From staff shortages to barnacle growth on a ship’s hull, cruise industry problems are creating some wake for Alaska voyages launching this summer after two years of Covid-related cancellations.
Major commercial cruise lines report staffing shortages and other challenges at a time when the industry is making a big splash over a full return to cruising.
Some cruise lines are opting to limit the number of passengers aboard ships because there are fewer staff members to maintain services.
But even with the limits, the cruise ship industry is predicting a banner summer tourism season as it seeks to return to pre-Covid numbers that topped 1 million passenger visits to Alaska. That is good news for businesses across the Interior.
Cruise ship tourists take excursions to Interior communities and Denali National Park and Preserve. They visit restaurants, bars and retail shops and stay at area hotels.
Reduced land tours and other services
But the staffing shortages are having an impact on some of those excursions.
Holland America Line and Princess Cruises — which are the biggest cruise operators in Alaska — canceled some summer land tours because they lack the employees to run them.
Holland America this month notified some customers who booked the Yukon & Denali Cruisetours that they will not be offered on certain dates because of staffing problems.
“Due to staffing shortages impacting the hospitality industry, we are canceling select Yukon & Denali Cruisetours that occur on peak guest nights,” was the message Holland America passengers received from the cruise line, according to Cruise Critic.
The tours take visitors between Fairbanks and Dawson City in Canada.
The message went on to state that “Holland America Line is known for exceptional and unique service onboard our ships and at our land properties operated for Alaska Cruisetours. In order to ensure the high service levels our guests have come to expect, we are canceling some itineraries.”
According to Cruise Critic the email message said: “We are very sorry to inform you that due to staffing shortages affecting the entire hospitality industry, we must regretfully cancel select 2022 Yukon & Denali Cruisetours.”
But passengers also were told that they would not be able to rebook. “We regret we are unable to offer a replacement Cruisetour option for 2022 due to the staffing issues which have resulted in reduced capacity on several journeys.”
Guests are offered refunds as well as credits toward other amenities, such as onboard spa services.
Staff shortages also will result in the closing of a wilderness lodge run by Princess Cruises.
Princess announced last week it is closing the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge starting June 17, because it does not have enough employees to work there after two years of Covid-related closings.
The lodge is a three-hour drive north of Anchorage and considered an important stop-off for tourists on their way to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Guests who booked a stay at the lodge will have the option to rebook for 2023 or cancel their land tour with a full refund.
Denali Lodge is no longer taking new reservations for 2022. And there is limited availability at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, cruise officials said.
Railroad tours impacted
Covid restrictions also are still in place as they relate to other shore excursions.
Because of border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is changing its summer schedule in Alaska.
Thousands of cruise ship passengers take the train tours each summer, known as the Scenic Railway of the World. The train tours for now are being changed so they remain in the U.S.
Royal Caribbean already notified guests and offered them the alternative option for their train excursion.
The message to passengers stated: “The White Pass Railway tour operator has advised they’re temporarily suspending any train services into Canadian territory for the 2022 season. Unfortunately, this impacts several of the shore excursions operating out of Skagway, Alaska. As a result, we’ve modified this tour so that guests will now take a roundtrip train that remains within the U.S.”
Barnacles on the hull force cancellations
Commercial cruise lines have been beset with other unanticipated problems that are affecting the summer travel plans of vacationers.
Celebrity Cruises canceled a May voyage to Alaska from Vancouver, Canada, after barnacles were discovered on the hull of the ship, Celebrity Eclipse.
Guests have been offered full refunds or the opportunity to rebook their cruises for another date.
Less than a month before the Alaska Hubbard Glacier voyage from Vancouver, guests were notified of the barnacle growth on the ship’s hull.
The seven-night round trip sailing was canceled. The company said it was putting the ship into dry dock for seven days to “safely and responsibly clean the hull.”