There's still time for summer adventures
Alaska holds opportunities even during pandemic
August 1, 2020
Here it is at the end of the summer and travel and tourism are still at a standstill, adding to statewide unemployment and stalled revenue for large and small businesses across the state. This affects Alaska mightily.
The Resource Development Council of Alaska reported that summer 2018 volume showed an increase of 100,000 visitors from summer 2017. The cruise market grew by seven percent or 79,300 visitors. The air market increased by one percent or 9,600 visitors, while the highway/ferry market increased by 13 percent or 11,100 visitors.
Cruise visitors were expected to top 1.4 million in 2020.
According to the Council, more than $126 million in state revenues and $88 million in municipal revenues are generated by Alaska's visitor industry through a variety of taxes and other fees, helping to fund services benefiting residents and communities.
This revenue helps keep the state budget down because it supplies municipalities with the money to run their governments and fund needed projects.
Seattle-based Holland America Line sold four cruise ships as part of parent company Carnival's downsizing due to the pandemic's travel fears and restrictions.
In 2021, only the larger Eurodam and Oosterdam are scheduled to sail from Seattle, a loss of one ship from 2019.
And with the recent announcement that no cruise ships will visit Alaska in 2020, the outlook is bleak for villages, towns and cities.
But you can help and have a fine time to boot.
Small cruise ships offer more
The small boat niche that several companies offer is a great way for Alaskans to see the state in intimate style.
For instance there is the "uncruise." In 1996, Uncruise Adventures started out in Alaska and now has offices in Juneau and Seattle.
On August 1, it will offer weeklong cruises in Southeast Alaska, which start at $3,795 per person for double occupancy on the 60-passenger ship the Wilderness Adventurer. A special offer of $400 off per couple is available (Promo code: RTS2020).
With updated COVID-19 testing and health protocols, they will operate at only 66 percent capacity for safety.
The itinerary includes two full days in Glacier National Park with visits to tidewater glaciers Margerie, Grand Pacific, and the twin Sawyers; Tongass National Forest and Tracy Arm, whale watching in Frederick Sound; birding at South Marble Islands -puffins, oystercatchers, cormorants, kittiwakes, and of course, lots of eagles.
The cruise line has expert guides and a natural history narration as you sail along.
Go to http://www.uncruise.com for more information.
Another company, AdventureSmith Explorations (visit http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com) has quite a few Alaska trips on land and sea for August.
A six-day cruise onboard one of its small ships will also take you to Glacier Bay, but also beyond to three of the Inside Passage's most historical and charming towns of Sitka, Skagway and Juneau. Unhurried, there are multiple opportunities for discoveries and adventures. Highlights, according to the company, include a tour of Sitka, wildlife viewing through Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal, taking in gold rush history in Skagway, a day tour into Canada aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, a surf and turf feast at the exclusive Orca Point Lodge and a full day within the renowned Glacier Bay National Park. Prices start at $2,695 and include onboard meals and guided activities.
The big difference between the big ships and the small ships is the intimacy of the experience, the gourmet food prepared for under 100 passengers and not a multitude, the well-seasoned knowledgeable guides and narratives on history, Native culture and local environment when underway.
No glass elevators, no plastic plants, with windows that open and ready access to the deck from your room, it is distinctly different from large cruise ships.
Then there's the ferry
The Alaska Marine Highway is almost at your feet. Whittier brings you Kodiak on the M/V Kennicott on a senior fare of $144 one way with a return trip 12 days later or fly back on Alaska Airlines for $315. The boat leaves at 11:30 pm and arrives the next day at 4:40 pm.
While you could rent a stateroom, personally I prefer the open air and night sky of the solarium deck and a sleeping bag and air mattress on a deck lounger.
The ferry is a great way to see the state and the wonders of its waters. Go to http://dot.alaska.gov/amhs or call 1-800-0066 for more information.
Tourism dollars have a deep effect
As most Alaskans know tourism provides seasonal employment for residents of small villages and towns who usually go on unemployment in the winter. More than $1.4 billion in payroll was created by tourism business employment, for an economic impact of $4.5 billion in 2018, according to RDC.
Seasonal wages are important to people all over Alaska and the pandemic has hurt their livelihoods and impacted their lives and their families.
I worked at the Skagway Visitors Center when I lived there and was on unemployment in the winter because there were few jobs available. We often saw close to 1,200 people a day. They are not there this summer.
So, do get out of town and into this big gorgeous state that people come to in droves.
The remark I heard the most when at the visitors center was, "I've always dreamed of coming to Alaska."
How about you?