SEATTLE — Saturday marks the start of cruise season in Seattle, with the first ship setting sail for Alaska on Norwegian Bliss.
Thousands of passengers lined Alaskan Way ready to board the 20-deck ship.
They were the first of more than 1.2 million passengers expected into the city's ports for the season.
It is welcome news for businesses on Seattle's waterfront after a rough few years facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are looking forward to hoards of people coming in and out, it's going to be great," said Thomas Sheehan, who has been the executive chef at Ivar's Acres of Clams since May.
"Winter we probably average 200 to 250 guests, summer can be anywhere up to 800 to 1,200 guests a day," Sheehan said.
Even those numbers are a small piece of a much bigger pie.
"This is a billion dollar industry for us," said Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell, who celebrated today's kick off noting the $14.5 million dollars in state and local taxes that the industry will bring in.
"It's money that goes right into our economy for jobs," mayor Harrell said.
According to the Port of Seattle, cruises bring in around 5,500 jobs to the region.
"It feels like normal," said Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer, who added their ships were operating at half capacity last year as they slowly returned for a less than normal cruise season.
While today's bookings are still down -- about 2,500 passengers on board the 4,000 passenger ship -- Sommer says its good to be back on the water.
"People are enjoying their vacations, they're enjoying time with their families," said Sommer.
Despite a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases, Sommer said the company is on track to increase booking to full capacity by mid-summer with a focus on medical grade ventilation testing and vaccinations, even while masks remain optional.
That policy is unlikely to change even if the Biden administration is successful in appealing the transportation mask mandate.
"The federal mask mandate never applied to cruise lines, the CDC had separate guidelines for cruises," Sommer said.
Still the mayor is keeping a close eye on the industry and says his main priority is keeping people safe.
"We are always concerned when someone is on a cruise line or anywhere in the city, so were going to follow the data work closely with the port commissioners and cruise lines," the mayor said.