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Two of Norwegian Cruise Lines' biggest ships will anchor in Haines in 2002, doubling the northern Lynn Canal community's large-ship visits next season.
The first of 22 dockings of the 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky marks the beginning of the visitor season May 1. The ship will visit weekly every Wednesday through Sept. 25.
A sister ship, the 1,754-passenger Norwegian Wind, will make the first of 20 stops May 2. It visited Haines in summer 2001.
The ships are the only large liners planning to stop in Haines next summer.
The addition of a second big ship will have a big impact, said Haines tourism director Michelle Glass.
Cruise ship passenger numbers dropped from 187,388 in 2000 to 40,150 in 2001 when Royal Caribbean International removed Haines from its itinerary. In summer 2002, 90,000 passengers are expected to visit Haines, Glass said.
"It will double the numbers, but it doesn't come close to the numbers in 2000," she said. "It's definitely a move in the right direction."
The remainder of the Haines summer cruise ship schedule is filled with ships carrying fewer than 200 passengers. Alaska Sightseeing-CruiseWest "Spirit" ships account for most of that traffic.
Glass said seven planned visits of the 114-passenger Spirit of Oceanus should prove whether Haines could serve as an auxiliary port for Skagway.
"They're going to be here all day, and they're a higher-buck tour than the other smaller ships. They'll be shuttling passengers back and forth to Skagway to ride the train."
Jeff Stout, vice president of the Haines Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is doing everything it can to welcome larger cruise ships to the community. Businesses will benefit from the new schedule, he said.
"They'll find plenty of welcoming hands here," he said.
Why more larger ships didn't visit last year is a matter of opinion in Haines, Stout said. The official response from cruise lines was that stopping in Haines no longer made economic sense, he said.
"We passed a tour tax that may have impacted things," he said. "There was a fact that cruise ships went to Hubbard Glacier (near Yakutat) instead of Glacier Bay, which was further out than what they planned on and they had to bypass Haines. And then there was the economics issue."
Only one large cruise ship can dock in Haines at a time, which gives cruise passengers a sense of ownership they don't get in ports with more ships, city Economic Development Director Robert Venables said.
"Haines is a very special port because we can only have one ship in here," he said. "It's a unique quality that is getting more recognized."