Norwegian Cruise uses small boats to bring passengers to Venice

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A major cruise line has found a way to circumvent the ban on large ships in Venice by ferrying passengers to the famous city on small boats.

After years of battling overtourism, Venice finally banned large ships weighing more than 25,000 tonnes from docking at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.

However, they said nothing about these giant ships parking nearby and transporting their passengers on small motorboats.

This is the tactic adopted by the Norwegian Gem, a Norwegian cruise ship just under 300 meters long. After dropping anchor outside Venice Lido last Saturday morning, he launched several smaller boats, which carried around 1,500 passengers to St. Mark’s Square for the day.

The move was reportedly authorized by the Venice Port Authority, which provided the smaller boats, but Venetian governors had no say in the matter.

Tourism adviser Simone Venturini told local press he hoped this was not the start of a new trend.

“It’s not the type of tourism we want for the city,” he said.

Large ships were banned from entering the historic center of Venice via the Giudecca Canal in July 2021. Now only small foreign ships and passenger ferries can use the canal.

The ban follows years of protests against cruise ships and a threat from Unesco that Venice would be put on the endangered World Heritage List.

However, it had left the cruise industry “in limbo” according to the Italian director of the Cruise Lines International Association, Francesco Galietti.

“Venice used to be a home base, which meant people came a day or two ahead and spent time in Venice [before starting a cruise], book a hotel and eat at local restaurants. It was the old world,” he said.

“The Norwegian episode shows that there is an ongoing struggle to keep Venice a home base. Everything is in flux and we are trying to figure out what the new normal looks like.”

Most cruise lines have abandoned the Sinking City and anchored in the ports of Trieste or Ravenna. From there, passengers can take a two-hour bus ride to Venice.

If Norwegian’s tactic becomes standard practice, it’s unclear whether day cruisers will have to pay a new tourist tax from January 16, 2023.

This new tax will target day visitors (80% of tourists to Venice), who must log in and book on the day of their visit. The cost will vary from €3 to €10 per person depending on how busy the city is.

If you don’t pay the fee, you could be fined €300.

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