It may have snowed in Juneau on Tuesday, but for the capital city’s tourism industry, summer is already here.
The Panama-flagged Carnival Miracle made port at the South Franklin Street Dock early Thursday morning, officially kicking off cruise ship season in Juneau.
As early as 6:45 a.m., vendor Greg Pilcher was setting up his booth near the Mt. Roberts Tramway.
“More people will be set up. I just always like to be the first one,” said Pilcher, who owns the whale-watching tour company Whale Tales.
The weather was warmer than it has been, but conditions were perfect to remind visitors that Juneau is a city in a rainforest. Sprinkling turned to drizzling, drizzling turned to pouring and pouring turned back to sprinkling in the minutes before passengers disembarked.
Carol Brown, who said she is visiting from Arizona, was one of the first passengers off the cruise ship at about 7:20 a.m. She said she was glad to be one of Juneau’s first cruise ship visitors this year.
“I think it’s great,” Brown said. “I know all the people were probably excited to see the first cruise ship come in.”
Abilene, Texas, resident Nick Klumb, said he was unaware that he was one of the first people to visit Juneau by cruise ship this season.
“I didn’t know it, but (it’s) kind of exciting,” said Klumb.
Brown remarked, “I can’t wait to do some shopping, and of course see your beautiful country — er, state.”
If Thursday’s visitors to Juneau were thinking of Alaska as a different country, they have an excuse. According to Carnival Cruise Line public relations manager Vance Gulliksen, the Carnival Miracle set out from Vancouver, B.C., and is traveling up the Inside Passage on this Alaska cruise before going back down to Seattle.
“It’s an eight-day cruise,” said Gulliksen. “This is a one-time voyage, like a special voyage.”
For the rest of the summer season, Gulliksen said, the 963-foot-long Carnival Miracle will be homeported in Seattle for its Alaska cruises.
Brown said Thursday was her first time visiting Juneau.
“Always wanted to go to Alaska and see it, and finally I said, ‘Well, might as well do it now,’” Brown said.
The first day of the cruise season is usually “average” for business, according to Pilcher, although weather conditions also have some effect.
“The weather’s pretty crummy, so ... it probably won’t be that great,” Pilcher predicted.
Whale Tales is one of many businesses that provide whale-watching tours in Juneau.
In spite of the weather, Klumb said he was ready to see some whales. “That’s where I’m headed,” Klumb said.
About one million people came to Juneau last year aboard cruise ships, according to Nancy Woizeschke, president and chief executive officer of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. She added that more and larger ships are scheduled to visit this year.
“We were close to the million mark last year, and we expect to be able to surpass that with the additional capacity this year,” said Woizeschke.
The Carnival Miracle itself has a passenger capacity of 2,124, as well as 934 onboard crew members, according to Miami-based Carnival’s website.
Woizeschke alluded to Carnival’s recent mishaps, with the saga of the Carnival Triumph, which was stranded for five days in the Gulf of Mexico in February with thousands of passengers on board, making national news. She said that despite Carnival’s bad press, she is happy to see the Carnival Miracle start off cruise season in Juneau and hopes its passengers have “a memorable experience for all the right reasons.”
Another cruise ship, Holland America Line’s MS Volendam, will make port in Juneau Friday afternoon, Woizeschke said.
After that, Juneau has no scheduled cruise ship stops until Tuesday — although one large ship, the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry M/V Malaspina, is set to dock downtown Saturday for tours, the annual Blessing of the Fleet, and a special Tracy Arm cruise as part of the AMHS’ 50th anniversary celebrations.
“Starting Tuesday, we’ll get multiple large ships per day, and then starting the week of the 12th is really when it starts kicking in,” Woizeschke said. This is Woizeschke’s first cruise season as president and CEO of the JCVB. Her predecessor, Lorene Palmer, became director of the Alaska Division of Economic Development late last year.
It is also the first full cruise season in which the JCVB will occupy the new downtown Visitor’s Center. That building opened late last June, more than a month into the season.
Mark D. Miller can be reached at email@example.com.