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Congress Passes Act to Restart Alaska Cruises and Lines Plan for July

legislation passes to restart Alaska cruises
Holland America announced the first Alaska cruise scheduled for July 24 (Holland America Line)

Published May 20, 2021 5:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a major victory for the state of Alaska, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act today, clearing the way for the large cruise lines to resume sailing with an abbreviated season of Alaska cruises. The Act, which had been considered a long shot and written off for dead, passed the U.S. Senate last week and is now on its way to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The cruise industry joined with the elected officials from Alaska in celebrating the passage of the Act. Carnival Corporation quickly announced that three of its brands would begin operating Alaska cruises in late July from Seattle. The season, which will run from July to September, could become the first cruises to operate from U.S. ports since the global suspension of cruising in March 2020.

The Alaskan delegation in Congress proposed the legislation in March 2021 in response to Canada’s decision to close its ports to cruise ships during 2021. While Congress has historically opposed efforts to amend or change the U.S. cabotage regulations, the Alaskan delegation remained focused saying that the loss of a second year’s revenue would be devastating to the Alaskan economy and especially the small businesses that depend on tourism and specifically the cruise ship passengers. In 2019, approximately 1.2 million cruise passengers visited Alaska.

 

 

The U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act bars foreign-registered vessels from carrying American passengers between two U.S. ports without visiting a foreign port. For Alaska cruises that means that ships either stop in Canada if they sail from Seattle or other U.S. ports, or that they depart from Canadian ports. The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act was simple and direct saying that for 2021 cruises sailing from Seattle to Alaska would be considered foreign cruises to meet the requirements of the PVSA. Even the American and small cruise ship operators supported the Act recognizing the importance of tourism to the Alaska economy. 

"The Last Frontier is eager to welcome the return of the cruise industry this summer to restart our economy," said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy responding to the passage of the legislation. "Cruising has a tremendous impact on the people of our state and our communities, especially in the southeast, and we're thrilled to finally see a light with the impending return of the cruise ships."

Responding to the Congressional votes, Carnival Corporation immediately hailed the Act’s passage. Three of the largest cruise company’s brands, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Princess Cruises, each immediately announced plans to operate one cruise ship to Alaska this summer. Holland America will be first with cruises starting on July 24 aboard its Nieuw Amsterdam, followed by Princess the next day with its Majestic Princess. Carnival Cruise Line will start sailing on July 27 with its Carnival Miracle.

Other large cruise lines are expected to quickly follow Carnival’s lead. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings had recently said it was hopeful that it would be possible to offer a portion of the Alaska cruise season. Royal Caribbean International, earlier today, withdrew its planned cruises from Bermuda scheduled for this summer hinting that it was making progress toward restarting service from U.S. ports.

The cruise lines, however, still need to gain the approval of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have said that they are continuing to have a dialogue with the CDC to resolve issues under the Framework for the restart of cruising. Recently, cruise ships have started to call at the Port of San Diego where, in addition to ports in Florida and Texas, crew members can now receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The CDC, however, is also requiring the cruise lines to reach agreements with the ports and healthcare providers and submit the plans for approval so that a cruise ship does not become stranded at sea or overburden the healthcare system due to an outbreak of the virus on board.

The major cruise lines said that they were working on finalizing their plans and agreements and would announce details of their Alaskan cruises in the coming days.