Juneau had a record-breaking cruise season last year. This year should be about the same.

a cruise ship
Passengers of the Norwegian Bliss look out from staterooms as they wait to debark on downtown Juneau’s first cruise-ship visit in April 2023. (Clarise Larson/Juneau Empire)

Juneau’s 2024 cruise ship tourism season is just around the corner as the first ship of the year — the Norwegian Bliss — is slated to arrive early Tuesday morning.

Last year, the capital city saw its busiest season ever — welcoming more than 1.6 million passengers. On the busiest days, Juneau welcomed upwards of 21,000 cruise visitors. 

Juneau Tourism Manager Alix Pierce said this year likely won’t top last year’s record-breaking season. She expects to see about the same number of visitors.

“I think it will run a lot more smoothly, and things will be better,” she said. “Generally, our tour operators know what to expect. They know what kind of volume to expect, and they’re gearing up and getting ready.”

In a survey conducted last fall, about 64% of Juneau residents said they wanted to keep the local tourism volume about the same or reduce it slightly. 

But some major problems did crop up during 2023’s record season — things like heavy downtown congestion, the Mendenhall Glacier reaching its tour capacity and business owners saying it was just hard to keep up.

One big change this year for controlling the traffic will be a new limit of five large ships per day. 

During a tourism panel on Thursday, Cruise Lines International Association Alaska spokesperson Renee Reeve said that agreement with the city will be key to flattening growth in the coming years.

“I think what that shows is industry’s commitment and CBJs commitment to making this place somewhere that visitors want to visit, and somewhere that the residents want to live,” she said.

A limit on the number of ships does not necessarily mean fewer passengers. But an even bigger change could be coming in 2026. Pierce said the city is in the early stages of negotiating with cruise lines to limit the number of passengers that come off their ships each day. 

“The best thing that we can come up with are daily passenger caps to keep our numbers relatively flat or decrease a little bit,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of these things come to fruition, and then seeing how it feels in terms of passenger volume, and numbers and what that means for us as a destination.”

Last season, cruise ship passengers spent a total of $320 million in Juneau, according to a report that came out last fall. To support that business, it’s estimated that more than 3,000 people in Juneau worked jobs that were directly related to tourism. 

Local tour operators faced a tough situation after they sold out on bus trips to the Mendenhall Glacier halfway through the season, which meant more tourists stayed downtown.

This year, the city plans to send extra buses to follow the city buses that carry people out to the glacier to handle the overflow. Pierce said local operators are also trying to balance their permits over the season to reduce congestion on buses and downtown.

“They’re offering more city tours that go to other sites where you can see the glacier from elsewhere. So they’re trying to pick up that volume in different ways,” she said.

In April, about one-to-three ships will port in Juneau per week before ramping up to three-to-five ships per day by the latter half of May. Ships will continue to port in Juneau nearly every day before winding down in late October. 

And as tourism kicks up for the summer, residents can send in complaints and concerns to the city’s tourism hotline.

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