Slow start to cruise season is even slower for Juneau Filipino businesses

A food stand outside on a rainy day in Juneau
Carrillo’s and Bernadette’s food stands in Juneau’s Marine Park on April 25, 2022 — the first day of the year with a large cruise ship in port. Both businesses cater to Filipino and Indonesian cruise ship workers. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO)

A megaship called the Norwegian Bliss was the first large cruise ship to come to Juneau this year. It tied up at the dock farthest from downtown, but at Bernadette’s barbecue stand, Dannie Lazaro was grilling a pile of chicken skewers in the hopes that people would start heading his way.

He wasn’t waiting for tourists, though. Most of his business is with the workers on the ship who largely hail from the Philippines or Indonesia and are often hankering for a taste of home.

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Last year, COVID-19 restrictions meant that the crew more often than not couldn’t get off the ships in port at all, so that means Bernadette’s and other businesses in town that cater to crewmembers, did practically zero business. Bernadette’s offered delivery. Local longshoremen would pick up the food and take it to the crew stuck on the boats, but that hardly made up for the hundreds or thousands of workers that used to pass by his stand every day before the pandemic.

More than an hour after the ship docked, it was still unclear if the crew would get off the Norwegian Bliss. Lazaro was waiting for all the passengers to get off and then for the crew to board a van that would bring them closer to town.

Lazaro also owns a gift shop on touristy South Franklin Street in Juneau. It’s closer to the ship and people who looked like passengers were starting to trickle in. But no crew. Lazaro’s son Dan was working at the store.

“We have money remittance service, so we rely on them to come down,” he said.

The shop is one of several downtown that offers overseas workers a way to wire money back home. It doesn’t make its money from T-shirts and mugs.

A sidewalk sign for Frontier Gifts advertising money transfers to India, Indonesia and the Philippines
Frontier Gifts on South Franklin Street in Juneau on April 25, the first day of the 2022 cruise season. The store relies on revenue from cruise ship workers wiring money to their home countries. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO)

Eventually, the street started to fill up with tourists. And finally the van that usually shuttles the crew around town pulled up in front of Bernadette’s barbecue stand. But it was empty. The crew wouldn’t be getting off the ship after all. But a local office worker on his lunch break walked up and ordered some chicken skewers.

“How many you want? A thousand?” Lazaro joked.

The slow start to the cruise season was expected. This ship was about half full, but city officials in Juneau have budgeted for a million passengers to come through town this year, knowing that the steady stream of ships will become more and more full as the season progresses.

Each cruise line has its own rules about who gets off the boat and where. Norwegian is notoriously strict. But there are two more ships coming this week and more than a dozen coming every week after that, so Dannie Lazaro will keep the grill hot and keep the chicken skewers coming in the hopes that those hungry crew members will eventually stop by.

This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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