COVID-19 postpones Alaska cruise season

A cruise ship approaches Juneau. Photo courtesy Susan Sommer

BY M.T. SCHWARTZMAN


Alaska was expecting a record number of cruise passengers in 2020. Exciting new choices included new points of embarkation; new small-ship, luxury, and expedition cruises; and new facilities ashore. But almost all of that is on hold at least until July 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alaska’s cruise season for big ships generally begins in late April—Juneau’s first cruise call was scheduled to be the Carnival Spirit on April 24—but on March 13, the government of Canada announced it was shutting Canadian ports to cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers and crew through June 30. This effectively delayed the beginning of the Alaska cruise season, since, according to U.S. maritime law, foreign-flag ships must stop at a foreign port in order to carry passengers between American ports. This is why cruise ships typically stop in Victoria when sailing roundtrip from Seattle. For its part, Seattle has said its cruise sailings would be delayed “until the resolution of the public health emergency.”

While all of Alaska’s large cruise ships are foreign flagged, a handful of smaller vessels are U.S. flagged and thus not subject to the foreign port requirement. However, the state of Alaska mandated in late March that all individuals arriving in Alaska, including visitors, self-isolate for 14 days in a designated quarantine location (for visitors, a hotel room or rented lodging)—making even small-ship cruising impractical for the moment. This requirement will be re-evaluated by April 21, according to the state. Operators can still take bookings, though, and one small-ship line, Sitka-based Alaskan Dream Cruises, has said it hopes to begin sailing in early summer if the restrictions are lifted.

More information about COVID-19 and traveling to Alaska can be found at travelalaska.com, the official tourism website for the state of Alaska.

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