Good navigation for the 2022 season?

After a pandemic-tempered cruise season in 2021 and no cruise season in 2020 due to the pandemic, local business operators are watching closely for signals about how 2022 might unfold.

Many say it’s still too early to tell, but express cautious optimism for a robust season ahead – despite the current omicron wave of COVID-19 disrupting life in many parts of the country.

In late December, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised passengers to avoid cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status. Earlier this month, the CDC lifted the conditional sailing order, allowing cruise ships to voluntarily comply with health and safety mitigations.

According to Alexandra Pierce, tourism manager for the city and borough of Juneau, all of these factors make it difficult to say what will happen this season.

“This is when cruise lines do most of their bookings,” Pierce said. “It really all depends on what happens with COVID in the next few months and how that affects people’s desire to cruise and if cruises even happen.”

Pierce said she still hears positive messages from the industry and noted that berthing schedules show a steady schedule of cruises to Juneau this summer.

“If I was asked, under duress, to place a bet, I would say that we will probably see all the ships scheduled, but they will probably not be at full capacity,” said Pierce.

Pierce said many cruise lines are messaging about health and safety protocols, such as vaccines and testing, and their efforts to create a safe travel experience.

“I haven’t heard of any lines making changes to how they operate,” Pierce said. “I hope they continue to do so.”

Cruise request

Smaller cruise lines are reporting strong demand for Southeast Alaska cruises this year.

According to Liz Galloway, director of marketing and communications for UnCruise Adventures, the company is in line with pre-pandemic booking levels – which it attributes to passengers rebooking and “pent-up demand and new bookings for the ‘adventure”.

“We continue to have the largest selection of Alaskan cruises and small ship itineraries in our industry and have seen growing interest in the 2022 summer season,” Galloway said in an email.

“We are almost on pace with our pre-COVID year for bookings and website traffic is more than double from last year. Domestic wilderness travel is in demand and we are uniquely positioned to deliver that. with 6 ships in Alaska this summer filling up,” Galloway said.

Lindblad Expeditions, which runs National Geographic cruises to southeast Alaska, also reported strong demand.

“Bookings are looking very strong, in fact NG Sea Bird is nearly sold out so we are bringing NG Sea Lion there and adding a few more departures,” said Lindblad Expeditions spokesperson Patty Disken-Cahill. “We’ll also have NG Venture and NG Quest in Alaska, so a total of four for the season.”

Zak Kirkpatrick, director of marketing and public relations for Allen Marine Tours, said the company’s small cruise line, Alaskan Dream Cruises, sees demand and feels good for the upcoming season.

“People generally feel optimistic that even with this state of affairs, a lot of people are hoping and optimistic that by the summer it will fade dramatically,” Kirkpatrick said.

He said it was too early to assess the sale of the company’s day trips to large-deck cruise line passengers.

Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, stands in front of a ship on May 14, 2021.

Regarding large-deck cruises, Renée Limoge Reeve, vice president of government and community relations for the trade association Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, said the current omicron wave is impacting bookings and demand in the entire travel sector, including cruises. But, she said she had hope.

“We hope that this phase of the pandemic will pass quickly and that the effects we are seeing will appear more like a delay in bookings than a loss. Either way, all indications point to Alaska remaining a popular destination and must-do trip for people around the world and we remain optimistic for a strong season,” Reeve said in an email to the Empire.

Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America Line, said six ships will sail to Alaska this summer.

“Bookings for Alaska remain steady and we really think customers are looking at this summer as a chance to get back to doing what they love,” Elvejord said in an email to Empire.

“We are excited about the potential for a full season of operations in Alaska and the opportunity to bring travelers to Alaska, where we have operated for 75 years this summer, and support local communities across the state” , did he declare.

Elvejord said the company is expanding its “worry-free promise” and allowing additional cancellation options for trips booked before March 31.

Matt Lupoli, senior director of public relations at Carnival Cruise Line, confirmed that the company plans to sail two ships to Alaska, but did not immediately respond to questions about reservations on the ships.

Speaking on behalf of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Christina Moschetti said the company does not publicly disclose booking information.

A Norwegian Cruise Line representative said they needed more time to respond to Empire’s investigation.

Princess Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines did not immediately respond to Empire’s request. However, all companies are showing ships arriving in Juneau during the 2022 cruise season, according to the CLIAA website.

Local experience

Serene Hutchinson, managing director of Juneau Tours & Whale Watch, said she was feeling “very positive” for the upcoming season during a Thursday afternoon call with Empire.

She said her off-season travel bookings have so far tracked the level of sales in 2017.

But, she said, bookings have been “bumpier” than typical pre-pandemic times.

“Normally bookings in October are light, then November gets a pop as families get together for Thanksgiving and we get another pop around Christmas,” she said. “Once we hit January 4 or 5, we usually see this really sexy steep climb that continues into April.”

She said the news cycle is driving bookings this year.

“I was very discouraged when the CDC said not to sail earlier this year,” adding that she feared the refund requests would follow the news.

“It slowed our sales for a while,” she said. “But we have received very few refund requests. Our phone ringing or not ringing is affected by the news.

Hutchinson said she answers many questions about COVID-19 mitigation measures from potential customers. She said she planned to do the “maximum recommended” mitigation measures.

“Whatever the recs, we’re gonna do them all,” she said.

Alan Corbett, captain of the Narwhal, a whale-watching vessel, said it was too early to tell what bookings will look like this season. He said he was running more private tours and fewer mixed groups of cruise ship passengers.

” It’s the beginning. I didn’t expect to see much until February. We’ve probably got about two weeks ahead to get a good read of what things are going to look like,” he said in a Thursday morning call.

Hutchinson said she hopes to see bookings continue to increase in the coming weeks.

“I mean, you know, we’re all ready. We are waiting here,” she said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at [email protected] or 907-308-4891.