Bipolar disorder: Record cruise crowds bring riches, but also complaints of intrusive behavior toward kids, cabin dwellers, wildlife

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An “invasion” of cabins and a kindergarten. Attacking birds and petting reindeer. Treating everywhere outdoors as a port-a-potty and digging up wild plants to take home.

The increasing intensity and frequency of such complaints about cruise ship passengers – especially when larger ships can mean up to 8,000 extra people in a 2,000-person town – aren’t just local vs. visitor feuds. Often they’re pitting local against local, with the pro-cruise folks arguing the complaints are about a relative handful of visitors, but can result in a generally negative attitude toward all of them.

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The Bremen expedition cruise ship lingers at Skansbukta near a cabin whose occupants were visited by about a dozen passengers in a small boat recently. Other cabin dwellers say they have seen more than a hundred passengers from the ship scattered in the area, some of whom have entered cabins. Photo by Anders Magne Lindseth.

The intrusion of visitors into Longyearbyen’s two kindergartens revives one of the most heated complaints from locals in recent years, due to the sensitivity of strangers approaching and photographing kids.

“Both kindergartens have have had many cases of tourists who enter the buildings as a matter of course, something they justify as ‘just going to the bathroom,’ ‘just going in to take a look’ and so on,” wrote Trine Berntsen, head of the Polarflokken kindergarten in downtown Longyearbyen, in a letter to Visit Svalbard. “Given the safety of children, it is very unreasonable when this happens.”

Another “invasion” that replicates an experience by many occurred early this month when Anders Magne Lindseth, enjoying an outing at a cabin at Skansbukta used by the Longyearbyen Hunting and Fishing Association, was approached by about a dozen passengers taking a tour boat from the nearby Bremen expedition ship toward the beach.

“A great night was spent with coffee and the cabins at Skansbukta,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “Magical, until the damn steamer came and lay down the eternal sound of its boat engine.”

An administrator with vessel operator Hapag-Lloyd who declined to be named subsequently told Svalbardposten the intrusion was regrettable. But the newspaper also noted others have recently reported seeing more than a hundred passengers from the vessel approach shores in the area and disperse, with some approaching and even entering cabins.

Bad behavior is affecting more than just human life.

“I think it’s totally unreasonable to send so many tourists into town without signs and without guidance,” wrote Pia Skarlo in a community Facebook during a day the 6,000-person MSC Meraviglia docked in town. “I had to stop the car and yell at some tourists who almost killed some terns.”

I was in Pyramiden two weeks ago when a tourist had picked himself a big bunch of flowers (and dirt) for bringing home” wrote Tone Terjesen in the same discussion. “Told him it was not allowed, but did he care? No way.”

Eva Britt Kornfeldt, head of the Svalbard Cruise Network, said steps are being taken to further inform visitors, including directional signs on streets and posting what are promoted as the first-ever community-specific guidelines for Longyearbyen on Visit Svalbard’s website.

“The goal is to get these guidelines out onto the TV screens of each and every (cruise ship) cabin,” she wrote in a Facebook post responding to complaints. “If (the cruise lines) need to be pressed to get the message, then we’ll do it. Initially, we’re making an effort toward the overseas cruise passengers, but we are also working on the expedition cruise operators.”

The local guidelines – developed by Visit Svalbard, the Port of Longyearbyen and Svalbard Cruise Network – are based on a template created by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), which is being used to develop similar guidelines for other Arctic ports.

“Among other things, the guidelines encourage visitors to chat with locals, but to ask before taking photos and to respect people’s privacy,” a press release issued by AECO about Longyearbyen’s guidelines notes. “Visitors are invited to support the community by shopping locally but are reminded that there is no tradition for bargaining in Svalbard. Tourists are also given useful pointers on which side of the roads they should walk on if there’s no sidewalk and how they can help keeping Svalbard clean by using garbage bins.”

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