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TOURISM

Hundreds demonstrate against cruise ships’ return to Venice

The first cruise ship cast off from Venice on Saturday after almost one and a half years' suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, reinflaming a war of words between supporters and opponents of the massive floating hotels.

Hundreds demonstrate against cruise ships' return to Venice
Environmental protesters from the "No Grandi Navi" group, demonstrate aboard small boats against the presence of cruise ships in the lagoon, as the MSC Orchestra cruise ship (Rear) leaves Venice across the basin on June 5th. (Photo by MARCO SABADIN / AFP)

With the MSC Orchestra looming over Saint Mark’s square, demonstrators in small motorboats waved banners reading “no to cruise ships”.

“Cruise ships bring a hit and run tourism that actually brings little benefit to Venice,” demonstrator Lucia Tedesco, 57, told AFP.

Concerned for the environment and the city’s cultural heritage, opponents of the ships say they cause large waves that undermine Venice’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.

READ ALSO: ‘They’re back’: First cruise ship in 17 months arrives in Venice

But the UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to fans of the massive vessels, many organised in the “Venice at work” movement.

Around 650 people boarded the MSC Orchestra in Venice after showing a negative coronavirus test less than four days old and passing another on the spot.

They say stop-offs by tourist cruises create jobs in a city dependent on tourism – itself massively undermined by the pandemic.

Tugboats escort the MSC Orchestra cruise ship across the basin as it leaves Venice on June 5th. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

None showed any sign of annoyance at the strict hygiene measures designed to prevent the intense outbreaks that hit some cruise ships at the pandemic’s height.

Just half the MSC Orchestra’s 3,000 places will be filled for its tour, taking in destinations in southern Italy, Greece and Croatia.

TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year

Italy’s government announced in March that cruise ships would no longer sail past Venice’s iconic St Mark’s Square, but instead be diverted to the city’s industrial port, thereby avoiding the city’s historic centre.

The cruise ship docked on Thursday – the first one to arrive in 17 months, signalling the return of tourism and reigniting concern over the environmental impact on the lagoon city.

However, the infrastructure is not yet ready to make this a reality.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s tourist hotspots are preparing for summer 2021

It’s not first time protesters have come out to decry the presence of cruise ships.

Environmental demonstrators have long warned that the large waves caused by the cruise ships are eroding the foundations of Venice, which along with its lagoon, are a UNESCO heritage site.

‘Our contribution to the restart of this city’

Venice’s economy had lost “around €1 billion” in the space of a year from the 800,000 fewer cruise passengers visiting, Cruise Lines International Association director Francesco Galietti told AFP – calling the Orchestra’s stop, “our contribution to the restart of this city”.

The ship’s crew took on supplies and tightened up safety protocols during their time in Venice.

As one of the world’s best-known tourist destinations, Venice’s cruise ship debate always resonates beyond Italy’s borders.

On Tuesday, a slew of international artists – from Mick Jagger to Wes Anderson and Tilda Swinton – wrote to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Draghi and the mayor of Venice.

They called for a “final stop” to visits by cruise ships as well as better management of tourist flows, protection of the lagoon ecosystem and limits on property speculation to protect the city’s “physical integrity but also cultural identity”.

Member comments

  1. Thought the idea of a UNESCO listed site was to protect it. So shameful to allow these huge ships into port.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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