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Getaways: Alaska’s Cruise Boom

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may16homespunweb.jpgBy Kristin Jackson

RISMEDIA, May 16, 2008-(MCT)-In the 1890s, thousands of rugged miners swarmed onto ships in Seattle, sailing north to find their fortunes during the Alaska gold rush. These days it’s cruise passengers who crowd the downtown waterfront and flock to Alaska: More than 835,000 passengers are expected to come and go through Seattle this year for Alaska cruises.

The cruise season begins in earnest this month with about 40 cruise ships setting out in May from Seattle along the British Columbia coast to Alaska. Weekends will be especially busy in Seattle, with nine ships docking each weekend from late May to early September at the two downtown cruise terminals. Among the gleaming-white pleasure palaces are the 2,600-passenger Star Princess and the almost-as-big Rhapsody of the Seas, which boasts an outdoor climbing wall.

There will be about 218 sailings from Seattle this season, making Seattle the ninth-busiest cruise port in North America, said Port of Seattle spokeswoman Rosie Courtney. Seattle’s cruise market has boomed since new, faster ships have made it possible to offer weeklong, round-trip Alaska cruises. And Seattle has given Vancouver, B.C., once the major homeport for Alaska cruises, a run for the money. Vancouver remains bigger, and expects some 275 sailings and more than 900,000 passengers this year, but those numbers have remained fairly constant over the past five years, and the Vancouver market hasn’t enjoyed Seattle-style growth.

Five major cruise lines-Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean-are home-porting ships in Seattle this year. The big ships loom over the waterfront streets at Bell Street cruise terminal (at the north end of the downtown waterfront) or at Terminal 30 (at the south end). Next year, Terminal 30 will revert to a container port, and cruise ships will move from there to Terminal 91 near Magnolia.

From Seattle, the major cruise lines mostly offer weeklong Alaska trips. But in fall in particular, there are some shorter cruises around the Pacific Northwest; some small cruise lines offer smaller-boat sailings around the Northwest and to or within Alaska.

The cruise industry has brought money to Seattle-port officials estimate it pumped $268 million into the local economy in 2007-as well as waves of tourists.

It’s also brought some environmental problems, with controversies in recent years over sewage dumping and air pollution from ship engines. Holland America and Princess ships now plug into electrical shore power when docked in Seattle to cut emissions. They turn off their diesel engines and run everything from lights to sewage off shore power.

A Cruise Boom

Port of Seattle statistics show the growth in cruises from Seattle:

2000: 36 sailings, 120,000 passengers
2001:59 sailings, 170,495 passengers
2002: 75 sailings, 244,905 passengers
2003: 99 sailings, 345,000 passengers
2004: 148 sailings, 562,000 passengers
2005: 169 sailings, 686,357 passengers
2006: 196 sailings, 751,000 passengers
2007: 190 sailings, 781,143 passengers
2008: 218 sailings, 835,000 passengers (estimated)

If You Go:

Get a day-by-day list of sailings from Seattle at www.portseattle.org/seaport/cruise/.

Bookings: Travel agents can book cruises and give advice on ships and cabins, or book directly with cruise lines. Get links to major cruise lines and find a cruise-certified travel agent through the Cruise Lines International Association, www.cruising.org, or call 754-224-2200.

When to Go: There’s a greater choice of cabins, and lower fares, outside the peak summer months of mid-June to early September.

© 2008, The Seattle Times.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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