Demand for Alaska cruises and Seattle remains strong, so the port expects another robust year in 2023. While slightly fewer ships will sail this year, compared to last year, ship occupancy is expected to be up, with forecasts calling for 1.3 million passengers.
The preliminary 2023 cruise schedule starts with the Norwegian Bliss sailing on April 14 and ends with the Norwegian Sun on October 30.
Seattle posted a record year in 2022 with passenger numbers up 6 percent over 2019 at 1.28 million.
“We saw a significant increase in ship calls,” said Linda Springmann, director of cruise and maritime marketing for the Port of Seattle. “We had some weekday capacity and the cruise lines worked to fill that in. Also, we benefited from global shipping not being open so some of the ships that would have gone to Asia and Australia came to Alaska instead. Alaska is a strong, profitable market.
“Seattle also benefits from being a drive-to market in addition to having good domestic, North American airlift.”
With two cruise terminals, Smith Cove at Pier 91, and Bell Street at Pier 66, Holland America and Princess have the weekend departures at Smith Cove, and Norwegian sails exclusively from Bell Street, where sister company Oceania has weekday departures.
Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean sail weekdays from Smith Cove.
“Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, for example, depart on Mondays and Fridays, and I am a strong believer that it is a shame to fly into Seattle on a Saturday and sail the same day and then fly out the following Saturday. I think Mondays and Fridays are great branding messages for the lines that have weekday departures because it gives their passengers a chance to spend the weekend exploring Seattle,” Springmann noted.
“We had 14 homeported ships last year, when Norwegian and Carnival brought in extra ships. Although we will have one less ship this year, we are expecting 228 calls.”
If the cruise lines want to bring more ships to Seattle, she will find space. “We definitely have space. I think they first need to go to Alaska and build an itinerary and then come back and see what day of the week they want to turn. They would want an itinerary that is going to give them the best availability in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.”
While Seattle had been planning another terminal, that has been put on indefinite hold for the time being, Springmann said. Meanwhile, infrastructure improvements call for having shore power installed at Pier 66 for the 2024 season.
“We are also heavily involved in the Green Corridor project, exploring the feasibility of a decarbonated route from Seattle to Vancouver to Alaska. That is an ongoing conversation with the cruise lines and industry partners.
“Our port’s goal is to be 50 percent decarbonized by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. We may not have the answers yet, but we definitely want to be a test bed for biodiesel, for example, and engaged in various fuel testing to see what the right answers will be. The cruise lines are a seasonal business for us, so they alone are not going to help us reach these targets. We have to work with everybody and make sure we can make it economically viable,” Springmann said.