An Alaska Coach Tours bus parks near where the Norwegian Encore was docked. Alexandra Pierce, the CBJ tourism manager, said this year’s season went “relatively smoothly” and said the revival of tourism was overall well received by the residents and downtown businesses. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

An Alaska Coach Tours bus parks near where the Norwegian Encore was docked. Alexandra Pierce, the CBJ tourism manager, said this year’s season went “relatively smoothly” and said the revival of tourism was overall well received by the residents and downtown businesses. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Final cruise ship of 2022 leaves Juneau

Capital city says farewell to its last ship of the season

Juneau’s 2022 cruise ship season closed with an Encore — a Norwegian Encore that is.

The final cruise ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore, was set to sail out of Juneau Tuesday night, marking the end of another tourism season that, according to officials, brought near pre-pandemic numbers of visitors to the capital city.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
The final cruise ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore, sailed out of Juneau Tuesday night marking the end of another tourism season that, according to officials, brought near pre-pandemic numbers of visitors to the capital city.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire The final cruise ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore, sailed out of Juneau Tuesday night marking the end of another tourism season that, according to officials, brought near pre-pandemic numbers of visitors to the capital city.

In total, this season’s average capacity level across cruise lines hit around 74% over its multiple-month span, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, which equates to around a quarter below the average capacity level pre-pandemic when ships were almost always full.

However, according to Lalanya Downs, senior director of community relations and public affairs for CLIA, the agency forecasts next year’s capacity levels to be even higher, with deployment for 2023 projected to be above 2019 levels. In 2019, 1.3 million cruise ship passengers came to Juneau.

This comes after two years of a significant lack of cruise ships and tourism in the capital city — and other Southeast Alaska regions — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the 2022 season in the rearview mirror, city officials and cruise line representatives said this year’s season brought many positive impacts to the Juneau community and economy, but also didn’t come without its fair share of hurdles.

Alexandra Pierce, the CBJ tourism manager, said this year’s season went “relatively smoothly.” Though still too early to know the entirety of its impact both on the community and economy, she said, the revival of tourism was overall well received by the residents and downtown businesses.

“I think more or less the community was relieved to see the industry despite the usual concerns and constraints,” she said. “I think it’s a sign that the effects of the pandemic are winding down.”

Kimberly Metcalfe, a longtime Juneau resident who has frequently called for actions to curb the local impact of cruise ship tourism, said she is “happy to see the season end” and said she thinks there were — and have been — too many tourists coming into Juneau. She said the number of tourists this year negatively affected her daily life and neighborhood on Basin Road.

“I am happy to see the industry leave for the winter and I would very much want to see the city limit the number of ships that come to Juneau,” she said. “They keep making larger ships and the numbers keep growing.”

Metcalfe said Juneau is a “very small and remote town” and she thinks the number of people coming during the season is a health and safety hazard for residents in multiple ways.

“There are so many reasons I think that they should be limited, aside from the impact from my own neighborhood, I think the whole town suffers,” she said.

Staffing and capacity levels

Pierce said the city saw a fair share of issues including a labor shortage across the industry, but the lack of crossing guards and bus drivers at Capital Transit put a damper on the city’s ability to provide adequate service to both tourists and residents in Juneau.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
People roll their suit cases toward the entrance to the Norwegian Encore on Wednesday afternoon. In total this season’s average capacity level across cruise lines hit around 74% over its multiple-month span, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, which equates to around a quarter below the average capacity level pre-pandemic when ships were almost always full.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire People roll their suit cases toward the entrance to the Norwegian Encore on Wednesday afternoon. In total this season’s average capacity level across cruise lines hit around 74% over its multiple-month span, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, which equates to around a quarter below the average capacity level pre-pandemic when ships were almost always full.

Pierce also noted the current housing crisis in the city also made it difficult for cruise lines to house many of its staff even though the city had fewer visitors than projected.

Trinitey Letterman, a dock rep for her mother’s companies Alaska Galore Tours, Harv and Marv’s outback Alaska and Juneau Lighthouse Tours, said this year’s season was “busier than anticipated” and was happy to have such an “amazing comeback season.”

Letterman said staffing was a bit of an issue, but the crew was able to make things work. She said on their biggest day their crews gave tours to more than 270 people. On Tuesday, she said they expected to give tours to 15 people.

Matt Lupoli, senior manager of public relations for Carnival Cruise Line, said the 2022 season was a “success” for its cruise ships and noted its three-ship fleet brought more than 100,000 guests from both Seattle and San Francisco into Alaska.

“We’re thrilled by the success of this season,” Lupoli said. “It’s clear that local tourism businesses missed the economic impact that the summer cruise season brings to the region and after a difficult period for the industry, we’re pleased to have played a larger role in the first full-season return to cruising.”

Lupoli said Carnival Cruise Line made “modest changes” due to staffing challenges at the beginning of the season. He said those changes, which he did not identify, were temporary and affected some of its dining options, but by midseason staffing challenge was alleviated.

Lupoli also noted that the closure of the Skagway dock required the Carnival Cruise Line to change its docking location.

He said looking to the 2023 season, the cruise line plans to return to Alaska with its three-ship fleet bringing tourists from the Seattle and San Francisco area.

A spokesperson for the Royal Caribbean Group said between its three cruise lines — Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises — the group sailed 10 ships to Alaska this year, which is its largest deployment to date and is a 110% increase in Alaska guests compared to 2019.

The spokesperson said all ships were fully staffed and did not have to cancel any voyages due to staffing concerns. They noted its ships had to divert away from Skagway due to the shutdown of the Skagway dock and anchored offshore, tendering guests to port for the remainder of the season.

The spokesperson said it is looking to continue its community partnerships in Juneau and return its fleets to Alaska for the 2023 season.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond in time for publication.

Emergency responses

According to Capital City Fire/Rescue Assistant Chief Ed Quinto, it was “pretty uneventful” in terms of the number of cruise ship-related incidents that CCFR responded to during the season.

“Pretty much overall we were able to handle all the calls and any delays in response to the cruise lines, if anyone called us we were able to get down there and take care of it,” he said.

He said CCFR did join the Coast Guard in its search for one of the two missing person incidents reported by the Coast Guard this year. He said in early August after being notified by the Coast Guard, CCFR officials took out boats and assisted in checking under the docks and shoreline but did not find anyone.

The missing person was later identified by Holland America as a “team member” for the Koningsdam ship. According to a Holland America Line spokesperson, a review of closed-circuit TV footage indicated the man likely went overboard intentionally.

Quinto said the 2022 season “pretty much held steady” compared to pre-pandemic seasons and said there wasn’t anything particularly unusual about the type or number of calls.

The season ahead

Pierce said she is excited about the 2023 season but is holding off on making a forecast of what the year’s season will look like until she gets more information.

She said the city will continue to address tourism-related issues throughout the rest of the year in preparation for the 2023 season, including taking steps toward electrifying city docks, other cruise industry-related infrastructure goals, better communication on scheduling and changing port capacity limits.

“I think we’re working with the cruise industry toward bettering the visitor experience and resident experience — that’s something the city has heard loud and clear from residents,” she said. “I think we’re making a really good headway and I’m hoping we can continue that energy into the 2023 season.”

Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or 651-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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