SEATTLE — The sailing of the Serenade of the Seas from the Port of Seattle to Alaska marks the first cruise since COVID-19 wiped out the entire 2020 season.
“This is the first chance to get away since that COVID hit,” said David Nix from San Antonio, Texas. “This is on my bucket list ... to go to Alaska.”
Bucket list was a term used several times as thousands of masked up cruise passengers prepared to board under CED guidelines.
The ships owner, Royal Caribbean, said everybody who gets on board who is eligible to be vaccinated is. That means everybody but kids under the age of 12.
“The vaccines have been a game changer for us,” said Mark Tamis, the senior vice president for Royal Caribbean International who is on hand for the sailing from the company’s Florida headquarters. “We have every confidence this will be a very safe cruise and, more importantly, a great vacation.”
But the Serenade of the Seas is not alone. Docked next door is the Majestic Princess; at Pier 66, the Norwegian Encore. More ships are on the way, and several have been here for weeks doing simulated and test cruises to prove to the CDC they meet safety protocols.
The day of a cruise departure is normally full of energy, with excited passengers ready to go as millions of dollars in provisions are provided to the ship from local businesses. But what remains of the 2021 cruise season is not quite normal. The number of sailings is down, from over 200 in 2019 to 83 for the remainder of the season. The Serenade of The Seas will be at just 50% capacity, a number that could increase if protocols prove effective as expected, Tamis said.
Still, on board, passengers will need to keep their masks on while inside the ship’s common areas. They don’t have to wear them on deck outdoors, while in their state rooms, or while eating or drinking in the ships restaurants and bars.
“I’m used to it,” said Dian Bostrom of Boston, who just retired from nursing. “We live in masks, you don’t even feel it anymore.”
Happy to see cruises return are the many companies that provide supplies for the ships, which in normal times can have a $4.2 million impact every time one stops and stocks up.
Darigold Executive Randy Eronimous said cruise provisioning is a significant part of the business for the farm-owned coop.
“Our farmers provide much of the milk for many of the products that are on there,” Eronimous said. “We’re providing the butter and heavy whipping cream.”
That money also includes what passengers spend in Seattle and surrounding areas before and after the cruise, including hotel rooms, nights out on the town, cab rides, and souvenirs.
“When the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act Passed, that was the most significant barrier we had to overcome,” said Stephanie Jones Stebbins, the maritime director for the Port of Seattle.
Because these cruise ships are flagged in foreign countries, U.S. law had required the ships stop in Canada between Seattle and the first U.S. port in Alaska, which is often Ketchikan. The law, driven by the Alaska delegation led by Republican senator Lisa Murkowski. is only good for this season; but now that Canada has announced its reopening to Americans in August, won’t be able to claw that business back for the balance of the 2021 season.
“You can’t change a cruise itinerary on a dime, but in 2022 that will be important,” said Jones Stebbins of the port.