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Senate pushes through legislation to allow cruises in Alaskan waters again

Cruise-hungry Americans will need to be patient because cruise lines need about 90 days to set everything in motion

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Photo (c) Danny Lehman - Getty Images
U.S. lawmakers have found a way around Canada’s ban on cruising that prevented cruise lines from running Alaskan voyages through its waters.

Driven by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-AK) undying effort to save their home state from a cruise-less summer and reverse its $3+ billion loss in tourism revenue, the pair convinced the U.S. Senate to pass the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA). The bill provides a way for cruise ships to skirt the Canadian impediment and travel through Canadian waters en route to Alaska. 

Time to change the law?

ATRA might be just the leverage needed for the U.S. to nudge Canada into reframing its 135-year old Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA). The act states that foreign-flagged passenger vessels carrying more than 100 people can operate between American ports, but it requires them to include a stop at a foreign destination. For Alaska-bound cruise ships departing from Washington State, this means a stopover in Canada.

Most Alaska cruises depart from either Seattle or Vancouver, but Seattle has an edge for Americans because of the convenience of booking flights to and from the city.

“This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back,” said Sen. Murkowski “Our hope is that the House will now promptly follow suit.”

“Given the CDC’s much-awaited loosening of mask guidelines today for vaccinated Americans, I am hopeful we will see progress on this front as well,” Sullivan added.

Cruisers must be patient

While cruise lines are probably breathing a sigh of relief, launching a cruise is not as easy as flipping a switch.

Before a ship sets sail, a cruise line still needs to market and sell cruises, position ships, and get crews together. Frank J. Del Rio, the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines, told the Anchorage Daily News that his company’s ships would not begin operating in the U.S. until at least August.

Ralph Samuels, an executive with Holland America Line and Princess Cruises and a former Alaska state lawmaker, also estimated that it could take two months or more to prepare.

“Progress is steady with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the passage of a solution to the Passenger Vessel Services Act issue in the Senate, with tremendous leadership from the Alaska delegation, should move things along,” Ball said.

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