It’s official: Alaska won’t see any large cruise ships this year

Juneau’s cruise ship docks are empty on April 23, 2020. The cruise ship season was supposed to begin, but sailings have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO)

Norwegian Cruise Line canceled the five late-summer sailings left on its schedule.

It’s the final nail in the coffin for a tourism season marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cruise giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean announced earlier this summer they’d scrap their 2020 Alaska seasons. And last month, the largest cruise industry trade group — which includes Norwegian — said it would suspend voyages from U.S. ports through mid-September.

That left Norwegian with five port calls on the schedule. Today’s announcement means those won’t happen.

There may still be a handful of cruise ships plying the waters of the Inside Passage this summer — boutique cruise ships with fewer than 250 people are unaffected by a federal order barring large cruises. But so far, small communities like Skagway and Wrangell have pushed back against small lines’ efforts to resume sailings.

Though some small-ship cruises are still scheduled starting in late July, it’s not clear when or if any small ships will sail in Alaska this summer.

The loss of the cruise season is a major economic hit to Southeast Alaska. Some 1.4 million cruise tourists were projected to visit the region this summer. According to industry estimates, that’s a $225 million hit to the economy of Juneau alone. Ketchikan will miss out on an estimated $190 million or so in visitor spending.

Southeast Alaska last saw a large cruise ship in October 2019. With Monday’s cancellation by Norwegian, it’s unlikely the region will see another until April 2021. That’s a 17-month gap.