In Nome, high hopes for some kind of cruise ship season

A portion of Nome's port, pictured in May of 2021.
A portion of Nome's port, pictured in May of 2021.(KTUU)
Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 8:31 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The days are getting longer, temperatures are getting warmer, and some Alaska communities – such as the town of Nome – have renewed hopes for a 2021 cruise ship season.

In a way, Nome is counting on some sort of cruise ship season. While it may not be full-scale, many there are expecting that there will at least be more visitors this summer than last, as travel restrictions ease and vaccination rates rise.

Things there are certainly different than in most places. In Nome, for example, you’re expected to present a vaccination card or be subjected to a quick COVID-19 test before going out and about in the community.

That, however, could lead one to seeing Alaska at its finest: under bright sunlight, musk oxen can be found gallivanting on the local runway, while seals have taken to resting on the last few floating pieces of ice at the local port.

There is where the people of Nome hope you might arrive via cruise ship at the expanding dock, as the community crosses its fingers for a better tourism season in 2021.

“We had 15 cruise ships slated to come up the first year of the pandemic, and all of those canceled,” said Drew McCann of the Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That would have been a record number.”

McCann said he hopes the flexibility cruise lines are providing passengers and high-quality Arctic accommodations being so nice will attract more travel to the area.

“This year, we had 18 or 19 cruise ships that were looking to come up,” he said, “and we’re hoping to get one (of those ships) four times so we’re still very hopeful to have that.”

Nome is famous for the annual Iditarod finish, avoided this past year because of the pandemic. Through that, coronavirus has affected tourism’s bottom line in the town, by around $2 million, according to McCann. Along with this year, there’s already promise in next year, the group said.

“We have spoken to several cruise lines that are even planning on their maiden voyages up to Nome with their new vessels in 2022 or 2023,” McCann said, ”so it’s exciting that the industry hasn’t lost faith in coming up.”

The town isn’t the only one that’s suffered dearly from a freeze on cruise ship travel. Canada and the United State both halted those operations last year, crippling Alaska’s cruise industry and much of its tourism industry as a whole, which McCann said had expected about 1.3 million people to arrive by ship.

According to McCann, some estimates for state losses because of the lack of cruise ships have been in the ballpark of $3 billion.

Business owners sprinkled throughout Nome, though, are excited about the season to come and say most visitor numbers will at least be better than last year, a season during which few traveled to Alaska and those who ventured within the state largely stayed on the road system.

“It was really tough last year; it was slow,” said Jelma Chang of Airport Pizza. “But at least now, since the vaccine came out, it’s started to get little bit better.”

Chang said that even some tourism means some money for local businesses.

“It’s not like the usual, because usually, summer here, we’re really kind of busy,” she said. “There’s cruises stopping by, there’s a lot of tourists, bird watchers. But last year, we didn’t have any kinds of tourists.”

Rebecca Palsha contributed to this report. Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.