Possible safety issues at Skagway have forced Norwegian Cruise Line to make alterations to its Alaska itineraries onboard the Norwegian Bliss for April 2024. Guests who have booked voyages during this period will now experience different Alaskan destinations than initially planned.
The cruise line informed guests of the changes through a letter sent to those booked onboard and to travel agents, stating an enhanced guest experience. However, Skagway has been left off several itineraries due to the precarious position of a rock directly above the berth in the port.
Norwegian Cruise Line has informed guests that the cruise line has made several changes to four cruises scheduled to sail to Skagway in April 24 onboard the Breakaway-plus cruise ship Norwegian Bliss.
Guests booked on the Norwegian Bliss sailings set to depart on April 6, April 13, April 20, and April 27, 2024, received communication detailing changes to their cruise itineraries.
According to the letter, the revision aims to enhance the onboard experience, taking guests to different, popular, Alaskan destinations, such as Sitka and Icy Strait Point, and providing a scenic cruise to Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier.
The letter states, “While we try to maintain original itineraries as much as possible, at times modifications are made to optimize the itinerary or to accommodate certain circumstances.”
“As such, in order to enhance the guest experience, the itinerary has been revised to now include a call to Sitka, Alaska; Icy Strait Point, Alaska; and a scenic cruise past Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier.”
Initially, guests were to sail from Seattle, enjoy a day at sea, dock at Juneau, continue to Skagway, cruise Glacier Bay, visit Ketchikan (Ward Cove), and end their journey with a stop in Victoria, BC, before returning to Seattle.
The revised itinerary, however, replaces Skagway with Sitka while also introducing Icy Strait Point and a scenic cruise to Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier.
The most likely reason behind the changes is the looming threat of a large rock formation perched above the Skagway dock, known as “ship rock.”
This formation has posed safety concerns, especially after a series of rockslides in its vicinity in 2022. Despite safety measures, including barriers to prevent falling rocks and continuous monitoring during the summer cruise season, many cruise lines remain hesitant to berth their larger ships nearby.
In April of 2023, Brad Ryan, Borough Manager at Municipality of Skagway, said: “We have dual monitors we are going to have on ship rock, so we are comfortable. But some of the cruise lines are not.”
This trepidation has prompted lines to consider “hot berth” arrangements, where larger vessels dock for shorter durations, ensuring that ships can quickly leave should any rockslide events occur.
This hot berthing arrangement is not something that Norwegian Cruise Line is willing to consider for the 168,028 gross tons Norwegian Bliss, which has a capacity for 4,002 guests at double occupancy.
As cruise lines adapt and prioritize passenger safety, those booked on voyages are encouraged to keep informed of further itinerary alterations. More cruise lines will likely follow the example NCL set and keep Skagway off the itineraries.
Skagway welcomes many ships during a typical Alaska cruise season besides Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival. This includes those from Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Disney Cruise Line.
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