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Alaska cruises to resume this summer

A cruise ship in Alaska Photo by MAXFX/stock.adobe.com

Six major cruise lines will restart weekly sailings to Alaska from Seattle this summer, with itineraries offered from late July to October.

The cruise lines—Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises—made announcements after the U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in unanimously approving the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act.

The legislation, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on May 24, temporarily allows large, foreign-flagged ships to sail round-trip between Alaska and Seattle. This year, the ships will not be able to stop in Canada, where a ban on cruise ships runs through February 2022.

Before cruises to Alaska can resume, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must approve the cruise lines’ return-to-service plans.

The Alaska cruise season typically runs from spring to early fall, but even a shortened season with fewer sailings will provide an economic boost to the cruise lines, which have not been allowed to sail from the U.S. since March 2020. The sailings are also expected to inject much-needed revenue into Southeast Alaska communities that missed out on the 2020 cruising season. Local economies are heavily dependent on tourism: In 2019, more than half of the state’s 2.2 million visitors arrived by cruise ship. Princess and Holland America each send a half-dozen or more ships in a typical year.

But this is not a typical year, and, for passengers, that means cruising with new pandemic rules.

Vaccine requirements

The lines will require all Alaska cruise passengers to be fully vaccinated. Celebrity Cruises will make an exception for a limited number of children who are too young to get vaccinated. For initial sailings, the CDC will require antigen tests at the pier, and passengers must complete a questionnaire asking if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to people with the virus within the past 14 days.  

In addition to meeting the vaccine requirement, cruise passengers should expect new onboard rules covering mask wearing and social distancing, reduced capacity on ships, and limits on what they can and can’t do onboard and on shore.

The cruise lines will have some discretion on pandemic safety protocols (because the CDC has both requirements and suggestions), but at press time, lines were still finalizing details and are subject to change.

How to stay up to date with regulations

Travel professionals will be your best resource when you have questions about the new health protocols, says Marsha Colling, travel advisor with the Automobile Club of Southern California in Riverside, California. Your advisor can also provide information on travel insurance options.

Read more: Why you need travel insurance more than ever now. 

The best time to book an Alaska cruise

You may find big advantages in cruising in Alaska this year rather than waiting until 2022, Colling says. “You are not going to have the crowds that you normally will have,” she says. “You’ll get to see Alaska and its natural beauty without lots of other people."

Read more: 3 ways to explore amazing Alaska

In addition, the cruise lines are offering promotions and specials for the initial sailings, she says. For example, balcony rates on a 7-night Majestic Princess sailing from Seattle on August 29, which includes Glacier Bay, start at $1,519 per person, plus tax.

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Where ships are sailing

Ports of call this summer include Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, and Hoonah, home to the port of call known as Icy Strait Point. Princess and Holland America sailings include Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Norwegian will also visit the park on select itineraries.

Some small ships are already operating in Alaska, including UnCruise Adventures and locally owned Alaskan Dream Cruises. American Cruise Line and soft-adventure line Lindblad Expeditions offer itineraries starting in June.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in cruises. She is also coauthor of 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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