Discover / Charleston
Save a National Treasure
Charleston, SC
TYPE: Community
The number of cruise ships in Charleston has increased exponentially. | Photo: National Trust
The number of cruise ships in Charleston has increased exponentially. | Photo: National Trust
Preserve the historic character of this beloved coastal city in the face of growing cruise ship tourism.


Several years ago, Charleston became a home port for Carnival Cruise Lines. As a result, the number of cruise ships and passengers has increased exponentially, creating significant impacts throughout the National Historic Landmark district. Though the City of Charleston and the Ports Authority voluntarily agreed in 2010 to cap the number of visits by ships, the agreement is not legally binding. Citing the potential threat that uncontrolled tourism poses to the city’s fragile infrastructure and historic character, the National Trust placed Charleston on “watch status” when its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places was announced in 2011.

National Significance

Charleston has long been recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in the nation, with a distinguished record of outstanding historic preservation and tourism management. The National Trust believes that sponsoring a cruise tourism impact study, providing a legal review of enforcement authority on cruise tourism, and participating in community dialogue will help Charlestonians develop tools to protect their city’s rich cultural heritage. The lessons learned in Charleston can also help other communities address challenges associated with growing cruise tourism.

Campaign Goals

  • Define enforceable limits on the size, number, and frequency of cruise ships visiting the city’s piers.

Ways To Help

Donate to our campaign to save Charleston.

Tell us why Charleston matters to you.

Posted on January 27, 2014

Written by Virgil McDill, Project Manager

Project Manager

We had some good news recently in our efforts to limit cruise ship traffic in Charleston.

As readers of this update are aware, a U.S. Federal Court ruling issued last year vindicated our claim that the Army Corps must consider the adverse effects of the cruise ship terminal on the adjacent historic district in Charleston. By insisting that the Army Corps take a broader look at nearby historic places before issuing permits, the ruling reinforced our long-standing conviction that the Corps must do a better job complying with federal preservation laws, which protect thousands of historic places across the country.

While the Army Corps and the South Carolina Ports Authority initially sought to appeal this ruling, the National Trust and our preservation allies were pleased that the Army Corps and the Ports Authority have recently dropped their appeal and announced that they will instead start the permit process over.

This is welcome news. As this recent editorial in the Charleston Post and Courier endorsing the decision to abandon the appeal in favor of re-starting the permit process notes, this approach will allow the Corps and the Ports Authority to “take the high road” by adopting “a process that allows the public to ask questions and have input into the SPA project.”

While we still have a ways to go in this effort, but we’re encouraged that re-starting the permit process and giving the public the ability to make their voices heard, is a step in the right direction.

Posted on September 13, 2013

Yesterday, in a victory for preservationists, the U.S. District Court in Charleston ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to follow the National Historic Preservation Act in granting a permit to allow a massive cruise ship terminal to be built on the Charleston waterfront.

Because of this failure to follow the law, we expect that the judge’s written order will revoke the permit, which means the project cannot go forward until the terminal’s impact on historic resources is taken into account.

This is a significant win for preservationists not only in Charleston, but nationwide, because it reinforces other court rulings that the Army Corps must take into account nearby historic properties that could be severely harmed when evaluating the impacts of proposed developments.

Needless to say, we are pleased with this outcome and are grateful to our local partners for their efforts to secure this ruling.

Posted on June 28, 2013

Written by John Hildreth, Project Manager


The cities of Charleston and Savannah are both wrestling with the issue of cruise ships in their communities:  Charleston on how best to accomodate an existing and growing presence of the industry; Savannah on whether or not they want to make the investment to attract more cruise ships.



The action now is in the courts, which means there are long periods of time when there is no visible action.  Recently, however, the SC Supreme Court took action on the case before them. The Charleston Post and Courier ran a story on that action.  I have asked our lead attorney, Will Cook, for his thoughts on where the things stand:

SC Supreme Court:    The court has adopted the recommendation of the special master to dismiss the environmental, height/noise/sign ordinance claims, which we didn’t support. However, the Nuisance and Zoning claims, three in all, were accepted.  In addition we’ve been asked by the supreme court to submit a brief addressing the standing of the plaintiffs to sue and the city’s legal authority to regulate, issues raised by Carnival.  We don’t know, yet, if oral arguments will be ordered prior to a decision.


Federal lawsuit:  The existing suit against the Army Corps of Engineers over their inappropriate application of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act proceeds.  We will file our amicus brief in federal court mid-July in support of the Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Ansonborough, and Charlestown Neighborhood Ass’n.  We will likely have a decision on the merits by late Fall 2013.  Regardless of the ruling, there will be an appeal. 


State Court:  There is also an anticipated second state court lawsuit with similar parties against SC Department of Health and Environmental Control that is similar to the federal lawsuit, but based on state law and state regulations.  Our participation is to be determined because the administrative appeal process to the DHEC Board is ongoing.  Once this is complete, the case will move to state court, at which point we’ll have an amicus role.




After 4 years of study and debate the Savannah City Council recently voted unanimously not to fund further study on the construction and location of a cruise terminal for the city.  This action effectively kills the project since the Georgia Ports Authority is not interested in utilizing their holdings for a terminal.

The Savannah Morning News ran a story summarizing the issue.  It is worth noting that the experiences of other communities left high and dry by the cruise industry influenced the council's decison. 


Please check back often for additional updates on Charleston. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.








Posted on March 26, 2013

Written by John Hildreth, Project Manager

Part of our work in addressing Cruise Tourism impacts in Charleston is providing opportunity for dialogue.  We have an interesting piece of dialogue for you today.

About the time our symposium "Harboring Tourism" on cruise tourism and historic port communities was winding up, the Carnival Cruise ship Triumph was suffering through its well publicized disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Since that time Carnival has not received a lot of good news . . . or press.  The Charleston Post and Courier ran the following editorial recently that not only cataloged Carnival's woes, but made a rather humorous conclusion.  While our efforts to help enact regulations to help communities get the right scale for cruise tourism are not directed at Carnival, per se, we thought you might enjoy the following:



 Carnival's Choppy Seas 

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:01 a.m.


It just keeps getting worse for Carnival Cruise Lines. 

The month after the nightmare cruise of the Triumph, adrift for five days while 3,000 passengers were subjected to rotting food, no working toilets and no air conditioning, there was more bad news. 

Carnival’s Dream was stranded in Saint Maarten after an emergency generator failed, overflowing toilets and causing power outages. More than 4,000 passengers were flown back to Florida. 

The same week Carnival’s Elation had to be escorted by a tugboat back to New Orleans because of problems with its steering. 

And Carnival’s Legend cut short the cruise for more than 2,000 passengers when it experienced technical issues with its propulsion system. 

But the embarrassment, financial losses and headaches didn’t end there for the corporation whose Fantasy cruise ship is based in Charleston.


This week Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent Carnival a bill for $4 million to cover Coast Guard and Navy bailouts of the Splendor in 2010 and the Triumph last month. The bill came with a chiding letter from him in his capacity as chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:

“In just the past five years I am aware of 90 serious events that have occurred on your cruise ships.” 

Now Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wants the travel industry to create a standard passenger bill of rights so cruise passengers know what is expected — and what forms of redress are available — when things go wrong. 

And as if to forestall the government from imposing standards on the ships’ mechanical capabilities, Carnival has canceled Triumph’s next 10 cruises while improvements are made to its inadequate fire prevention and backup systems.


That isn’t the end. 

Carnival’s image has suffered. It has even been added to the list of contestants in the Consumerist Worst Companies in America Tournament. 

Last year video game giant Electronic Arts took home the Golden Poo trophy and Bank of America was second for the Silver Poo. This year, some think Carnival stands a good chance of “winning” in its first time around. 

The tournament is structured like the NCAA basketball tournament, and in the first bracket Carnival is up against United Airlines with winners determined by online voting.


Oh, one more thing: Advance bookings for 2013 are behind the same point a year earlier.


Maybe Charleston residents and those historic preservation organizations concerned because no limits have been imposed on the number or size of cruise ships coming to Charleston won’t have to worry so much after all.  (Photo by Gerald Herbert)


 So, that is our dialogue for today.  Please check back often for additional updates on Charleston. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


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Emilea on February 01, 2014
I have been coming to Charleston and Seabrook sense I was very little. It wasn't into very recently I realized the beauty and historical suffinicance of it. The modern part is cool, but I like the old part with the old style houses and ironwork. I was also happy on my last trip down there to see a duple 1st National Flags flying. Keep them up! Charleston wouldn't be the same without the old part and I might even loose some of my interest. If it became run down, it would loose a lost of the forest income. I LOVE Charleston and will make sure to do all I can to preserve it and we hope you will too!!
Raymond Samuel on August 16, 2013
I was born here in South Carolina and I have a great love and respect for this state, and Charleston was the first major city in the state, it is special. I own A&B Janitorial Services LLC here in Charleston, and we also do Property Presavations, we would like to volenteer with some of the resturations if needed. Our phone number is (843) 499-4225. Thanks for your time and concidration
K. Nickless, Ladson, SC on June 09, 2012
My favorite cities are Charleston and Venice, Italy. Both have a rich maritime history and a visceral link to the water that surrounds and envelops them. Both struggle with the pressures of tourism. Charleston is home. The view from a sailboat on the harbor has barely changed since Audubon painted Long Billed Curlews in the marsh. In 2009, Venetians staged a mock funeral, declaring Venice dead, killed by tourism. Not Charleston. It will live, balancing tourism and history. La dolce vita!

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