Cruise ship passengers walk around in downtown Juneau in late May. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Cruise ship passengers walk around in downtown Juneau in late May. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Saturday will mark first day without cruise ships since early May

Nearly 1.5 million cruise ship passengers have arrived in Juneau so far this season.

This upcoming Saturday will mark the first day residents will not see any cruise ships downtown since early May.

“It’s been our busiest season on record and this slowdown will help,” said City and Borough of Juneau Tourism Manager Alexandra Pierce on Monday.

However, despite the no-ship day on Saturday, ships will continue to arrive in Juneau until late October, but will begin dwindling down in numbers beginning Sept. 27. Following that date no more than three ships will arrive on a given day, and on many days in Juneau will only see one or no ships.

The final ship, the Norwegian Sun, is scheduled to depart Juneau on Wednesday, Oct. 25.

“We’re almost there — we survived,” said CBJ Harbormaster Matthew Creswell in an interview Monday. “Things are going very smooth, there are things that go wrong every day, but no major hiccups.”

Pierce said she described the season so far as busy, but noted congestion downtown will start to ease up soon, especially come the end of September. Data collected by the city shows as of Monday, Juneau has welcomed 1,499,543 passengers so far — nearing 92% of the record-breaking 1.67 million total number of visitors anticipated by city and industry officials this season.

The data also indicates that large ships in the last three months came in at 103.6% over their official capacity.

[Mid-season passenger numbers show large cruise ships at — or above — 100% capacity]

“I think it will slow down significantly as we move into October, but this time of year is often challenging for operators,” she said. “They start to lose their college students, seasonal employees and high school students go back to school, so we’re operating at close to our mid-summer capacity with a lot of businesses feeling the staffing pitch.”

Pierce said some of that pressure comes from the cruise ship season growing longer in recent years and businesses not being able to keep staff during that extended period.

“We used to have ships from the beginning of May to the end of September — that is our traditional season — but now we see ships in April and October,” she said. “And that’s challenging for local businesses trying to stay staffed up to finish out the season. When we have one ship every few days towards the end of October it’s hard, I think, for a lot of business owners to justify staying open.”

Looking toward the 2024 season cruise lines have agreed to a daily limit of five ships visiting Juneau, an agreement Pierce said is a step in the right direction.

“We definitely heard a lot from the community about the need to think about our future as a destination and what a sustainable industry looks like,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do over the winter with everything from glacier operations to whale watching to analyzing commercial recreation use and updating the commercial use of trails, and then the big picture stuff as well.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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