Alaska cruise cancellations pile up even as lines plan return to North America this summer

A cruise ship next to a forested hill
Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas, a quantum-class cruise ship, in Skagway’s port. (Claire Stremple/KHNS)

Cruises are returning to North America in June, but the news isn’t as good for Alaska as it might sound.

Cruises are still effectively banned in the U.S.: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have yet to issue rules necessary for cruise lines to resume calling on U.S. ports.

And cancellations are starting to take a bite out of the heart of the Alaska cruise season. PrincessHolland America and Disney have each canceled cruises from Seattle through the end of June. Norwegian has nixed worldwide sailings through June as well.

None of them are taking online bookings for the 2021 Alaska summer season. The next scheduled voyage is a trans-Pacific sailing in October.

That’s due in part to Canadian authorities’ decision to bar cruise ships from the country’s waters until early next year. Federal law requires foreign-flagged ships — including all large cruise ships sailing to Alaska — to make an international stop on domestic routes.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the state’s congressional delegation is working to overcome that significant hurdle.

Legislation that would waive the federal law requiring a foreign stop hasn’t picked up steam so far. But Murkowski said that’s only one part of the effort. The delegation is lobbying the Biden administration and the Canadian government to allow the season to go forward.

“So you have a legislative track, you have an administrative track, you have a personal persuasion track — where effectively, as a delegation, we are raising this issue with anyone who will listen and work with us,” Murkowski said.

State lawmakers are also advancing a resolution calling for a waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act, the law that requires a foreign stop.

But the clock is ticking. Norwegian’s CEO recently told investors it’d take roughly 90 days to go from layup to sailing again.

Local officials and business owners in Ketchikan aren’t betting on a 2021 season happening. Ketchikan’s city council voted to lay off two city employees Thursday after local officials said another near-zero cruise season would cost almost $9 million in lost tax and fee revenue.

And consulting firm Bermello, Ajamil and Partners issued a bulletin this week predicting large cruise ships won’t return to Alaska ports until April 2022, at the earliest.

As U.S. and Canadian authorities appear hesitant to allow cruises to resume, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and another cruise line, Crystal, are starting the summer on Caribbean islands outside of U.S. jurisdiction.

Celebrity will sail from the island of St. Maarten on the Millenium, which normally sails to Alaska over the summer. Crystal and Royal Caribbean will sail from the Bahamas.

All three lines will require adult guests to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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