As this year’s Alaska cruising season winds down, passengers -- and cruise lines -- have experienced some unusual highs and lows in what is, in industry parlance, one of the most regulation-intensive, environmentally-sensitive regions of the world (and anybody whose been there understands why). Our recap:
* Alaska became the first state to pass legislation that allows it to
regulate all cruise ships -- not just those carrying an American flag -- for
* Three cruise ships were caught on pollution mishaps. Rhapsody of the Seas
accidentally discharged 200 gallons of laundry wastewater while docked at
Juneau; alas, the ship had the misfortune to have the U.S. Coast Guard
onboard when it occurred. Norwegian Sky and Holland America’s Westerdam also
were cited for violations.
* Good news for passengers: talk about a Skagway summer tax -- a hike by 5
percent on anything related to cruise ship visitors to this top-of-the-passage town -- was voted down by the city council.
* The Glacier Bay brouhaha in early August, in which a federal court judge
handed down a ruling that “abruptly” cut cruise ship visits there (exactly
how “abrupt” the judge’s decision was is a point of contention between
cruise lines and the law). A mere handful of voyages on Holland America and
Princess were required to replace a call at the almost-as-beautiful Hubbard
Glacier. Environmentalists then cried foul that Hubbard Glacier was being
* More Glacier Bay: just outside the park environs, a humpback whale was
killed in a collision with a large ship of some sort; the National Parks
Conservation Association maintains the cause was a cruise ship (as opposed
to a cargo vessel) but has not proved that allegation.
* And despite some not-so-uncommon bargains -- some cruise lines were offering inside cabins as low as $599 -- others have different stories. In particular the luxury Mariner, owner Radisson Seven Seas Cruises reports, was regularly sold out through the season at high tariffs.
What’s up for next year? Expect one or two fewer ships but capacity will remain pretty stable as cruise lines keep sending some of their bigger Panamax vessels to Alaska. And the Glacier Bay/Hubbard Bay dispute is far from settled. But next year’s biggest splash is likely to be the premiere of Princess’ Star Princess, which, at 109,000 tons and 2,600 passengers, will be the biggest ever to sail Alaska.