Royal Caribbean International became the first big-ship cruise line to embark on a returnto Alaska Monday, ending a 21-month draught in tourism for Southeast Alaska brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Cruise Critic reports. Cheers went up just after noon from the crowd of eager passengers assembled at Seattle’s Pier 91 Smith Cove cruise terminal as the doors were opened and the first passengers ushered in. Cruise Critic is sailing on board Serenade of the Seas for this week’s historic voyage from Seattle, which will see the 2003-built ship become the first big-scale vessel to call on the ports of Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Ketchikan since October 2019. Serenade of the Seas kicks off the truncated 2021 Alaskan cruise season, one populated by nine large cruise ships operating 78 sailings – some of which stretch into October. This week alone, three additional ships will embark on their maiden sailings from Seattle to Alaska, as well. One such vessel, Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess, was being provisioned opposite Serenade of the Seas as the first passengers streamed aboard the latter.
Heading north to AlaskaThere wasa frisson in the air akin to a maiden voyage, a mixture of nervous energy and raw anticipation, after such a long pause in sailings to Alaska. Serenade of the Seas is operating with a number of new health and safety protocols on board – but not even these requirements seem to have dampened the mood of those onboard. A technical glitch delayed embarkation at the terminal, which was slow but well-organized. In the age of COVID, it may be better to be thorough than fast, and most passengers took the delay in good stride. Patience has become a necessary packing item, next to passports and vaccination cards.
New COVID protocols, old favoriteSerenade of the Seas carries predominantly vaccinated passengers on this first sailing, though those under the age of 16 are permitted onboard without having been vaccinated. The minimum vaccination age will drop to 12 years of age as of Aug. 1. Vaccinated passengers are given a wristband as they embark, and a health questionnaire has to be answered on the Royal Caribbean app the day before boarding. There are select areas of the ship that are designated for vaccinated passengers only, such as the Viking Crown Lounge and the Casino. Other areas have time restrictions for unvaccinated passengers, and the rest of the vessel is a free zone for both groups. To test its protocols out, Serenade of the Seas embarked on a simulated voyage for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 7. That sailing – which stopped in Ketchikan, greeted by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski – proved Royal Caribbean’s protocols were effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and the ship was issued with a certificate to begin revenue passenger voyages. “This short cruise season means the difference between reopening or closing for good for so many small, locally owned businesses,” said Alaska Travel Industry Association President and CEO Sarah Leonard on July 9. We are grateful to our congressional delegation, governor and legislators for their hard work to bring cruise ships back to the state this year.”
Serenade of the Seas is familiar to Alaskans. The 90,090-grt ship, with wall-to-wall glass and abundant open and sheltered pools and deck spaces, has been sailing these waters for the better part of its service career.
While the ship is recognizable in Southeast Alaska, it isa relative newcomer to Seattle after being based in Vancouver for several seasons. Currently, cruise ships are banned from Canada until November.
Serenade of the Seas will arrive Wednesday morning in Sitka.
More from Cruise Critic:
- When Are Cruise Lines Around the World Expected To Resume Service?
- Alaska Cruises Closer to Restart Following President Biden’s Approval
- Royal Caribbean To Put Volunteers On Upcoming Test Cruises