The 1,094-foot-long Norwegian Bliss docks in Juneau early Tuesday morning to begin this year’s cruise ship season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The 1,094-foot-long Norwegian Bliss docks in Juneau early Tuesday morning to begin this year’s cruise ship season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

First cruise ship of the season arrives to welcomes, planned protest

Passengers get warm reception at dock, may encounter midday rally seeking ship-free Saturdays.

Shane Ledbetter and his three shipmates from Georgia were all too happy to be part of an early start to this year’s cruise ship season in Juneau on Tuesday, not just because it was a mild and rain-free early April morning, but because their vessel arrived well before the scheduled 7 a.m. docking time.

“We’ve rented a car and we’re just going to drive about,” he said, referring to how the foursome planned to spend their somewhat extended hours until their 1:30 p.m. departure.

Ledbetter, his wife Tina, and extended family members Amy and Steven Jacks, all from near Atlanta, were among the first passengers disembarking from the 1,094-foot-long Norwegian Bliss when it arrived at the AJ Dock. They were welcomed by a group of local well-wishers at the onset of a season expected to match last year’s record-high total of about 1.67 million cruise ship visitors.

“All of the people were very friendly to everybody,” Tina Ledbetter said.

Her husband said they take cruises frequently, usually to tropical destinations, but in this instance “we had time and availability and thought why not? This was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing for us.”

Amy Jacks said they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary and her husband said “I’ve wanted to come up here my whole life since I was a child. I like the wilderness.”

The foursome’s return trip to the ship might not be as welcoming if it involves a walk through Marine Park, as a “Ship Free Saturday Rally” is scheduled there from noon to 12:45 p.m., organized by the group Juneau Cruise Control: Juneau CAN Rethink Tourism. Karla Hart, a member of the group and longtime opponent of mass cruise tourism’s impacts, stated in a community Facebook post the purpose of the rally is to seek “one reliable day per week to enjoy our community, homes, and nearby waters and trails without whale watch boats, helicopters, buses, tours, crowds.”

The group, in an event announcement, states this year’s cruise season will be 195 days long and notes local leaders are currently in Miami discussing possible cruise traffic limits with industry officials including an intent that “would make Saturdays the least trafficked day of the week.”

“Perhaps our rallying will help the managers put some spine into their Miami ‘negotiations,’” the announcement states.

Steven Jacks said his message to those at the rally is visitors simply want to experience the same setting the residents appreciate.

“For a lot of people this is the only way they’re ever going to see and experience this environment,” he said. “It’s typically a little bit more affordable to see different places of the world on a cruise ship.”

New this year in Juneau is a five-ship-per-day limit agreed to by city and industry officials, which both say is unique among global cruise ports. Alexandra Pierce, tourism manager for the City and Borough of Juneau, has stated traffic levels are expected to remain consistent this year and next, and likely drop slightly in subsequent years due to policy preferences expressed by Assembly members and surveys of residents.

The Norwegian Bliss will be the only cruise ship seen in Juneau for the next couple of weeks, arriving and departing on Tuesdays. The next ship scheduled to arrive is the Norwegian Jewel on April 25, followed the next day by two Carnival Cruises ships, and then daily arrivals by ships starting Sunday (except for Wednesday, May 1).

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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