SITKA, Alaska (AP) — Sitka could see nearly a half-million cruise ship visitors next year after a new docking agreement was announced with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
The deal between the cruise line and Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal came Tuesday as one of the world’s largest cruise ships arrived, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.
“It ensures they have a place to bring their ships and additional ships to Sitka for the future,” said Chris McGraw, manager of Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal. Halibut Point Marine, owned by McGraw’s family, is majority owner of the cruise terminal.
The Royal Caribbean ship Ovation of the Seas, which is 1,138 feet (347 meters) long — or nearly the length of four football fields placed end-to-end — arrived Tuesday. Officials said the visit got off to a great Alaska start, with a bear walking along the dock as the ship pulled in.
The ship’s arrival marked the formal completion of a cruise terminal dock expansion that McGraw called “phase one” of plans intended to position Sitka as a premier port in Alaska.
The Ovation of the Seas, which can hold up to 4,900 guests, brought about 1,500 passengers to Sitka. There were fewer passengers because of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Sitka could see as many as 460,000 cruise ship passengers next year as a result of the Royal Caribbean’s announcement as well as a new plan for weekly visits by Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Royal Caribbean announcement is expected to result in 200,000 passengers a year to Sitka alone.
The Sitka Assembly previously was given an estimate of 400,000 passengers next year, which was high enough to prompt concerns and spur action to address infrastructure needs, transportation and scheduling plans. The city’s previous high for cruise ship visitors was about 289,000 in 2008.
Its expanded 1,100-foot (335-meter) dock can accommodate two large cruise ships at once. McGraw said Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas will share the space most Wednesdays for the rest of the season.
He expects large ships to call on Sitka five or six days a week and said having nearly a half-million visitors will take Sitka to a different level.
“It means cruise lines are invested in our community and value us as cruising comes back,” he said.
This story has been corrected to show the ship is nearly four football fields long, not 11.