Seven major cruise lines will homeport in Seattle this year for Alaska cruises including Disney Cruise Line — although it will shift to Vancouver, B.C., next year.
Don’t be surprised if you run into Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse around town this summer. If you do, snap a quick picture. This year will be the first and perhaps last time that Disney Cruise Line’s massive red, white and blue floating theme park — the 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder — docks on the Seattle waterfront.
Disney is the newest of seven major lines that will call in Seattle after the Alaska cruise season kicks off May 6, but already has made the decision not to come back in 2013. Instead, Disney will return to Vancouver, B.C., where it began its foray into the Alaska market in 2011.
Disney cruises market family fun with G-rated floor shows aboard a ship with three pools and 10 decks. The line plans 15 sailings from Seattle this year with Alaska stops at the Tracy Arm fjord and at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan as well as Victoria, B.C.
Disney’s decision to return to Vancouver next year is an economic loss for Seattle, which has been nurturing the cruise industry since 1999, starting with six sailings and 6,600 passengers.
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The Port of Seattle this year expects 880,900 passengers on 205 sailings. Estimates are that each time a homeport ship docks, $1.9 million flows into the local economy, spending generated by passenger hotel stays, restaurant meals and shopping, and purchases of ship supplies.
Port officials wooed Disney with the idea that Americans would find travel to Seattle cheaper and more convenient. But travel agents say some families were discouraged by high prices and speculated the line failed to generate enough interest to justify the costs of sailing out of Seattle vs. Vancouver.
Disney says its seven-day cruises start at $917 per person, plus taxes, for a start-of-the-season standard inside stateroom, but prices go much higher for bigger rooms with ocean views — $1,800 or more per person for some July sailings.
Then there are extras such as the chance to pan for gold with Donald Duck and friends in Skagway ($49-$89), or soar over the Juneau Ice Field in a helicopter, land on a glacier and help prepare a team of sled dogs for mushing ($499-$699).
“The interest was really high at first, especially with kids trying to market to Mom and Dad,” said Rich Skinner, co-owner of Cruise Holidays of Woodinville. “But once Mom and Dad started looking at what the prices were like, they said to themselves, ‘Maybe this isn’t such as good deal.’ “
A U.S. law prevents cruise ships registered in foreign countries from sailing between two U.S. ports without first stopping at a foreign port (in the case of most Seattle-Alaska cruises, Victoria). The Disney Wonder is registered in the Bahamas.
Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman Lauren Falcone would not comment beyond saying “port availability for the itinerary” was a factor in the decision to shift to Vancouver.
President Karl Holz earlier told USA Today cruise blogger Gene Sloan that the line has been pleased with both cities as a base, but that Vancouver has the advantage of being closer to Alaska, which allows for more time in Alaska ports, an advantage Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw acknowledged.
“By leaving from Seattle,” he said, “there was a reduction in time in some of the other ports of call.”
Seattle has space to accommodate Disney ships, he said, and officials believe Disney might come back in 2014.
“They’ve not made a decision for 2014,” McGraw said, “so we’re confident that once they’ve had the experience of being in Seattle, their options will remain open.”
The Port of Vancouver’s Carmen Ortega said Vancouver offered Disney no special financial incentives to relocate.
The Disney Wonder won’t be open to the public when it arrives in Seattle May 28, but passers-by will be able to see it docked at Pier 91 (Smith Cove terminal) on the Seattle waterfront. They also will hear the ship as it sails away. Disney ships use the first seven notes of the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” as their horn signals when leaving port.
The Port says Seattle’s cruise business generated $393 million in overall business revenue in 2011, brought in $17 million in state and local taxes, and provided 4,000 jobs. The season runs through Sept. 30 with mostly seven-day Alaska cruises and a few shorter pre- and postseason trips.
Carol Pucci: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @carolpucci.