ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A handful of major cruise lines have announced they will resume selling tickets for trips to Alaska after the U.S. Congress passed a bill Thursday allowing ships to bypass Canada on their way to the Last Frontier.
The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, and allows the state to recover at least a portion of its cruise season, the absence of which in 2020 was felt deeply across the state’s tourism sector.
The bill was first passed by the Senate last week, and exempts large cruise vessels from the Passenger Vessel Services Act. That act prohibits foreign-flagged ships from taking passengers between two different U.S. ports without stopping at a nearby foreign port. For cruises coming to Alaska, that’s Canada, which has banned cruise ships from its waters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being exempt from the Passenger Vessel Services Act will allow large cruise ships to bypass Canada on trips to Alaska, and several cruise lines took advantage of that on Thursday, announcing they will resume sailing to the state later this summer.
Norwegian Cruise Line resumed selling tickets for its Norwegian Bliss cruise ship to Alaska on Tuesday, ahead of the bill’s final passage.
“We remain optimistic that by working with the CDC and local port and government authorities in the destinations we visit that we will be able to resume safe cruising in the U.S. this summer,” said a Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson via email Tuesday. “As such, we have opened for sale voyages on Norwegian Bliss to be scheduled for August until the end of the season.”
The state had been on the verge of experiencing another nonexistent cruise season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Canada’s ban on large cruise ships until February 2022.
However, on May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on mask mandates for fully vaccinated people, saying they no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most places.
After the bill passed the House on Thursday, Holland America Line announced it would restart service to Alaska from Seattle in July. The bookings aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam are currently open for 10 Saturday departures that will run from July 24 through Oct. 2, according to a press release from Holland America Line.
The trips will make stops in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Icy Strait Point.
“Plans for these cruises to fulfill Holland America Line’s obligations under the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) are expected to be approved, as are final instructions from CDC, and the company is beginning the return-to-cruising preparation process effective immediately,” the company wrote.
Also Thursday, it was announced Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line also plan to return to service this summer with Alaska trips departing from Seattle.
Princess Cruises will resume in Alaska from July 25 through Sept. 26 and will offer seven-day cruises with visits to Glacier Bay National Park, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, according to a release from Carnival Corporation.
Carnival Cruise Line has opened its Alaska sailings that run July 27 through Sept. 14, and will offer weekly sailings. The cruise line will offer seven-day cruises stopping in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, as well as Tracy Arm Fjord.
Holland, Carnival and Princess are all owned by the Carnival Corporation.
“It is great news for cruising, for travelers ready to again explore the world and for all the communities in Alaska that depend on cruising and have suffered great hardships over the past year,” said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation in the press release. “As one of America’s natural treasures, Alaska is a land of beauty and wonder, and one of the most popular destinations for our guests. We look forward to our brands restarting this summer from the U.S. while also supporting our longtime partners and the communities in Alaska.”
Earlier this week before the bill passed the House, Rorie Watt, Juneau’s city manager, was optimistic that Alaska would see a partial large cruise ship season in 2021.
“I think we’re going to see ships in August from all the major cruise lines, probably not more than one a day,” he said. “Probably not more than five a week or six a week.”
The action earlier this week by the Senate prompted a flurry of text messages to be sent among staff at Allen Marine Tours.
Zak Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for the company, described hope and excitement that large cruise ships could come back to Alaska later in the summer, allowing tours to start operating again.
“We’re ready to hit the ground running as hard as we can,” he said.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.
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