The Italian government's recent decision to limit the number of large ships entering Venice through scenic Giudecca Canal early next year – and eventually, prohibit them altogether – may come as a blow to some cruise passengers who have their hearts set on seeing this famous city.
A new weight limit has been proposed for all ships entering through the city center to reach the cruise passenger terminal, a route that has traditionally yielded classic views of the duomo, the waterfront palazzi, and gondolas drifting by. By next November, all ships heavier than 96,000 tons will be banned from entering the city completely, meaning by summer of 2015, there will be no large ships cruising into Venice at all.
Big ships that are still scheduled to sail to or from Venice next summer include MSC Cruises' Fantasia, a 3,200-passenger ship that weighs in at 138,000 tons, and Costa Cruises' Magica, which carries 2,700 and weighs 102,000 tons. Celebrity Cruises has two 122,000-ton, ships operating from Venice next summer.
“We are reviewing our deployments for 2013 and 2014 to ensure we comply with the new regulation in Venice,” said Cynthia Martinez, Director of Global Corporate Communications at Celebrity. “We recognize visiting Venice during their cruise is a highlight of our guests’ vacation. We expect to continue with our scheduled port calls to Venice for our 2014 itineraries,” she said.
This change may deter cruisers who only want to sail only on big vessels, but there's another issue in play: There's a significant price difference when booking smaller ships, most of which fall into the luxury category. A seven-night roundtrip cruise from Venice on MSC's Fantasia, for example, begins at $929 per person for a July, 2014 departure. Compare that to a seven-night Venice-to-Athens cruise aboard Seabourn's luxury 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Odyssey in the same month, with fares starting at $4,199 per person.
Another upmarket small ship line, Azamara Club Cruises, sails its Azamara Quest from Venice to Rome next summer. This 30,000-ton, 694-passenger ship has fares from $3,049.
There are still a few smaller ships offering prices for the budget-minded. Royal Caribbean International's 69,000-ton Splendour of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line's 93,000-ton Norwegian Jade will continue their Venice cruises after the 2014 rule change. Both of these mass market lines offer fares in the vicinity of $1,000 per person for a week-long cruise that begins or ends in Venice. Their schedules for 2015 are not published yet, but it seems likely that these sailings will be in great demand giving the new weight restrictions.
Italy's decision to keep away big ships from the city center follows years of protests by local environmental and preservation groups who want to protect the city's fragile infrastructure. Authorities believe that waves caused by big ships are eroding the foundations of the city. The government is planning to dredge a new channel in the Lagoon of Venice, close to the city's cruise passenger terminal, which would enable all ships to completely avoid the city center. Environmental groups, however, fearful of ecological damage, say they will protest the dredging of a new channel, too.