With a total of three ships scheduled to cruise Alaska’s waters in 2013, Norwegian Cruise Lines will offer its passengers expanded capacity, new lands packages and a stop in Hoonah.
The Norwegian Sun will sail seven-day itineraries between Vancouver, British Columbia and Whittier, beginning in May 2013. Sailing north through the Inside Passage, the 1,936-passenger ship will visit Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier and make stops in Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau.
On her southbound trip, the Sun will cruise a similar route with the addition of Sawyer Glacier and Icy Strait Point near Hoonah.
Travelers can purchase these cruises for the 2013 season now.
This is the first time since 2009 that Norwegian has operated three ships in Alaska. It is also Sun’s return to Alaska. The 846-foot ship operated seven-day trips featuring Sawyer Glacier in 2009.
Norwegian will deploy three ships to Alaska in 2013. The Sun will be joined by the Norwegian Jewel and the 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl.
The Jewel will sail seven-day Sawyer Glacier itineraries from Seattle every Saturday. The Pearl begins seven-day Glacier Bay itineraries from Seattle every Sunday. Both ships will stop in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.
Norwegian chose Hoonah as a stop because, as Norwegian spokesperson AnneMarie Mathews said, “Icy Strait Point or Hoonah is a real Alaska experience.” The village on Chichagof Island will offer passengers “the opportunity to go whale watching, fishing, kayaking, ride the world’s largest zipline, learn about the Tlingit community (and) culture and have the opportunity to shop for local crafts,” Mathews said. “The best part is it’s available to guests as soon as they disembark the tender.”
Alaska’s cruise industry has taken a hit over the last few seasons, with ships redeployed to other destinations and passenger counts dwindling. However, Norwegian at least sees this trend changing.
Alaska “continues to be an extremely popular summer destination for cruisers and therefore there is a lot of demand for increased capacity and more varied and unique cruises,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s chief executive officer. “With the strides made by the state government, we felt the time was right to add a third ship in Alaska,” he said.
Norwegian’s operating income grew by more than 18 percent to $162.7 million according to the line’s most-recent quarterly report.
John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, attributes a lot of the uptick in demand to the work of Alaska’s governor and Legislature.
“The governor and Legislature are actively pursing getting more visitors to Alaska,” Binkley said. Alaska’s leaders have done this in a few ways, he said. Lower operating costs due to the 2010 reduction in Alaska’s cruise ship head tax helped make Alaska more lucrative for cruise lines, Binkley said. An increase in state spending on marketing helped get Alaska back “in the game” where it concerns tourism marketing. And Binkley said Gov. Sean Parnell has reached out to the cruise industry and showed he wanted their business.
“That makes a difference on a human level,” he said.
“Policy effects business decisions,” Binkley said. “And this is a case where good policy resulted in more jobs for Alaskans.”
Also, the economic downturn of 2008 forced cruise lines started redeploying ships to location outside of Alaska.
“There were a lot of things that hit us,” Binkley said.
As a Fairbanks business owner and president of the Cruise Association, Binkley said he looks at cruise traffic from different angles. And the future looks better from both, he said.
“After two consecutive years of significant decline we were flat and we were thrilled to be flat,” Binkley said. “We are going to see positive growth in 2012, and with (the Norwegian) Sun coming in, that growth with continue into 2013.”
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.