Venice... aah, one of the finest cities in the world. Millions agree. After many days on the Queen of the Adriatic over the years, arriving days early either to start or finish a cruise, the sheer enjoyment of this ancient city makes my enthusiasm level bubble over.
Port arrival means all hands on the top deck, cameras aligned to shoot historic landmarks from above the towering cupolas to thousands of Venetians (permanent or temporary) waving at the ship as it sails by Piazza San Marco.
Things are about to change.
The local and national governments, in order to protect Venice's fragile foundations, last week enacted cruise ship restrictions to preserve this UNESCO city in a timely fashion.
I have spent hours -- no, days -- visiting the iconic treasures of this city. I have also thrown away the map for the entire day and wandered to find almost-empty, small piazzas where a butcher would slice some Parma ham or prosciutto and the baker next door would make me a sandwich. With a Stella and a quiet bench it was a time to absorb.
This will not come to an end. How you get there will change for some -- and it will happen soon.
The government announced it would limit the number of ships in "San Marco basin." At the moment, ships cruise 300 metres by St. Mark's Square -- which is near where the Giudecca and Grand canals meet. This is the area the governments want protected.
Here is what is about to happen: Ships over 40,000 tons will be reduced by 20 per cent by January 2014 while ships over 96,000 tons will be banned outright by November 2014. Also starting in January, the government will cap the number of large vessels at five per day, down from as many as eight that I happened to notice when docked there this summer.
The intent is to dredge a canal elsewhere by 2015, bringing the large ships in from a different direction.
How will the reductions of 20 per cent be divvied up? When will cruise lines know which five ships will be allowed into the port on any given day?
If you're sailing on ships from Azamara, some from Oceania, luxury brands and others such as Holland America's Prinsendam -- all under 40,000 tons -- nothing changes.
If you're booked to be in Venice next summer, be patient; your line will know the impact in the next few months. Usually, on docking, you walk a short distance and take a vaporetto (water taxi) to Venice for the day. There is space outside of Venice at places such as Marghera, but that means you are likely to be riding buses into the city if your ship is one of the 20 per cent that didn't make the five-ship limit that day.
When I was in Venice last spring, I saw first-hand the concern of the people who live there. The winds were howling off the mountains and pushing the water into the streets. That's when you realize the delicate nature of the water versus the land in this exceptional city.
Environmentally, what the governments are doing is the right thing to ensure fragile, historic Venice survives for centuries more.
Phil's deal of the week
The Celebrity Equinox is scheduled to originate in Venice on May 20 for 12 nights. The itinerary starts with an overnight in Venice, then it's on to Istanbul, Salerno on the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Florence and Provence via Marseille before disembarking in Barcelona. The starting price is $1,489. See a cruise agent or go to celebritycruises.com.
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