The Norwegian Pearl, right, pulls into the AJ Dock in Juneau in September 2018. Big-deck cruise ships may be seen in Juneau this year yet as a bill allowing them to bypass Canada passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 20, 2021. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

The Norwegian Pearl, right, pulls into the AJ Dock in Juneau in September 2018. Big-deck cruise ships may be seen in Juneau this year yet as a bill allowing them to bypass Canada passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 20, 2021. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

US House passes bill that could allow an Alaska cruise season

The bill would allow cruise ships to skip Canada on their way north.

This story has been updated to include new information.

A bill allowing cruise ships to bypass Canada en route to Alaska, has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Working around the Passenger Vessel Services Act, the bill would allow for some of a sailing season for foreign-flagged cruise ships that make up the lion’s share of vessels that regularly visit Alaska during the cruise season. The bill is similar to the one passed in the Senate last week.

“The differences between the bills are resolved,” said Zack Brown, communications director for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in an email. “When the Senate receives the bill from the House in the near future it will be deemed passed and then will be sent to the White House where the President is prepped to sign it.”

The bill’s sponsors, including Young signalled their support for the bill, and hopes for a profitable season.

“Overall, this is a huge victory, but getting this bill across the finish line represents more than just the determination of the Delegation—this is a testament to the strength and resilience of all Alaskans,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a statement. “Thank you to everyone who came together to help create the momentum needed to forge a path forward, including my Senate colleagues. I remain optimistic that this legislation will allow a level of safe cruising to resume this summer, giving communities some semblance of a tourist season.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan also tweeted his support for the bill, saying “the time is now for the experience of a lifetime.”

State lawmakers, including Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, also signalled their support for the bill, alloying enthusiasm with forward thinking about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s requirements. The state Legislature previously passed a resolution urging federal action to allow for a cruise season.

“I sincerely thank our Congressional Delegation for hearing Alaskans’ call,” said Kiehl in a statement. “Many tourism communities were staring down the barrel of two years without customers. We needed a shot at a cruise season this year. This legislation gives small Alaska-owned businesses a chance. That’s a lot of jobs Alaskans desperately need. With vaccinated passengers and crew making COVID safety possible, there is finally hope sailing in over the horizon.”

Representatives from across the Southeast, including Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau.

“Tourism brings in over $2 billion in visitor spending,” Story said in a news release. “After the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Alaska’s economy, this welcome news represents a chance for our communities that rely on tourism to get back on their feet.”

Industry specialists responded with enthusiasm to the news.

“We are thrilled and congratulate Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Young for leading the passage of legislation to help save the Alaska cruise season. While there is still work to be done, the cruise industry is one step closer to sailing in Alaska this year,” said Lalanya Downs, senior director of community relations and public affairs for Cruise Lines International Association — Alaska, in an email. “We thank the Alaska delegation, along with Governor Dunleavy and the Alaska State Legislature, for their leadership in achieving this important milestone. On behalf of our members, we look forward to doing our part to help put Alaskan communities back to work.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also issued a statement supporting the passing of the bill.

“Following a year of obstacles, Alaskan families, small businesses, and tourism communities are eager to welcome visitors by cruise ship this summer,” Dunleavy said in the statement. “Thanks to the tireless work of our state team, local leaders, businesses, and our Congressional Delegation, the industry can resume sailings, halting a $3 billion hit to Alaska’s economy. Alaska’s well-coordinated COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts ensure this tourism season will be safe for both Alaskans and visitors alike.”

Multiple cruise lines also announced Alaska sailings, including Holland America, which shared a news release announcing sailings as soon as July. Other cruise lines, including Carnival, Princess, and Norweigian, have Alaska sailings scheduled as well.

“Holland America Line has been cruising to Alaska for nearly 75 years, and we feel deeply committed to trying to help our friends in ‘The Great Land’ get back on their feet in any way we can this summer,” said Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line, in a news release. “Given the recent positive collaboration from the CDC, as well as optimism about a resolution with the PVSA, we feel like it’s now or never to give ourselves a chance to bring cruising back to Alaska this year.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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