The 2004 Juneau cruise ship season made its quiet debut Wednesday morning when the Norwegian Sun pulled up Gastineau Channel around 6.
The Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, with a capacity of 2,002 passengers and 800 crew members, was the only one in town Wednesday. It won't be followed until the Volendam, a Holland America ship, on Friday. The number of vessels will increase to five daily by the end of May.
Native dancers with the Yeis Ku oo group greeted the ship as it docked, while Juneau Chamber of Commerce members held a welcome banner for the passengers and crew. Some had been waiting since 5:30 a.m.
"This is our intrepid group," said Carolyn Noe, leader of Yeis Ku oo. "They're committed, and faithful to their culture."
Clutching clip boards and talking into radios, tour guides and bus drivers reunited with industry friends and discussed the upcoming season while longshoremen tied the ship to the dock.
Passengers, many of whom took advantage of deep discounts by traveling in the shoulder season, commented on Juneau's beauty and its nicer-than-average weather as they disembarked in Marine Park.
"We live in Florida, so we've done the Caribbean," said Elaine Alessandri, who was traveling with her husband, Paul. They paid about $500 each for the seven-day cruise.
Shirley Souza and Marye Cawagas, health care professionals from Hawaii, came on the first cruise of the season for something different, too.
"Everything is so new," said Souza, gazing at Mt. Juneau before boarding a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. "It's nice to see so much snow."
If they fill to capacity, the 42 cruise ships stopping in Juneau this summer will bring about 846,000 passengers and 350,000 crew members to town.
The McDowell Group, a Juneau-based consulting firm, estimates that each passenger spends $175 per visit to Juneau.
Last year, Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska expected 772,000 cruise ship passengers to visit Juneau. The actual number of visitors was 777,000 passengers.
Drew Green, port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, will work seven days a week for almost all of the cruise ship season, he said.
"We have to make our bread and butter, because in the winter there's no money coming in," Green said.
The 22 employees of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska handle land-based necessities for the cruise ships, such as taking their trash, bringing ships any mail and scheduling the dock space.
This year he expects about 25 more port calls in Juneau than last year, but attributes the rise in expected passengers to bigger ships. Also, several large ships that were going to visit Juneau last year couldn't because of mechanical difficulties, he said.