The final cruise ship sailed out of Juneau on Wednesday, marking the end of a tourism season that almost didn’t happen.
The last ship of the year, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore, brought 2,238 visitors to Juneau Wednesday, according to Carl Uchytil, port director for the City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors Department.
“There were fits and starts, we didn’t really know until June,” Uchytil said. “We struggled to find people on short notice to maintain the facilities. It certainly was not a normal year by any metric.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down cruise ship sailing entirely in 2020, and this year, the industry pushed back against regulations imposed on cruise ships by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But even once ships were able to sail again, Alaska’s cruise ship season faced another hurdle when the Canadian government announced its borders would remain closed to cruises.
That created a problem for the larger ships, most of which are flagged from Caribbean nations, and U.S. law that places certain requirements on foreign ships. Cruise ships were previously able to fulfill those requirements by stopping in Vancouver, British Columbia, but with that option closed, Alaska’s congressional delegation had to work quickly to allow ships to sail to Alaska.
The first large cruise ship of the season arrived July 23, but it wasn’t carrying a full load of passengers. Cruise ships have been running at below capacity, per CDC regulations.
In total, large cruise ships brought in a total of 115,755 passengers to Juneau in 2021, including the Encore on Wednesday, Uchytil said in a phone interview, and smaller cruise lines brought 7,263 passengers for a total of 123,018.
The last full cruise ship season, 2019, was a high-water mark for visitors, Uchytil said, with large ships bringing 1.27 million in that year and more than 10,000 passengers on smaller cruise lines.
Shops were open on South Franklin Street Wednesday, but several businesses catering to the tourism industry have already closed down for the season. But the end of the season didn’t bother Kris and Stephen Rector from Jasper, Tennessee, who said while standing on Juneau’s waterfront that they were happy to be in town.
“We knew things would be more limited. Doesn’t seem to bother us,” said Kris Rector, holding up a shopping bag. “We were able to spend some money.”
Stephen Rector said this was the couple’s first visit to Alaska and they had always wanted to come.
“The scenery at Glacier Bay was just amazing,” he said.
Uchytil said he was pleased with how Juneau’s new harbor infrastructure —a new parking lot at Don D. Statter Harbor and the completion of the deckover on the downtown waterfront —had served the public. The open space created by the deckover is currently being referred to as the Archipelago lot, Uchytil said, but the department was drafting a proposal to rename the space Peratrovich Plaza.
Over the summer a mural of Alaska civil rights icon Elizabeth Peratrovich was installed on the side of the parking garage building overlooking the deckover. Uchytil said the Docks and Harbors board was working on a proposal to bring to the CBJ Assembly.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.