Norwegian Cruise Lines ships won't be returning to Haines next summer.
A company press release touting its 2003 schedule doesn't list Haines on the schedule of either the Norwegian Wind or the Norwegian Sky, the two ships that for the past two seasons have comprised the bulk of Haines cruise ship visits.
NCL spokespwoman Heather Sheats said both ships will spend a few hours more in Skagway on Wednesdays and Thursdays next summer before bypassing Haines and heading directly south. "We weren't able to spend a lot of time in Haines. There wasn't enough time to let our people enjoy the port. We just didn't have enough time there so we decided to try something different next year."
The Seattle-based Norwegian Sky will cruise from Skagway on Wednesdays directly to Victoria, B. C. The Vancouver-based Norwegian Wind will run from Skagway to Wrangell on Thursday evenings, according to the company's most recent published itineraries.
NCL and other large Alaska cruise companies base their itineraries on availability of dock space in their most popular stops, Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway.
Depending on what happens in those towns, secondary ports such as Sitka, Wrangell and Haines end up with what's left, said Rick Erickson of Cruise Line Agencies, the Ketchikan-based company that schedules ship dockings.
Erickson said now is the time of year cruise line planners traditionally negotiate schedules for the following season.
"There's a bunch of solutions on the table, and they want things to be in stone by the end of 2002. It's been tough this year to find balance how to feed into the secondary ports."
Federal shipping law also may account for the decision to cut Haines from the Norwegian Sky's schedule. NCL is adding Victoria, British Columbia, to the itineraries of the Seattle-based Norwegian Sky and the new Norwegian Sun, to comply with a regulation that prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from completing round trips between U.S. ports without a stop in a foreign port.
Wrangell economic development director Carol Rushmore said the town is gearing up for the Norwegian Wind next summer.
"They're coming up to scout us out later this month. ... We're going to show them everything we have."
Wrangell offers rock-bottom docking rates, and a growing number of excursion tours that make it a desirable port of call, Rushmore said. At $1.50 a foot, an 800-foot vessel would only have to pay $1,200 dollars to tie up in Wrangell all day. That compares with Haines' rate of $3.00 per foot for the same-size ship.
Haines gives a 50 percent discount for daytime dockings. Wrangell refunds the cost of one day's docking to first-time customers.