ANACORTES — Cruise ships returned here this past week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and their return is expected to give a boost to the local economy.

The American Constellation, operated by American Cruise Lines, docked at the Port of Anacortes Monday through Wednesday. The ship is set to return again with new passengers on Monday evening.

Anacortes is one of seven stops along the company’s eight-day Puget Sound and San Juan Islands cruise.

Gov. Jay Inslee on May 13 permitted small cruise sailings to resume as part of a broader move to ease restrictions on activities for fully vaccinated individuals.

“Small cruise ships with less than 250 passengers may sail if the full crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated,” an article on Inslee’s Medium page states.

American Cruise Lines is meeting the state requirement to have 95% or more of passengers fully vaccinated, company spokesperson Alexa Paolella said.

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At full capacity, the American Constellation can carry 175 passengers.

American Cruise Lines, which offers small domestic river and coastal cruises, is voluntarily operating all ships at or below 75% capacity, Paolella said.

“Occupancy will ramp up as we continue through the season if it is prudent given the prevalence of COVID-19,” she said in an email.

Paolella declined to say how many were aboard the ship that visited Anacortes this week.

Between the American Constellation and the 100-passenger American Spirit, also operated by American Cruise Lines, 34 more cruises are scheduled to stop in Anacortes through mid-November, according to the Port of Anacortes website. That amounts to about one ship a week.

Masks must be worn during cruises, in accordance with a federal order requiring masks for domestic and international travel. American Cruise Lines requires unvaccinated passengers to take a COVID-19 test four days before their cruise, according to the company’s website.

Cruises became an early epicenter of the pandemic last year, with many aboard testing positive for COVID-19 and ships denied entry to ports of call, leaving passengers stranded at sea.

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Port of Anacortes Executive Director Dan Worra said with vaccination requirements and safety protocols in place, the port is happy to welcome back cruise-ship guests.

There is a $6 per passenger fee for cruise ships to dock at port facilities.

“It’s not a huge income generator for us; it’s more for the people coming to our community,” Worra said.

He said cruise ship guests walk around, visit businesses and spend money over their two-night stay.

“It’s a nice boost to our economy,” he said.

The first cruises came to Anacortes in 2013. The number of dockings has been increasing, with 52 cruise ship stops in 2019, Worra said. In 2020, no cruise ships stopped because of the pandemic.

Interest appears high for cruising as the industry restarts.

“American (Cruise Lines) has seen an enormous interest in our small-ship domestic cruises this Spring and for all of 2021 and well into 2022 and 2023,” Paolella said in an email. “Demand is way above record 2019 levels already.”