Cruise ship season begins in Juneau

Jade Wang and Minhui Li smile for a photo in front of a sign in downtown Juneau on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

The Norwegian Bliss docked in Juneau Tuesday morning, marking the start of the 2024 cruise ship season. 

Jade Wang and Minhui Li set up their tripod to take a selfie in front of the “Welcome to Juneau” sign on the seawalk. They came from New York. Through a translation device, they said in Chinese that they think the snow on the mountains is beautiful. 

“Wǒ huì tuījiàn zǔguó de péngyǒu lái — I would recommend my friends from the Motherland to come here,” Li said.

Another couple, Jean and Rob Hands, said they came all the way from Scotland to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in Alaska. 

“We always talked about coming to Alaska, so it was one of those last-minute decisions ‘Let’s see if we can go,’” Jean Hands said. “Probably if we’d come later, we might have seen more of the wildlife.”

Jeff Reid from Campbell, Calif., takes a photo of a cruise ship in Juneau on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Rob Hands said he sees similarities between the tourism in Juneau and back home in Scotland.

“We get loads and loads of visitors. The roads become full of campers and caravans, and you can’t get a place for bed and breakfast unless you book ahead,” he said. “And, you know, it is busy but does well for the economy. So that’s a great thing.”

More than 1.6 million passengers are expected to arrive in Juneau from now until late October, when the season ends. On Tuesday morning, a steady stream of tourists walked down the seawalk and into stores downtown.

tourist stands
Tour operators offer tours at booths by the seawalk in downtown Juneau on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

The familiar smell of grilled chicken filled the air from Bernadette’s barbecue stand, near Marine Park. Robert De La Cruz said he’d prepared 200 chicken skewers for the opening day, and he hoped they’d all get eaten by the time the ship left. 

“Hopefully, we sell them — as long as it’s not windy and rainy, that’s my fear. When it’s windy and rainy, people don’t get out,” he said. “It’s fun, I’m getting excited this year.”

Brandy Riggs, with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch, stood at a booth along the seawalk. She said visitors had been buying tours to the Mendenhall Glacier and for whale-watching trips throughout the morning. 

“There’s no guarantee that you’re gonna see whales — but we’re definitely offering it still,” she said. “We’ve got some glacier trips going on, and here in the next couple of weeks, we’ll have some city tours going on as well.”

Ravens sit near the seawalk in downtown Juneau on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Down Franklin Street, Gary’s Fine Jewelry was also welcoming customers. Owner Gary Totwani keeps the store open year-round, and he said he’s happy to see the tourism season start.

“A lot of people are happy — locals and the people who work for the local stores, they’re happy also,” he said. “So far, so good. I’m excited to welcome the ship, and we’re ready.”

The next ship will arrive in a week.

Katie Anastas contributed reporting.

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