Cruise ships are being pulled out of Alaskan waters, partly because of the $50 per passenger levy imposed by the state, and the number of visitors to this icy wilderness will be coming down by a reported 100,000.
Royal Caribbean announced in January that Serenade of the Seas would be withdrawn from Alaska next year. Now Carnival have said that Star Princess is to be re-deployed, Carnival Spirit will sail from Seattle rather than Vancouver and Whittier, and Holland America has changed one of its itineraries from seven days to 14, further reducing passenger numbers.
And you know what? I’m secretly rather pleased.
I enjoyed a fabulous cruise from Vancouver through the Inside Passage to the Hubbard Glacier on board Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas in 2003. We saw humpback whales, seals and bald eagles, took a helicopter excursion to land on a glacier, and flew in a tiny plane over the Misty Fjords National Park – both unforgettable experiences far away from the crowds and the hubbub.
But at each port we visited, the Radiance was joined by at least two other ships, meaning that more than 6,000 passengers a day were arriving in tiny towns like Skagway and Ketchikan (pictured above), outnumbering the local population.
What was there for visitors to see in these towns? Most of them never stray beyond the rows of shops selling all the tourist tat that seems to attract cruise passengers the world over – diamonds and other gems, Swarowski crystal, Russian dolls, oil paintings, and of course the obligatory T-shirts, baseball caps and fridge magnets.
Many of the shopkeepers operate the same seasons as the cruise ships – they’re in Alaska for the summer, then they shut up shop and switch their operations to the Caribbean for the winter.
Fact is, the mass influx of visitors is helping to destroy the very reason for travelling to Alaska, which is to visit a frozen wilderness.
What do the locals think? There’s a stormy debate going on at the Anchorage Daily News, between Alaskans who want to preserve their pristine state, and those who are grateful for the tourists’ dollars; those who believe they should welcome guests from the “Lower 49” US states and the rest of the world, and those who believe most of the money they bring never benefits native Alaskans anyway.
It makes fascinating reading. What do you think?