First large cruise ship arrives in Alaska after 21 months

Published: Jul. 10, 2021 at 6:48 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 10, 2021 at 6:50 AM CDT
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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - The first large cruise ship to dock in Alaska in almost two years arrived in Ketchikan Friday.

The Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas is on a simulated voyage per requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test protocols for safe voyages, KTUU reported.

It left Seattle and docked in Ketchikan for around eight hours before heading back south to Seattle in the evening. It had around 10% of its full passenger capacity.

A smattering of Ketchikan residents came out in light rain to greet the ship as it pulled into port around 7 a.m.

“We’re very excited, we’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Norbert Garney. “Hopefully, there will be a whole lot more ships after this one.”

Passengers disembarked wearing faces masks. Many are employed by Royal Caribbean and volunteered for the test sailing before cruise ships with more passengers start arriving later in July and through October.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Sean Rollins, a passenger, on the downtown Ketchikan dock. “I think everybody is really dying to get out and explore again, everybody has been yearning for a vacation for 15 months.”

Tour operators were ready for the 300 or so passengers stepping off into Ketchikan.

Rick Thomas, owner of Sourdough Tours, spoke about the challenges facing the city. The local visitor’s bureau estimates the city lost $250 million last year with cruise ship cancellations.

“It’s great to see them come back,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we’ll see them have a great season out here.”

Close to the Serenade of the Seas, a group of Alaska dignitaries gathered to celebrate the return of cruising in Alaska.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said it was just the economic boost the state needed after the pandemic devastated the visitor industry in 2020. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, helped pass legislation in May that was needed for large foreign-owned cruise ships to temporarily bypass stopping in Canada before sailing to Alaska.

“We’re here today for a celebration because this ship is just the beginning,” she said.

The shortened 2021 cruise ship season will see fewer sailings than a typical year. It’s unclear to what capacity the ships will be full when they sail to Alaska.

Tom Mattis, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, said the company will look to “moderately” increase its passenger loads as it works to prove that its COVID-19 protocols work.

In the meantime, some shopping bags are full and some tours were busy again.

Jamie Palmer, the Ketchikan division manager at Allen Marine Tours, was overjoyed as 32 passengers left aboard one of their ships to visit Annette Island.

“This is a huge day for us,” she said.

Copyright 2021 KTUU via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.