First Alaska Revenue Cruise Departs from Seattle
The first, large foreign-flag cruise ship departed yesterday, July 19, for Alaska signaling the return of the cruise industry to the Port of Seattle and Alaska. Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship the Serenade of the Seas kicked off the abbreviated Alaska cruise season with the first departure by a large cruise ship to Alaska since September 2019.
"Cruising in Alaska is finally back, and we are excited to be the first to return,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “Alaska is one of the most popular destinations among our guests. We are grateful for the support of our partners, senators. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and other government and health authorities. This is a return that is significantly felt by many, including those whose communities rely on cruise tourism."
While smaller, American cruise ships had resumed the Alaska cruise season in May, the return of the large, foreign-flag ships required a special act of the U.S. Congress to waive American cabotage laws. Initially thought to be a long shot, the legislation passed due to the critical nature of tourism to Alaska’s economy and the prospects of businesses having to forgo the second season of tourism after Canada announced its ports would be closed to cruise ships during the 2021 season.
After the passage of the legislation, seven cruise lines announced plans to sail cruises all from the Port of Seattle to Alaska. A total of eight cruise ships will sail to Alaska this year, with nine cruises scheduled for July as the industry resumes operations later this week and continuing into early August. The Port of Seattle said that a total of 83 voyages are planned for this year, which will each bring an estimated $4.2 million to the local economy.
“The return of passenger cruise to Alaska marks a major milestone in our effort to reopen the regional economy,” said Steve Metruck, executive director of the Port of Seattle. “A year of work by national, state, and local officials and health authorities, cruise lines, and the Port established safety protocols throughout the traveler experience — from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to each of our cruise terminals. These safety measures will begin restoring the economic benefit from cruise in Seattle, responsible for creating 5,500 jobs and nearly $900 million to our region.”
Later this week, Celebrity Cruises as well as Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, and Silversea Cruises are all scheduled to start sailing. In August, Norwegian Cruise Line’s first ship will also enter service and Royal Caribbean is adding a second cruise ship to its Alaska program. The lines report strong bookings for the cruises and recently Royal Caribbean extended its Alaska season into October with four additional sailings aboard its cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. The last cruise to Alaska is scheduled to sail on October 23.
While the cruise lines welcomed the opportunity to resume sailing to Alaska, the cruise season is greatly abbreviated and remains under the restrictions of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alaska, before the pandemic, had been one of the cruise industry’s strongest markets. In 2019, 37 cruise ships sailed 577 voyages to Alaska carrying a total of 1.36 million passengers according to the industry group CLIA Alaska. The cruise line organization had projected 1.44 million passengers would sail to Alaska in 2020 before the pandemic forced a global shutdown of cruising.
In a further effort to restore the Alaska cruise industry, last week Canada’s federal government announced plans to reopen their ports starting in November 2021. Omar Alghabra, a member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre and Minister of Transport for Canada said the announcement was meant to provide certainty to the cruise industry for the 2022 Alaska cruise season.