This week, Royal Caribbean, parent company of Celebrity Cruises, announced that the M/V Millennium will not be making its last round of sailings in Alaska. The cruise ship, which is more than 80 feet longer than the Titanic, was forced to return to Ketchikan while sailing to Seward due to a propulsion issue, and is now on its way to dry-dock in the Bahamas. The passengers who had their cruise cut short have been offered full refunds and credit for a future cruise by Celebrity.
According to Peter Grunwaldt, CEO of Premier Alaska Tours, Celebrity chartered 737s to fly some of those passengers to Anchorage, where they began their land tours as scheduled. Premier contracts with Celebrity for the land tour portion of their cruise packages. Grunwaldt says that while the cancelation of the rest of Millennium’s schedule is disappointing, that it was fortunate that the maintenance issue did not happen earlier in the season. He also says that, overall, the summer has been spectacular, with sunny weather and a significant increase in cruise passengers. He estimates that, before the cancelation, cruise numbers were up as much as 20%.
Other businesses are seeing significant impacts from the cancelations, however. Paul Landis, C-O-O for CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp, says that bookings at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which is owned by CIRI, have taken a hit.
“Obviously it has an impact on our numbers. Both Celebrity Cruises and their parent, Royal Caribbean, are great customers of ours, so we have to make some adjustments with the decrease of room nights we would have received from that particular sailing”
Landis says that the Talkeetna lodge will stay open until September 15th as planned to accommodate other cruise lines and independent bookings. He says that, so far, the only employees to end their seasonal employment early have been volunteers. Landis has been working in Alaska tourism for over two decades, and says that while he has dealt with cruise cancelations, that it’s often due to scheduled maintenance and companies have months to prepare.
“In terms of the short timeframe that was put on this one, I can’t recall an instance of this happening before. It really did send ripples throughout the tourism industry at all levels, but the tourism industry…is an industry that pulls together and really works together to make sure that the guest still has a quality experience in Alaska.”
In addition to the impact on land tours and lodging, the cancelation also hits the companies that provide activities to cruise passengers. Sharon Mahay of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures says that the missing cruise passengers will “hugely affect the end of the season.” Mahay’s had a delayed start to the season due to a late thaw, and will now be facing a slowdown near the end of the summer. Talkeetna Air Taxi also says that they have had cancelations in the wake of the maintenance issues of the M/V Millennium.
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an e-mail that she was not able to comment on how many passengers the Millennium would have carried on its final trip to Alaska this summer. The total capacity for the ship is over 2,000.