Ketchikan’s berths 1 and 2 sit empty in this file photo. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Federal public health authorities have taken a step towards allowing cruises to resume in U.S. waters. But there’s still no clear timeline for cruises from American ports to resume.

Some are applauding Friday’s development. But others that say the requirements outlined in the new guidance aren’t practical for small coastal communities.


The CDC’s new guidance clarifies how port communities and cruise lines can work to resume cruising.

But the cruise industry said the new rules are “unworkable.” Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement the rules are so murky that “no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”

The trade group known as CLIA is calling on the feds to lift restrictions on cruising this month.

But some see the new CDC guidance as a step forward. The agency hasn’t given much indication on how cruising should resume since late last year. Ketchikan Visitors Bureau President and CEO Patti Mackey said there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“But I think that, at least, it’s a step in the right direction, and they’ve identified some key things that we’ve all had questions about, particularly the community agreements with the cruise lines,” Mackey said.

Alaska’s U.S. Senate delegation also applauded the new guidance.

“There is still a lot of work for the cruise lines and our port communities to do to implement the CDC instructions issued today, but we are encouraged by [CDC Director] Dr. [Rochelle] Walensky’s projections that, with this guidance and timely implementation of the next phases, we could see cruise ships in U.S. waters as early as mid-summer,” Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan said in a joint statement.

There are concerns from smaller towns that host big ships that the CDC’s requirements on how to respond to outbreaks just aren’t practical.

Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Nils Andreassen said coastal communities already have very limited medical facilities if sick passengers or crew had to disembark in an emergency.

“I really worry about the capacity of especially our smaller ports to be able to do all the things that are outlined in those in that guidance,” Andreassen said.

At its height Skagway welcomed nearly 1.5 million cruise passengers. But it doesn’t have a hospital or the infrastructure the CDC would require under the new guidance.

Mayor Andrew Cremata said a community of around a thousand people can’t provide treatment for megaships with four to five times its year-round population.

“The reality of the situation is, I look at the CDC guidelines that came out on Friday, and I’m throwing my hands in the air, because we can’t do that,” Cremata said.

He said he’s resigned to the idea that cruises won’t return to Skagway in 2021 — he’s focused on promoting independent tourism over the summer and hopes cruise ships return next year.

Whether cruise lines will return to Alaska this summer remains an open question, but hope appears to be fading. The CDC requires that cruise lines give 30 days’ notice before operators conduct a simulated voyage intended to test health protocols. The agency requires another 60-day waiting period before they’ll grant lines the right to set sail with paying passengers.

And, of course, Alaska’s international cruise vessels can’t sail between the Lower 48 and Alaska without a stop in British Columbia. But Canada has closed its ports and waters to cruise ships until at least next spring. A legislative workaround has found broad support from Alaska’s elected officials but so far gained little traction in Congress.