Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Docking fees waived; RCCL returns in 2015


Royal Caribbean Cruises is returning to Haines in 2015 for the first time since 2000, when the company abruptly pulled all its cruise ship dockings, citing increasing fuel costs.

Celebrity Cruises, operated by Royal Caribbean, is testing the waters by sending its 965-foot vessel Infinity to Haines in 2015. It is scheduled for two port calls, bringing a total of 4,340 passengers and 1,998 crew members, assuming full capacity.

To entice the company to return, the Haines Borough Assembly recently waived dockage fees for Celebrity’s 2015 season. It also voted to waive dockage fees for Princess Cruises for 2015, setting the borough back a total of $13,400 in revenue.

Combined, the 2015 dockings of Celebrity and Princess should bring in 10,000 extra passengers and 4,000 extra crew members, said interim tourism director Tammy Piper.

Piper urged the assembly to adopt the resolution waiving the fees, claiming tax revenue brought in by the additional passengers and crew would outweigh revenue lost from the waived fees.

Piper said the goal of waiving the fees is to foster goodwill and encourage future dockings by big companies. “We could see Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival or any of the other big lines giving Haines a try if we continue to offer waiving port fees for the first year if they adopt Haines as a port. Ideally, the lines will stay with us and start paying their fees the next year while a new line gives us a try in the same manner as the others,” Piper said.

The initiative is part of Backroads Alaska, a partnership between Haines, Sitka and Hoonah to promote the benefits of docking in ports less traveled.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman, despite voting for the resolution to waive the fees, expressed skepticism about the fee waiver during last week’s assembly meeting. Waterman pointed to increased staffing and security fees for the additional dockings, and said she was under the impression only one company – the first to sign – was to get the fee waiver incentive.

“It’s hard for me to believe both cruise ship companies were standing there at the exact same time,” Waterman said.

Manager David Sosa said he spoke to former tourism director Tanya Carlson, who told him she met with the companies simultaneously and they both volunteered at the same time.

Regardless, Waterman said she doesn’t “believe the sky is falling” and that Haines doesn’t necessarily need the cruise ship companies to swoop in and save the town. “I believe in us. I personally don’t believe in the cruise ship companies. I have a hard time trusting them because of their past history. Do I want to give them a second chance? Yes I do,” she said.

In 1998, Royal Caribbean pleaded guilty to several federal felony violations of dumping dry-cleaning and photo-processing chemicals in coastal waters, including between Haines and Skagway.

Port and Harbor Advisory Committee member Norm Hughes said he personally didn’t agree with the fee waiver, because the committee has been working hard to close the gap between the costs associated with the Port Chilkoot Dock and the revenue it takes in.

“We stepped up and improved our facilities and I think that should carry its merit, but if the borough wants to discount to get some favoritism from cruise lines or tour operators, that’s beyond our expertise on the matter,” Hughes said.

Haines currently has one of the lowest cruise ship dock rates in the state, though the assembly last September agreed to start increasing dockage rates for large cruise ships by 25 cents per foot per year for the next five years.

Tourism Advisory Board member and Alaska Mountain Guides owner Sean Gaffney said he whole-heartedly supports the resolution to waive dockage fees for one year.

“The increase in dockings, albeit nominal for next year, represents simply a staggering amount of work to get the cruise lines to consider coming back here, and obviously they have heard the message and they are tentatively probing us again,” Gaffney said.

Piper also asked the assembly consider waiving the fees for Oceania’s Regatta in 2015, though the assembly didn’t include the company in its resolution. 

Before Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises announced they were pulling out of Haines in 2000, they were scheduled to make 52 port visits with more than 106,000 passengers in 2001.