First cruise ship en route to Juneau for Sunday arrival
Cruise season is getting underway in Juneau where tourism officials expect nearly 1.3 million visitors this year, starting with the arrival of the Ruby Princess on Sunday.
According to Princess Cruises director of shoreline operations Kirby Day, the vessel carries up to 3,300 guests who will hit the Juneau streets shortly after their 9 a.m. downtown arrival.
Tour operators, restaurants and shops spent most of the week preparing for the first wave of visitors that will increase throughout the summer.
As many as five ships will eventually pull into port on a given day.
“As the cruise industry ramps up over the season, we will see more and more of our seasonal shops open,” said Liz Perry, chief executive for Travel Juneau, the city’s marketing arm for visitors. “There will be more food trucks available and that ramps up pretty quickly because the season over the last several years has ramped up very quickly.”
Last year, 1.1 million people arrived in Juneau off cruise ships, according to John Binkley, president of the Cruise Lines International Association Alaska.
Cruise visitors have been on a steady climb since 2015, according to a February report prepared by the McDowell Group for the state’s economic development agency.
In 2016, Alaska welcomed its one millionth cruise visitor for the first time in seven years, and it’s climbed slightly ever since, according to the report.
Perry says another 80,000 traveling by ferry, or plan to, visited the capital city last year.
“The cruise industry has done a terrific job of marketing Alaska and of course Alaska, it has such a mystique, that it is on everyone’s mind as they start planning their trips,” she said. “And this is true of the cruise industry and of independent travelers.”
The Ruby Princess kicked off the season last year and will make 20 visits to Juneau before the season ends early October, Kirby Day said.
“This time of the year in Alaska is exciting anyway,” Day said. “You get five [more] minutes of daylight every day. You can always feel that. Everything begins to wake up and come to life. All the preparations are being made and boom – here we go.”
Tourism officials say the projected growth is a combination of larger ships replacing slightly smaller vessels, plus new or returning entries to the market.
“We’re also seeing incredible growth in the luxury ship market,” said Sierra Gadaire, general manager for Gastineau Guiding, which offers whale watching and land tours. “A lot of luxury cruise lines, Azamara cruise line, Canard cruises, Viking River cruises – that’s a name a lot of people know – they are coming to Alaska for the first time.”
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