Michael K. Pawlus-Patricia Davis
Come May 7, cruising to Alaska takes on a new twist--an Emerald City twist--with Seattle and that city's $12.9 million Bell Street Pier serving as homeport for Norwegian Cruise Lines' latest fleet addition.
Cruise officials say the move is an effort to route incoming passengers more easily and efficiently. But the ramifications of such a shift are far greater than simple transportation logistics. With cruising the cornerstone of Alaska's tourism trade (especially in Southeast), those in the industry are curious as to the move's impact-both good and bad.
A shift, to cruising from Seattle and the added convenience of a domestic port will perhaps attract more people to the state. On the flip side, there is speculation the logistics could also result in less actual time spent in Alaska waters (a federal law requires a foreign stopover for any foreign-flagged vessel traveling between U.S. ports).
Traditionally, cruise ships were considered too slow to make the trip from Seattle and still manage to visit primary Alaska attractions in Canada, all within a typical seven day cruise. But the, newly built M/V Norwegian Sky is fast and sleek. At 80,000 tons, it's able to cruise at 20 knots. Its inaugural May 7 cruse to Glacier Bay-sans a stop in Ketchikan-marks the first time in contemporary history a major cruise ship has originated its travel in Seattle.
For the city of Seattle, the new travel dynamic is largely considered a boon. The port is spending nearly $13 million to upgrade its pier-including a new high-tech gangway and weather canopy, escalators ticketing centers, baggage claim and customs area for Phase One. A second phase includes an embarkation concourse and added ties to the Bell Harbor International Conference Center and Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center.
Michael K. Pawlus is vice president for Strategic Planning for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Recently, he discussed the new Seattle developments and the line's latest addition to its fleet.
ABM: What prompted this shift? Why vary from the proven norm of routing passengers through Vancouver, with its existing cruise port infrastructure?
Pawlus: Given the limited amount of air (travel) into Vancouver, most cruise lines fly their guests into Seattle and then bus them to Vancouver for their cruise. This ride is over three hours, which totals six hours on a roundtrip basis. With the Norwegian Sky, we will still be flying our guests to Seattle, but now the transfer...