Juneau meets season of ‘mega-ships’

Juneau residents will see a few thousand more cruise line passengers that normal as a new “mega-ship” arrives today.

The Norwegian Bliss, a 1,082-foot, 4,004 passengers boat will be docking at the AJ Dock in Juneau at 7 a.m. Tuesday. On Tuesday, five ships will stop in Juneau. The Norwegian Bliss (5,720), Radiance of the Sea (3,000), Golden Princess (3,700), Amsterdam (2,107) and the Norwegian Pearl (3,476) total approximately 18,000 total passengers and crew members at full capacity.

Mayor Ken Koelsch said those numbers show that a lot has changed over the years from when just two cruise lines, S.S. Prince George and S.S. Princess Patricia, made their way into Juneau with only had a couple hundred people on board in the 1980s.

“This will be phenomenal,” Koelsch said. “Financially, this is huge for city.”

Koelsch said while this is good for the city’s economy, continual planning must be done in order to keep up with the rise in tourists. Currently, the Bliss and the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Sea both hold more than 5,000 total passengers and crew members with another new mega-ship, Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Sea (5,000-plus passengers) set to sail to Alaska next year.

Koelsch said because of “mega-ship” trend, preparing for the future is key.

“We have to stay ahead of the planning curve,” Koelsch said. “We have to make sure we have the infrastructure here to support this. The other part is that we have to make sure people who live here have access to the places they want to go to and the people coming here have a very good visit.”

This year’s passenger numbers are projected to set a record for Juneau tourism. About 27.2 million people are expected to cruise worldwide this year, according to the Cruise Line Industry Association. CLIA projected 1.17 million passengers will visit Alaska through the end of the tourist season which ends on Oct. 2. Next year, CLIA expects a jump to 1.31 million cruise line passengers in Alaska. Cruise ship passengers spent $176.6 million in Juneau in 2017 and CLIA projects they will spend more than $200 million in 2019.

While the Bliss is the largest boat in scope of size it is not much larger than two other boats that have docked in Juneau. The Celebrity Solstice (1,033 feet) and the Explorer of the Sea (1,025 feet) are only slightly shorter, according to Travel Juneau’s 2018 Juneau Cruise Ship Statistics. The Explorer of the Sea can accommodate slightly more passengers at 4,029 compared to the Bliss’s 4,004, but has less crew members at 1,180 to the Bliss’s 1,716. On average cruise ships that dock in Juneau have a passenger range of approximately 3,500, said Liz Perry President and CEO of Travel Juneau.

The Bliss, according to the Norwegian Cruise Line website, is the company’s newest boat and features “revolutionary observation lounge” built specifically for passengers to take in scenery of Alaska. Tuesday will also mark the first of 17 visits from the Bliss this year. Its last docking will be Sept. 25.

CBJ Port Director Carl Uchytil said the main difference Juneau residents should notice, besides more people walking around, is the number of buses transporting people from the AJ Dock location to downtown or to specific destinations.

“There is always a rush of people leaving the ships, but with the extra buses that should soften the blow,” Uchytil said. “Hopefully, it will just be business as usual. We should just be able to appreciate the additional revenue the passengers bring in.”

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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