April 6, 2020

Princess and Viking Suspend Cruises. Alaska towns brace for 2020 season

Alaska towns fear for the 2020 season.

(From Anchorage Daily News) The massive fallout from the spread of coronavirus infections continues to greatly impact the cruise industry. Both Princess Cruises and Viking have announced suspension of cruise itineraries for the next 30 to 60 days. Princess Cruises announced early Thursday that it will be pausing global operations of its 18 cruise ships for two months out of an “abundance of caution” over the COVID-19 pandemic. Viking Cruises was the first to announce its cancellations. It is canceling cruises through April 30, according to USA Today.

The move will affect voyages departing March 12 to May 10, according to the company, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.

The U.S. government has explicitly warned Americans not to travel on cruise ships due to coronavirus, a little more than a month before the start of Alaska’s projected 1.4 million visitor summer cruise season.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department said in an alert Sunday.

The advisory is raising questions and anxieties in Alaska’s cruise port towns with the arrival of the first ships expected at the end of April. Cruise visitors spend $2.8 billion in the state each season, according to the Cruise Industry Association of Alaska.

On Monday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy tried to offer reassurance, saying there was “time to work through the cruise ship issues” before the season begins.

But whether the coronavirus warning, plus nonstop scenes of quarantined ships seeking ports, will have many would-be cruise passengers rethinking their vacations remains to be seen.

Cruise lines have not announced any cancellations of sailings to Alaska, and have even added sailings as ships were pulled from their Asia seasons early, said Mike Tribbles of CLIA, the Alaska cruise industry organization. The organization said in a statement that it was “surprised at the advisory” but would work with the government on an “aggressive, responsive plan” for summer cruising in Alaska.

“Our first priority is to protect our guests, our crew and the communities where we sail,” CLIA said in a statement. “This includes more stringent boarding procedures, adding additional onboard medical resources and temperature screenings at embarkation.”

Still, lots of questions remain.

Perhaps no Alaska town has more to lose than Skagway, where 454 cruise port visits are planned for this summer. The Southeast Alaska town has a population of only 700-800 during the winter, but swells up to 30,000 people on days when multiple large cruise ships come to unleash passengers on its historic downtown.

Some 95% of the economy in Skagway is tied to cruise ship tourism, said Mayor Andrew Cremata, a freelance writer who has lived in the town for 26 years.

His first priority is making sure Skagway’s health is protected — but economic health is important too: Many people in town make their living during the short summer tourism season, and a significant reduction in the number of cruise visitors would be devastating.

“We have to look at worst case scenarios,” said Cremata. “Either a long delay in cruise ship (arrivals) or cancellations, for a week or a month or the whole season.”

That said, he’s optimistic. The town has done a good job of making its own emergency preparedness plans for coronavirus.

“We need to prepare for the worst but ideally, this thing mitigates itself,” he said.

The mayor of Sitka, scheduled for about 200 cruise port calls this summer, is also weighing options.

“Certainly our town relies significantly on tourism,” said Gary Paxton. “But to say we’re gonna lose our cruise industry is an overstatement.”

Anchorage Daily News: Alaska Towns brace for 2020 season

Anne Vipond About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.