Port communities in Southeast Alaska are seeing the return of cruise ships this week as the Norwegian Bliss made the inaugural voyage of the season. Tour operators and residents in Ketchikan say they’re glad to see some fresh faces in town.
Bagpipes greeted the first passengers of the 2022 cruise season in Ketchikan as they stepped off the megaship Norwegian Bliss. Visitors filed inside Ward Cove’s former pulp mill warehouse that’s now restyled as a cruise terminal.
Inside, Erika D’Monty was waiting for a kayak trip to the Tatoosh Islands after disembarking from the Bliss. Though the ship is carrying just about 2,000 people, about half of its capacity, the Vancouver, B.C. resident says the ship doesn’t feel like it.
“I’m really surprised at how full it is. It’s really crowded. I guess everyone’s looking forward to going on cruises again,” she said.
City officials in Ketchikan say they’re expecting early-season ships to bring about 30-50% of their typical capacity, though passenger numbers are expected to rise to nearly 90% by the peak of the summer.
Allen Marine sales manager Erik Schoeppner says the slow start is a bit of a blessing in disguise. He says the tour company had to lay off much of its staff during the pandemic.
“I have a lot of new crew, so I have a lot of them with me here today, and it’s a good way to train them up and not be too crazy yet until next week,” he said.
Many Ketchikan residents seem to be jazzed about the return of the large ships, too. Bob Thomas says from outside a local grocery store that he’s glad tourists are returning to Ketchikan, which relies on visitors to fuel much of the economy.
“We need the revenue. I’ve been here all my life and I’m glad to see them come back,” Thomas said.
Outside the Sourdough Bar, resident Aaron Shull says it’s a good time to be looking for work.
“I think wages are up for everybody around here, too, this year. (There’s a) lack of employees, still, so if you guys need a job show up, come on out and get it,” he said.
Though it’s not clear how full the ships will be, the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau is projecting a record 637 port calls by 48 ships this year. That’s about six times as many port calls as last year. And about 12% more than 2019, which was a record-setting season with nearly 1.2 million passengers.
Alaska’s cruise season is scheduled to run through October 21 when the last cruise ship ties up for the year.