Haines will see at least one cruise ship in 2021
April 29, 2021
When the American Constellation docks in Haines on June 12, it will mark the first cruise ship in town in more than 20 months.
American Cruise Lines has confirmed 12 stops in Haines this summer, according to tourism director Steven Auch.
“They’re the first (cruise line) to commit, and as of right now, I’m thinking they will be the only one. I haven’t heard any indications from the others that they’re coming,” Auch said in an interview Monday.
American Cruise Lines is one of four small, American-based cruise lines planning to operate in Alaska this summer. UnCruise Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions and Alaskan Dream Cruises, the other three companies, aren’t currently scheduled to visit Haines. Auch said he’s still waiting to receive an official plan from American Cruise Lines regarding its COVID-19 mitigation policy and operating plan. American Cruise Lines didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time. According to the company’s website, at minimum, COVID-19 protocol will include mandatory testing for all unvaccinated guests within four days of the start of a cruise.
The American Constellation visits are welcome news for tour operators who have traditionally partnered with American Cruise Lines. The ship normally has a 175-passenger capacity, although it will likely operate at reduced capacity.
“We’ll have some dedicated traffic, which is an infinite increase over last year,” Rainbow Glacier Adventures owner Joe Ordonez said. “One of the nice things about having a cruise ship schedule for your business, you have a known number of people and time and date. It’s easier to manage around those schedules.”
Ordonez said American Cruise Lines’ announcement is what made him decide to open his doors this year.
“It just made it to where I felt comfortable as a business person taking the risk with putting out money for starting up. Without that, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable,” he said.
Despite the improved prospect this year, Ordonez said he anticipates a roughly 90% reduction in business volume compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic summer.
Like Ordonez, Alaska Nature Tours owner Dan Egolf said the prospect of visits from the American Constellation prompted him to begin the permitting process for his business.
“Having a steady twelve dockings is a critical part of why we’re opening,” he said.
Both operators said they hope to pad the guaranteed business from the cruise line with bookings from independent travelers.
As of last week, five tour operators had applied for borough permits, according to Auch. In interviews in late March, both Alaska Mountain Guides owner Sean Gaffney and Haines Rafting Company owner Andy Hedden said they were planning for scaled-down seasons, capitalizing on independent travelers.
Other tour operators are still trying to finalize summer plans.
“At this point in time, we don’t know if we’re going to operate or not this season. We’re waiting to see,” Takshanuk Mountain Trail owner Barbara Mulford said at last week’s Tourism Advisory Board meeting.
In other tourism news, the U.S.-Canada border closure has been extended into late May. The border is likely to remain closed through the summer, according to tourism industry experts. The extension impacts both cross-border vehicle traffic and the potential for large cruise ships to enter Southeast Alaska.
To offset the loss of large cruise ships, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed using $150 million from the American Rescue Plan to promote tourism and support the industry through another lean summer. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is currently on a two-week tour of the state, meeting with communities impacted by the loss of tourism. He is scheduled to meet with Haines tourism industry representatives on Thursday.