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Following a disappointing 2020 that lacked major cruise activity in Alaska due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are high hopes that cruise travel will return to the region in time for the 2021 season, which usually begins around May. But there remain many hurdles to overcome — at least for mainstream lines — before that would be possible.
PreparationUnder enhanced health and safety measures to combat COVID-19, primary brands such as Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line (HAL), Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International are scheduling sailings for next summer, as are smaller-ship brands such as American Cruise Lines and UnCruise Adventures (which are locally registered).
For HAL and Princess, these cruises include their signature land extensions and lodge facilities.
Centers for Disease Control and PreventionBefore Alaska sailings can happen, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must approve each ship carrying 250 or more guests and crew after applicable lines sail simulated voyages per CDC’s current “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.”
At the time of publication, no one ship has received said approval. So, even if they embark in Alaska next year, they may very well be delayed and limited to weeklong voyages — another potential stipulation within the framework.
American and UnCruise, however, operate ships below CDC’s passenger capacity restrictions, making them safer bets for a full 2021 season. Canadian-based Maple Leaf Adventures is another small ship line that has a better shot at returning to Alaska and is good to go in Canada next year.
RELATED: Maple Leaf Adventures Provides Insight Into Expedition Cruising's Return
Canada and the Passenger Vessel Services ActAmerican and UnCruise are both registered in the U.S. and are not required to visit Canada under the jurisdiction of the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (PVSA), which mandates that foreign-flagged passenger ships carrying guests between U.S. destinations must first stop at a foreign port. Even on mostly Alaska itineraries, larger ships registered abroad must include Canada as either an embarkation or disembarkation port (such as Vancouver, B.C.) or port of call (such as Victoria, B.C.).
When asked at the 2020 Cruise Planners Forum about whether the often-considered outdated PVSA might finally be eliminated, Michelle Sutter, senior director, national accounts and field sales at HAL, indicated it was unlikely.
“To our knowledge, there have been no conversations by the cruise industry to overturn or suspend the Passenger Vessel Services Act,” she said. “But we have been engaged in discussions with both the Canadian and U.S. governments and officials as we prepare protocols for our return to cruising in 2021, which will require approvals from both.”
We have been engaged in discussions with both the Canadian and U.S. governments and officials as we prepare protocols for our return to cruising in 2021, which will require approvals from both.
As it stands now, Canada is not permitting cruise ships carrying more than 100 people to visit through at least February 2021, according to Seatrade Cruise News. If that is extended into May or further, it will greatly impact the majority of Alaska cruises.
Cancelations and ModificationsSome cruise lines have preemptively canceled or changed their next Alaska season. Windstar Cruises recently announced that it has decided to remove Alaska — as well as all U.S. and Mexico ports — from its schedule in 2021.
Instead of canceling its Alaska voyages, Seabourn Cruise Line has opted to abbreviate each sailing to seven days. Seabourn Odyssey is slated to embark on 18 such northbound and southbound sailings, alternating between Vancouver and Juneau, Alaska, from May until September 2021.
Backup PlansOptimism remains high that cruising to Alaska will still be possible in 2021, but in case it is not, lines are already eyeing 2022.
Corporate cousins Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have released their itineraries for the following year, sailing on Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Solstice, Ovation of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas.
Celebrity is touting departures from Seattle; Seward, Alaska; and Vancouver, including a Pacific Coastal repositioning route from the Canadian port down to Los Angeles via Astoria, Ore., and San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Catalina Island, Calif.
"Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean is highlighting its Quantum-class (Ovation and Quantum roundtrip from Seattle) and Radiance-class (Radiance and Serenade alternating between Vancouver and Seward) hardware in the region."
The Quantum class includes the FlowRider surf simulator, RipCord by iFly indoor skydiving facility, SeaPlex multipurpose all-weather venue and the Two70 venue’s scenic views, while the Radiance class includes classic forward-facing observation lounges.
West Coast mainstay Princess is also showcasing its 2022 Alaska season complete with its newest ship — the Discovery Princess, launching in 2021 — and Emerald Princess, Grand Princess, Majestic Princess, Ruby Princess and Sapphire Princess, all equipped as app- and wearable-enhanced MedallionClass vessels.
Surely by then, longer voyages will again be permitted such as 10-day Inside Passage cruises, leaving conveniently from San Francisco. Altogether, Princess will offer 12 cruise itineraries plus 25 cruise-tours visiting 17 destinations in 2022.