Galataport, the cruise port for Istanbul, is a wildly popular and bustling destination for cruise ships sailing the Eastern Mediterranean, but reports are emerging that the local population is not fully supportive of the sights and sounds that come with the vacation-at-sea option.
The port’s cruise terminal, which opened in 2021, is an underground facility that can accommodate 15,000 cruise arrivals per day and roughly 1.5 million per year.
As in other port cities, the cruise ships that carry them often announce their arrival and departure by blaring their horns, a practice that has some city residents fed up.
Galataport is situated on the Bosphorus, a strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, in Istanbul’s city center. A September 2, 2023 report in The Guardian pointed out that some local people have grown weary of seeing mega-ships enter and exit the port, and of hearing the horn blasts.
“Ships from one particular cruise line even honk the theme to the television show ‘The Love Boat’ as it pulls into port,” The Guardian reported, referring to a Princess Cruises’ ship.
Indeed, the roster of ships scheduled to call at the port in the coming weeks reads like a who’s who in the cruise industry, including Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,400-guest Norwegian Jade and 3,220-guest Norwegian Viva, Princess Cruises’ 3,660-guest Enchanted Princess, Celebrity Cruises’ 3,260-guest Celebrity Beyond, and MSC Cruises’ 4,000-guest MSC Splendida and 3,600-guest MSC Poesia.
Welcoming tourists is not the problem, according to the locals interviewed by The Guardian. Istanbul is accustomed to an influx of visitors, but some object to the size of the mega-ships entering the city center.
“Even if I want to go out and get a coffee, I check the cruise ships’ schedule first. They’re like big apartment blocks sailing in, five or six stories high. They block everything,” one Istanbul resident said.
Many smaller cruise ships also call at the port on a regular basis during cruise season. In the next month, smaller ships carrying under 1,000 guests, such as Azamara Cruises’ Azamara Quest, Seadream Yacht Club’s Seadream II, Seabourn’s Seabourn Encore, and Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend, are scheduled to dock at Galataport.
Galataport entered the planning stages in 2016, with government officials envisioning a full redevelopment of what had been a hardscrabble industrial area with warehouses and a decades-old ferry terminal.
The construction of Galataport brought upscale restaurants, luxury retailers, a hotel, a spacious promenade, and the underground cruise terminal, essentially privatizing the entire area, local residents say.
The high-security area obscures the water view for residents, too, with metal walls separating the cruise ships and the dock, The Guardian reported.
However, the technological accomplishment of building an underground cruise terminal is hailed by the Turkish government as a major achievement that will bring more tourist revenue into the country.
The underground Galataport cruise terminal, at about 300,000 square feet, operates with a hatch system, said to be the first of its kind in the world.
All services are underground, including passport control and customs, luggage operations, and access to ground transport, for taxis and shore excursion buses.
The residents of Istanbul who are critical of cruise ships entering the port are not alone. In recent years, several destinations have taken steps to limit cruises, and in some cases, ban mega-ships from their ports.
Venice, Italy, is one example, where government officials in 2017 banned ships of 100,000-gross tons and larger from docking in the city center, due to environmental concerns. Since the ban took effect, large ships must dock in Marghera, on the mainland, and transport guests into the city center.
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