Cruise ship makes surprise visit
A surprise cruise ship docking Wednesday morning left Haines Borough employees, tour company operators, and business owners scrambling to accommodate the unexpected influx of visitors.
Holland America’s Statendam, a 719-foot vessel with a passenger capacity of 1,266, pulled into Haines around 8 a.m. Wednesday after its captain deemed high winds in Skagway – the Statendam’s planned destination – would make mooring unsafe.
Haines was not scheduled to see its first large cruise ship until May 22, so tie-up crews, port security personnel and other cogs in the cruise ship industry machine rallied to prepare for the docking.
Harbormaster Phil Benner received a call from the Statendam around 6:30 a.m. with news of the impending arrival, and tied up the boat himself. “I’ve tied up a few boats here so I was able to do it properly,” Benner said.
Tour company operators sprang into action, setting up extra tours and rearranging their schedules. Chilkat Guides director of operations Andy Hedden said the company had planned one rafting trip for the day, but rallied extra guides and added another two trips after learning of the Statendam’s arrival.
“We scrambled and canceled a first aid class and moved a bunch of stuff around and created a bunch of options for them,” Hedden said.
Hedden said while he welcomes the cruise ship and the additional business it brings, it’s difficult to sell trips at the last minute. “At late notice, it’s often hard to convert a bunch of sales, so we picked up only a half-dozen extra sales out of it,” he said.
JoAnna Egolf at Alaska Nature Tours said the company also scheduled an additional guided tour out to the Chilkoot River. “We just ask our guides if they can work an extra shift and you just turn them back around,” Egolf said.
The Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry also made a last-minute change of plans and scheduled an 11 a.m. departure to Skagway to accommodate cruise ship passengers needing to get to Skagway for tours already booked, said office accountant Deedee Hart.
“I only heard a couple people saying, ‘Well, we had to cancel our tour.’ Basically they could still book the train and there were other tours they could do. There was not a lot of complaints at all,” Hart said.
Margaret and Jack Vogt, a couple from Vancouver, B.C ., had to alter their Skagway tour plans because of the Haines docking. The couple had to cut their original plans short, but was able to book spots on the fast ferry to arrive in time for the train tour.
Jack Vogt called the last-minute change of plans “crap.” “We should be on that train well off on our way to Canada right now,” Vogt said Wednesday morning.
His wife Margaret was more accepting. “I only wanted to go on the train. I don’t care about Skagway. So it worked out that we get to go on the train anyway... In the long run, I’m rather pleased to come to this little town that doesn’t have a zillion tourist trap stores up and down the street,” she said.
According to a McDowell Group survey prepared for the Haines Borough in 2011, cruise ship passengers spend about $85 per person on their trip to Haines, meaning the Statendam’s surprise visit could net an extra $107,000 for the local economy.
Visitor information coordinator Tammy Piper said local business owners were already “rejoicing” over the surprise cruise ship visit. Fred Shields, owner of a jewelry and art shop, called Piper to express his enthusiasm.
“He said, ‘Good for us.’ He knows there’s going to be a great impact financially,” Piper said.
The Statendam was scheduled to depart Haines at 9 p.m. Wednesday.