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Royal Caribbean Ship Kicks Off 2021 Alaska Cruise Season

Bruce Parkinson

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“Cruise ships are back, baby!” 

Those were the words of Alaska Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer when Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas arrived in Ketchikan on a test cruise a week ago. Today the Serenade will head north from Seattle with paying passengers, becoming the first large ship to cruise the route in nearly two years.

serenade of the seas exterior

Serenade of the Seas in New York City (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Many observers had already written off a second Alaska cruise season, after the 2020 season failed to materialize due to the global pandemic and ensuing cruise industry shutdown.

Two major barriers stood in the way of a 2021 season — restrictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and closed ports in Canada. But earlier this year, the CDC issued guidelines for ships to start sailing again, and federal politicians signed a bill temporarily waiving the requirement for ships to make a foreign stop on Alaska cruises. 

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), nine large ships are currently scheduled to operate in Alaska this year, with 78 sailings scheduled through October 21.

READ MORE: Court Rules CDC’s Cruise Regulations Will Remain In Effect, Including In Florida

That’s a fraction of a normal Alaska season, which would typically see over 40 ships and 600 sailings. As well, most ships will be operating at 50 percent capacity or less. But in a destination where many small businesses are dependent on the ships and the passengers they bring, it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

“It feels good to just see a big ship back, because we know that today’s visit is just the beginning,” said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski at the event welcoming Serenade of the Seas. “It’s going to be a short season, but we’re going to have a season.”

ketchikan alaska creek street

Row of shops on Creek street in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo courtesy of Holland America)

Today’s departure will be the first of several in the coming weeks. Among them:

  • Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium is set to depart Seattle on Friday, July 23. The ship will offer seven-night cruises visiting Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, as well as scenic cruising at Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier. The final departure for this season is September 21.
  • The next day, Saturday, July 24, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam will leave Seattle on the first of a series of seven-night cruises visiting Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Icy Strait Point, plus scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park and Stephens Passage. The final departure for the season is September 25.
  • Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess is next in line, set to begin weekly Sunday sailings from Seattle on July 25, with a last departure September 21. It will feature a seven-night itinerary visiting Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, along with scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Carnival will make its Alaska return beginning Tuesday, July 27, as Carnival Miracle leaves Seattle for the first of a series of seven-night cruises visiting Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, and cruising amongst the glorious scenery of Tracy Arm Fjord. The final cruise of the season is an eight-night itinerary that adds a visit to Icy Strait Point.
  • Beginning Thursday, July 29, luxury cruise operator Silversea Cruises will begin offering 10- and 11-night Alaska cruises aboard Silver Muse. The journeys will stop at Ketchikan, Juneau, Wrangell, Skagway, and Sitka, as well as offer scenic cruising at Sawyer Glacier and Mendenhall Glacier.
  • Norwegian Encore will depart Seattle on Sundays from August 7 through October 9, featuring two different seven-night itineraries. One will visit Ketchikan, Juneau, and Icy Strait Point, along with scenic cruising in Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier. The second will make calls at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, together with scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • On August 13, Ovation of the Seas will join Serenade as the second Royal Caribbean option among the smaller fleet cruising to Alaska this year. With the final departure of the season set for September 10, Ovation will offer seven-night cruises visiting Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, and Icy Strait Point, plus scenic cruising at Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier.

READ NEXT: Canada Set to Lift Cruise Ship Ban on November 1

Bruce Parkinson has written about cruising and the broader international travel industry for more than 25 years.

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