Canadian cruise ship ban means another tough summer in Seattle

With Canada extending its ban on cruise ships until February 2022, Seattle businesses that depend on tourists face a second tough summer.

But as the pandemic drags on, some business people are understanding.

“I feel it’s a good decision to make because we’re not out of it yet,” said Craig Perez, co-owner of the Virginia Inn restaurant, which these days caters to locals.

“I would not want to get on a cruise (right now),” said Emmanuelle Shih, a retailer in Pike Place Market who is now selling masks.

The Port of Seattle says each ship that comes to town brings $4 million to the economy.

Facing severe hardship in its small towns, Alaska’s congressional delegation called Canada’s decision “unacceptable” and vowed to explore “all potential avenues, including changing existing laws.”

Almost all cruise ships in Alaska are foreign-flagged, and the Passenger Vessel Services Act requires a stop in Canada.

“The Alaska 2021 season was already on life support. All Canada did was pull the plug,” said industry watcher Stewart Chiron, known as “The Cruise Guy.”

Chiron says guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not maritime laws, are holding back the season.

Health officials require strict protocols, and the short cruises to test them aren’t even scheduled.

“The CDC has provided two of three pieces to a puzzle, and they haven’t provided the decifer code,” Chiron said.

Unless something changes, Chiron expects those test cruises won’t happen until this summer, and West Coast cruises might not begin until November in California.

He also says current CDC rules require passengers to stick with the cruise company’s shore excursions rather than go out on their own.

The Port of Seattle says it is focused on those safety protocols and had already lowered expectations for 2021.

“We were planning for a reduced season, about one quarter of our regular cruise season,” said Stephanie Jones Stebbins, the port’s managing director of the maritime division.

A small segment of the Alaska cruise market will not be affected by the Canadian ban.

Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures runs small, U.S.-flagged expedition-style ships that passengers fly to Alaska to meet.

“While I stand to benefit from this, what is happening to the travel market and what is happening to my home state of Alaska is devastating,” said UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard.