtaking ports to sail in or out of,” says the Silhouette’s master, Captain Emmanouil Alevropolous. “When the daylight comes up, you look out and think it’s not real. The city is like an art piece in the morning.”

Celebrity Silhouette’s casino. Picture: Supplied

Celebrity Silhouette’s casino. Picture: Supplied

I make a mental note to set my alarm for 5am on the last night of the voyage. In the meantime, our itinerary includes other destinations in Turkey and Greece.

I sign up for a shore excursion to see the ruins of Ephesus, a short drive from the port of Kusadasi. Partially destroyed by earthquake in 614, this pilgrimage site serves as an open-air archaeological museum dating back to 10BC.

Our local guide shows us a section excavated the week prior, as well as a gladiators’ graveyard, 22-room brothel, 24,000-seat theatre and the grand Library of Celsus.

In Corfu, I’m keen to dive into the deep blue ocean that has surrounded us for days. I strike gold at a bar with a private beach, chill-out music and showers. Swimming in the Mediterranean is such shivery bliss, best followed by a cold Mythos beer.

In Mykonos, I have one thing on my mind: Greek food. After strolling the island’s dazzling white maze of shops, I choose a waterfront restaurant where the waves slap against the balcony. The feast includes seafood, stuffed vine leaves and salads. Meanwhile, an old pelican appears on the terrace, poses for tourists’ photos and then wanders into the kitchen.

Dinner is taken on board the ship at Qsine. “Disco shrimp” comes in a dish with a flashing light; a mezze selection is presented in a drawer with 12 compartments and the sushi lollipops look too cute to eat.

The cruise liner moored off Mykonos. Picture: Louise Goldsbury.

The cruise liner moored off Mykonos. Picture: Louise Goldsbury.

Celebrity Cruises has also overhauled its evening entertainment. Moving away from the cheesy and stopping short of sleazy is the new Sin City, held at midnight, with adults-only comedy and burlesque.

Another addition is Liquid Lounge pool parties, where mermaids lie around the solarium while a DJ transforms the space into a nightclub. Pop-up performers also roam the ship, launching into dance routines or acrobatic acts.

On the last night, at the Martini Bar, our group orders three of the six-cocktail samplers. The bartender prepares the 18 mixtures and lines up 18 glasses, then joins all the shakers together, like a long silver snake, and somehow pours them simultaneously without spilling a drop. Seriously impressive.

Fortunately, the martinis don’t shake our resolve to stir at 5am for one of Celebrity Silhouette’s last returns to Venice. Rugged up in warm clothes, we head to the top deck and snuggle up against the railing on the starboard side. Standing with the dark, salty breeze in our hair, we wait for the first twinkles of the city.

The spacious pool deck. Picture: Supplied.

The spacious pool deck. Picture: Supplied.

Only a dozen other passengers have come out for the occasion, cradling cups of coffee and cameras in cold hands. Usually buzzing all day, the canal-side promenade is creepily silent, empty of people, and the tightly packed buildings appear as vacant facades.