As hope for large cruise ship traffic dwindles, some tour operators are planning for a season based on independent travelers. Visits by small cruise ships may be decided later into the season.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sailing requirements, combined with 1800s maritime law and a Canadian port closure, make it likely that Haines will go another summer without large ships. Small, American-based cruise lines are exempt from the restrictions and four are planning to operate in Alaska this summer—UnCruise Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, Alaskan Dream Cruises and American Cruise Lines.

In March, the Haines Borough Assembly approved a resolution welcoming cruise ships to the community. Tourism director Steven Auch said the resolution was well-timed as the small cruise lines are firming up sailing plans for 2021.

“Right around that time, the federal government was announcing vaccine access (for all adults) by May. Because of that change, UnCruise, in particular, is debating changing from doing sailings with no port stops to having port stops,” Auch said.

All the small cruise lines except for American Dream had planned stops in Haines this summer but are currently reevaluating itineraries.

Lindblad announced on March 30 that it plans to resume operations in Alaska in June, but won’t be stopping in towns. But Lindblad spokesperson Patty Disken-Cahill said that could change later in the summer.

UnCruise said a recent decision to require vaccinations for crew and guests has given it the freedom to add stops in Port Angeles, Ketchikan and Sitka. The company said captains will decide whether to visit Haines, a decision likely to depend on weather. The company will continue to reassess plans as needed.

American Cruise Lines said it plans to operate a single vessel, American Constellation, in Alaska in 2021. It’s currently scheduled to visit Haines 12 times, according to the borough’s cruise ship calendar, which was last updated on March 16.

Auch said some tour operators are planning to open their doors this summer, despite uncertain ship prospects.

“For the most part, the ones that are for sure going to operate, are doing so with a focus on independent travelers,” Auch said, adding that so far, Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG) is the only operator to apply for a summer tour permit this year.

“We are going to be operating with independent travelers,” AMG owner Sean Gaffney said. “I certainly don’t think there will be large ships, and I think we’re going to have a hard time with the smaller ships. Those schedules, at this point, are a moving target, and we have competition in other ports nearby.”

Gaffney said his company is planning for a scaled-down season, capitalizing on independent travelers on multi-day expeditions. “It’s going to be another really lean year. It’ll have repercussions for the borough, and for other businesses in town.”

Other operators are also making plans to open their doors.

“Haines Rafting Company will be operational this year. We are accepting bookings from independent travelers, and although it will certainly be a slow season, it will be busier than last year,” said owner Andy Hedden. His other business, which operates in Canada, is sidelined until the border reopens.

Some operators are delaying a final decision.

“I am still waiting to hear back from American Cruise Lines concerning their updated schedule for this summer. The total number of full days they plan for Haines will affect my decision. If they do not come, or if they come but have several partial days in Haines instead of full days, we will likely not open this summer,” said Rainbow Glacier Adventures owner Joe Ordonez.