First Test Cruise Sails for Alaska Preparing for Large Ships’ Return

cruise ships prepare for Alaska cruises
Ovation of the Seas was the first cruise ship to arrive in Seattle this year (Port of Seattle)

Published Jul 8, 2021 7:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first large cruise to dock in Alaska in 21 months is due to arrive in Ketchikan on Friday, July 9 as the cruise industry and Alaska gears up for the critical return of the large cruise ships to the state that depends heavily on tourism revenues. The first of the cruise ships began arriving in Seattle in late June, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and local authorities to prepare for the truncated summer cruise season that was only made possible by an act of the U.S. Congress.

Royal Caribbean International’s 90,000 gross ton cruise ship Serenade of the Seas departed Seattle on July 7 on a four-day simulated cruise voyage to test the ship’s health and safety protocols in a demonstration for the CDC. Then the ship will receive a restricted cruise certificate, which will permit it to operate revenue trips without requiring that all passengers be vaccinated for COVID-19. Another of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the Freedom of the Seas, was the first to complete the simulated voyage process from Miami in June and sailing its first revenue cruise on July 3.

Although Royal Caribbean had asked the public in the spring to volunteer for its simulated cruises, currently the line is operating the trips only with employees and their guests serving as the volunteer passengers required by the CDC. Royal Caribbean did not announce the details of the trial for the Serenade of the Seas, but media reports said there are 300 employees and guests aboard along with 800 crew members and that the cruise ship is running a four-day cruise to Alaska and back to Seattle. The cruise ship has a maximum passenger capacity of 2,476 people, although capacity will be limited for the summer season.

After the U.S. Congress passed the waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act and President Joe Biden signed it into law, seven cruise lines announced plans for eight large cruise ships with over 80 cruises from the Port of Seattle to Alaska starting July 19. The last large cruise ship is scheduled to depart Alaska for the season on October 21. 

Another of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the Ovation of the Seas, was the first of the large cruise ships to return to Seattle, arriving in the port on June 29 to prepare for the summer cruise season. Three other cruise ships, including the Serenade of the Seas, arrived followed with one more heading to Seattle and the others waiting off California before heading north.

So far, the CDC has issued permission for three of the ships scheduled to cruise in Alaska, the Majestic Princess, Nieuw Amsterdam, and Carnival Miracle, to operate restricted voyages requiring 95 percent of their passengers to be vaccinated. A total of 11 cruise ships were given permission to operate simulated voyages, but six of those are currently delayed because they are listed as “red status” by the CDC, either for having active cases of COVID-19 aboard or not having met requirements for crew transfers or documentation. Of the other cruise ships scheduled to sail in Alaska this summer, only the Serenade of the Seas has been recognized to operate a simulated voyage, meaning four still need to resolve their status with the CDC before starting cruising.

Shopkeepers, bars, and restaurants in Alaska are anxiously awaiting the return of the large cruise ships. However, some businesses are not planning to resume in Alaska this year. The operator of a local tour boat operation said he would be keeping his ships idle as there did not seem to be enough passengers coming to support the business this summer.