Biden Signs Law Allowing Ships to Bypass Canada as Cruise Lines Stampede to Alaska

Norwegian NCL Alaska
NCL Alaska

It feels like a return to gold rush days on the frontier.

Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden added his signature as the final step to passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, after it passed unanimously in both Congress and the Senate – an astonishing display of bipartisanship in the polarized American political environment.

The White House confirmed: “On Monday, May 24, 2021, the President signed into law: H.R. 1318, the “Alaska Tourism Restoration Act,” which temporarily allows foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail directly from Washington State to Alaska without having to dock in Canada first until either the date on which Canada lifts restrictions prohibiting cruise ships from docking in its waters due to the COVID-19 pandemic or March 31, 2022.”

Chomping at the bit to restart cruising especially in one of cruising’s most popular summer destinations – and seeing the writing on the wall (or bill), cruise lines had already begun the stampede to America’s North-Western cruising frontier.

HAL, Princess, Carnival: At the Head of the Pack

Three Carnival Corp cruise lines were first out of the gate on Thursday, announcing their return to cruising in Alaska beginning 24JUL.

Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line all revealed their plans to “resume guest cruise operations for a partial season in Alaska, each with one ship sailing round-trip,” from Seattle, with Holland American Line resuming cruise operations aboard Nieuw Amsterdam to Alaska on 24JUL with 10 Saturday departures through 02OCT; Princess Cruises sailing 7-day cruises onboard Majestic Princess 25JUL to 26SEP; and Carnival Cruise Line restarting 27JUL, with weekly departures through 14SEP aboard Carnival Miracle.

As Open Jaw reported, “Cruises on the three lines are available for guests who have received their final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to the beginning of the cruise and have proof of vaccination. Crew vaccinations will be in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Royal Caribbean’s Alaska Comeback with Two Ships

Friday, RCI announced its own relaunch in Alaska, with 7-night roundtrip cruises from Seattle. It’s dedicating two ships to America’s ‘Last Frontier’: Serenade, beginning 19JUL, as well as Ovation of the Seas from 13 AUG.

Royal is also operating fully vaccinated Alaska cruises: “all crew members and vacationers 16 years of age or older will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and everyone 12 or older as of August 1. Those underage will receive a test prior to sailing.”

Celebrity’s Summit Debuts In Alaska

Royal’s sister line, Celebrity Cruises, also announced Friday that it’s resuming sailings from Seattle to Alaska from 23JUL through mid-SEP. The company will operate 7-night roundtrip sailings on Celebrity Summit.

The series of nine sailings will mark Celebrity Summit’s first time sailing Alaskan waters and offer the line’s new “Always Included” pricing that includes Wi-Fi, drinks and tips.

Celebrity notes: “All sailings will depart with vaccinated crew and everyone over the age of 16 must be vaccinated as of August 1, 2021, all US guests ages 12 and older must be fully vaccinated.”

Norwegian: Adds New Experiences Including “World’s Largest Zip-Rider”

Norwegian Cruise Line followed up the rear with a Monday 24MAY announcement it, too, would return to Alaska.

NCL’s Alaska cruises are slated to begin 07AUG with eleven, week-long cruises aboard the Norwegian Bliss from Seattle through 16OCT.

In addition to guest favorites, NCL guests on 2021 voyages will also have something new to experience in the form of a second cruise pier in Icy Strait Point, initially scheduled to open last year. “The recently expanded Wilderness Landing on Icy Strait Point caters to visitors in search of individualized experiences with the land, wildlife and native peoples of Alaska,” the company release said.

“The enhancements include upgraded retail and restaurants, as well as shore excursion offerings, including the world’s largest ZipRider zip line, the most accessible coastal brown bear viewing platforms in Southeast Alaska, whale watching, fishing adventures and walking trails as well as Alaska’s first gondola connecting the new Wilderness Landing development to the Adventure Landing and Historic Hoonah Packing Company Cannery.”

Unlike most other lines, its press release did not specify whether vaccines would be required by guests, stating only that it would operate under its SailSAFE Council’s protocols that “evolve.”

Hold Your Horses

The last several days have seen a lot of excitement at the prospect that cruising might restart in U.S waters and help communities desperately hard-hit by a lack of cruise business to Alaska.

We’ve also seen some thumbing of noses towards Canada, whose cruise ban the newly-passed law circumvents.

But all is not quite yet smooth sailing for Alaskan cruising. Several cruise lines noted in their announcements that the CDC has the final word on ships returning to American waters.

As NCL’s statement noted, their return to Alaska is still “pending CDC authorization.” But while executives Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain express optimism, they still have working to do to meet strict CDC guidelines and can’t take anything  – including Alaskan cruising – for granted.


Lynn Elmhirst

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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