The arrival of Alaska’s first cruise ship in 2021 coincided with a major coronavirus outbreak in Sitka


The Serenade of the Seas in Sitka on July 21, 2021, the first stop in the shortened cruise season 2021. The 632 passengers had room on the ship, which has a capacity of nearly 2,500 passengers. (Tash Kimmell / KCAW)

The first major cruise ship of the season arrived in Sitka on Wednesday. It was also the first stop for a large cruise ship in Alaska since 2019.

The arrival of Serenade of the Seas coincided with a major coronavirus outbreak in Sitka, but that did not appear to affect the number of passengers visiting the city – all of whom have been vaccinated except for the children. They just weren’t many.

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In the urban center – the heart of Sitka – you could barely feel a pulse. Chairs were set on tables at the Backdoor Cafe, and two or three people were having coffee to go.

There were a few buyers in the bookstore and one in the island artists’ cooperative. The day was windy and gray, but not bad for Southeast Alaska.

Some of the 632 passengers on the Serenade of the Seas enjoy downtown Sitka on the season’s first stopover, July 21, 2021. On a more typical cruise ship stopover – full capacity for one or two large ships – Sidewalks in downtown Sitka are wall-to-wall with visitors. (Tash Kimmell / KCAW)

A few blocks from Centennial Hall, where cruise passengers take their shuttles to the dock, there were only a few scattered people walking around. Pam and Patrick McDaniels from Layton, Utah ate fish and chips.

They said they liked the low density of the Serenade of the Seas. It has a capacity of 2,476 passengers, but this cruise has a quarter, only 632 guests and 804 crew. It’s part of Royal Caribbean’s start-up plan, according to Fred Reeder, Sitka Port Manager for the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska.

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The McDaniels said they were happy with safety precautions, including the requirement that all eligible people be vaccinated. So they feel safe on the ship, but what about Sitka? The community is experiencing the biggest wave of coronavirus in the pandemic, with more than 200 active cases.

“We heard this. So is every place. Utah too, where we are at, ”said Pam McDaniels. “There have been 800 new cases in Salt Lake just in the last 24 hours. “

The arrival of the Serenade of the Seas is the first of about 20 cruise ship calls scheduled to Sitka by the end of September, although many late-season ships cancel when the weather turns down on the coast. exterior.

It didn’t take the nonexistent 2020 cruise season to refocus the strategies of downtown Sitka merchants.

Across the street from Harrigan Centennial Hall, in prime cruise passenger territory, Shirley Robards is the staff of the Stereo North office. She said she hasn’t seen a lot of traffic today, but it’s not really her market anymore.

“We weren’t dependent on cruise lines,” Robards said. “We were, but it was before Amazon. When Amazon came along, it kind of took off. And Tuffy (Shirley’s son) thought about it and thought about it, and said, ‘I think we’re going to do some furniture.’ “

But just because it’s unrelated to the cruise business doesn’t mean Robards doesn’t care. She is an advocate for the rebound of the tourism industry that benefits everyone.

“I think it’s gonna work, really,” she said. “I really believe in God and I think the people of Sitka just need to hang on and do what they can and hope for the best.”

The Serenade of the Seas is scheduled to make a stopover in Sitka on Wednesday, July 28. Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam is scheduled at the same time, giving Sitka its first two-ship day of the short – and calm – 2021 season.