Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed a bill urging the U.S. Congress to exempt cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act while Canadian ports are closed to cruise ships carrying more than 100 people. He also threatened to sue to lift the Conditional Sail Order, issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), that blocks cruising through November.
A move to temporarily lift the PVSA of 1886 would waive the requirement that foreign-flagged cruise ships – which most modern large cruise vessels are – to visit a foreign port between sailing to and from U.S. ports. Alaska cruises usually stop in Vancouver or Victoria, Canada. And Canada has banned large cruise ships from its waters through February 2022, a move that virtually blocks Alaska’s 2021 season, except for the smallest passenger vessels.
In addition, the CDC has not lifted the conditional sail order, which bans cruising through Nov. 30 by ships carrying more than 250 people. The Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) was thrilled to see the governor’s action since the state’s already fragile tourism industry is under distress anew.
“The tourism industry has pulled together like never before to make the most of the upcoming summer without large-ship cruises, but there is just no way to replace more than a million travelers and the economic support those visitors bring to so many travel and tourism small businesses,” said ATIA President and CEO Sarah Leonard. “Facing another year without large ships was going to mean loss of jobs and entire businesses, but with the governor’s proposal to rescue the 2021 Alaska tourism season, there is hope.”
ATIA has worked with and supported the CDC’s role to identify safety protocols for cruise operations and to keep passengers and communities healthy. As the leading statewide membership and nonprofit association for Alaska’s travel industry, ATIA also advocates for the economic health of its member businesses.
Gov. Dunleavy estimated that the canceled cruise ship season in 2020, in addition to the potential cancellation of the 2021 season, will result in a loss to the State of Alaska’s gross domestic product of over $3.3 billion.
The cruise lines bring more than half of Alaska’s annual visitors, and the visitor industry was on track to becoming Southeast Alaska’s largest economic sector in 2020, with an estimated 1.44 million visitors traveling by cruise and spending nearly $800 million in the region, according to “Southeast by the Numbers 2019,” an economic survey of the region prepared by Rain Coast Data. While the impact of the canceled cruise seasons has been most widely felt in Southeast Alaska, it greatly reduces the travelers and economic activity in the rest of the state as well.
In 2019, more than 52,000 Alaskans depended on tourism for their income and 1 in 10 jobs was attributed to Alaska tourism. The industry was responsible for injecting $4.5 billion in economic activity in the state.
“Our top priority in this pandemic has been the health and safety of our visitors and our communities,” Leonard said. “Alaska is one of the safest travel destinations in the country right now and we look forward to welcoming folks from the rest of the U.S. to our wide-open spaces this summer.”
Small-Ship Companies Launch 2021 Alaska Season
Several lines can operate solely in U.S. waters with ships that carry fewer than 250 people. Because of their small size and U.S. flags, they are exempt from the Conditional Sail Order issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Here’s a rundown of what’s operating in Alaska this summer.
– American Cruise Lines will operate the 175-passenger, fully stabilized American Constellation on two itineraries from June 4 to late August.
The brand-new, 10-night “Alaskan Explorer” itineraries sails round-trip from Juneau, with some departures between June and Ketchikan. The trips include a pre-cruise night and visits to Haines, Icy Strait Point, Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg. Prices start at $8,060 with discounts available on some departures.
The seven-night “Southeast Alaska Cruise” operates round-trip from Juneau and is priced from $5,650 with some discounted departures. This itinerary visits Petersburg, Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier, Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point and Haines.
American Cruise Lines is 100 percent U.S.-built, -crewed and -flagged. The American Constellation is one of the brand’s two newest coastal ships.
Currently, the company is requiring vaccinations on its mainland coastal and river cruises through April 30, but not all 2021 cruises may require vaccinations. Requirements may vary depending on the region and dates of travel, but at a minimum will include the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test result. For details on the protocols, click here.
– Lindblad Expeditions plans to resume operations in June for the 2021 season in Alaska. Lindblad will begin the Alaska season with six- and eight-day itineraries aboard the 100-guest, U.S.-flagged sister ships National Geographic Quest and National Geographic Venture, with the first departures June 5 and June 6.
The eight-day itinerary sails between Juneau and Sitka, and includes visits to Glacier Bay, Ice Straits, Tracy Arm, Petersburg. From range from $7,200 to $12,380 per person.
“Our internal team has spent the last year examining every single aspect of our operation to be prepared to operate in the ‘new normal,’” said Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions. “Led by our resident medical expert, Dr. David Lorber, we have enlisted the assistance of many health and safety experts and met with authorities in the regions we intend to explore to ensure we are welcome and meet or exceed their expectations. We will also require that all guests 16 years of age and over be vaccinated prior to travelling onboard.”
Other key components include: two negative COVID-19 tests, daily guest temperature checks, and thorough sanitation protocols. Guests will travel exclusively with their expedition community, all equally tested. For details on Lindblad’s protocols, click here.
– UnCruise Adventures plans to operate seven-, 12- and 14-night voyages priced from $3,895 from May through September for fully vaccinated guests. Testing also is required. For details, click here.
UnCruise operates 22- to 86-passenger vessels equipped with kayaks, paddle boards, hiking poles and binoculars; some vessels have a custom-built kayak launch system.
UnCruise says there are set itineraries, but “Mother Nature leads the way and in-the-moment changes will happen” to follow wildlife or for other reasons.
– John Hall’s Alaska Cruises and Tours will operate seven-day catamaran cruises in the Inside Passage from Juneau to Sitka. Guests tour during the day and stay overnight in hotels. For the company’s COVID-19 protocols, click here.
– Alaskan Dream Cruises, which operates six vessels ranging from 10 to 76 passengers, is offering a variety of Alaska cruises in 2021. They include five-, seven- and nine-night cruises in the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, priced from $2,695. The company is requiring proof of vaccines. For more on Alaskan Dream Cruises’ health and safety protocols, click here.
“With news of the accelerating vaccination rollout and forecast, we are confident our guests and crew will have had the opportunity to receive a vaccination by the time our first sailings cast off in late May,” the company said on its website. “To ensure maximum safety aboard our vessels, and minimal interruptions, we will require all guests and crew to have received a COVID-19 vaccination. This will also provide peace of mind for residents of the small Alaska towns and villages in which we call.”