Cruise lines are taking bookings for an Alaska cruise season that might not even happen

Tourists walk on Skagway’s railroad dock in summer of 2016. The cliff, where a rockslide occurred Aug. 26, is adjacent to Skagway’s biggest cruise ship dock. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Despite a federal “no sail” order, Carnival Cruise Line is offering a seven-day sailing through Southeast Alaska in early July. That was news to Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata, whose small town is virtually shut down in hopes of avoiding a spike in coronavirus cases.

“I would hope that Carnival Cruise Lines reaches out to us in this community before they set sail,” Cremata said.

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There aren’t any confirmed COVID-19 cases in Skagway and the town wants to keep it that way. Skagway’s health clinic has two ventilators. There’s no hospital. But the remote community’s economy is based on cruise tourism and it planned for an all-time high number of cruise ship visitors this year. So did Juneau and Ketchikan, the other Alaska ports on the itinerary.

“We want cruise ships to come here,” Cremata said. “We want the passengers to come here. We need them to, but we also want good partners. And we want to work with people and cruise ship companies that respect the people in this community and, above all else, respect their health.”

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So far, the cruise season in Alaska has been on hold. Coronavirus fears have closed ports up and down the Pacific. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending Americans avoid cruise ship travel because the risk of disease transmission is higher on the ships. On Thursday, the CDC also issued a 100-day extension to its March “no sail” order for cruise ships.

It’s not just Carnival. Other lines, like Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, are also taking bookings for a cruise season that Southeast Alaska communities aren’t even sure will happen.

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Carnival’s port call in Juneau is far from a sure thing.

“I would say that we would say that it’s speculative at this time,” he said. “We have not taken up the question of how or when we’ll be ready for ships to come.”

Watt thinks it’s likely the cruise line is taking the temperature of the market. He said Juneau has not yet decided on future community protocols for any cruise ships.

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It’s unclear how many people have booked Carnival’s trip, but the company’s website shows up to 50 people eyeing the sailing at a time.

Mike Tibbles, the industry’s spokesperson in Alaska, said he can’t speak for individual lines, but until a cruise line announces a cancellation, that trip would still be open for booking.

If the season is on hold until mid-July, Tibbles said, it will affect hundreds of sailings and cost Alaska communities $428 million in direct passenger spending.

The CDC could roll back its 100-day extension if the agency sees fit or if the federal emergency declaration is lifted, but that wouldn’t really change things for Alaska’s cruise season as Canada’s ports are still closed through July 1.

CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck contributed to this story.

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