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First cruise ship of the season arrives earlier than expected

Posted: April 24, 2014 - 9:03pm  |  Updated: April 24, 2014 - 9:37pm

The tourism season is starting earlier than expected this year.

Officials announced Thursday that Juneau will see its first cruise ship Saturday, instead of next Thursday as planned.

The M/S Volendam was destined for Kodiak and wasn’t even supposed to come to Juneau, but high winds and inclement weather in the Gulf of Alaska caused it to change course, officials said. It was diverted to Juneau and will dock at the berth near the downtown public library at 11 a.m. Saturday morning and depart at 10 p.m.

The surprise announcement created a whirlwind of activity downtown as city workers and business owners rushed to get ready for the 1,281 passengers and 597 crew of the liner. Employees swept streets and pressure-washed sidewalks while seasonal shopkeepers frantically dusted their shelves.

“I’m unpacking boxes, I’m getting things priced, I’m getting things out,” said Liv Cadigin, owner of the souvenir shop House of Russia on South Franklin Street. “Everyone is working late hours tonight.”

City Borough and Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil said his employees are “jumping through hoops” to accommodate Saturday’s passengers, since they thought they had more time to prepare. Aside from cosmetic touches to downtown facilities, city workers on Thursday erected security measures, such as fences and barriers, at the berth to ensure the area is safe for passengers to disembark.

“It’s a matter of making sure all the security procedures are in place and ready to go Saturday,” Uchytil said. “Now we just have to open up shop a little bit early.”

Business owners and those in the tourism industry are pleased the ship is en route despite the rush. With an extra ship pulling in, Juneau will see an added economic impact, said Andrew Green, the port manager of Cruise Line Agencies in Juneau. He said the average cruise ship passenger spends $160 to $176 during their stay in Juneau.

“That’s a pretty good economical shot in the arm for one day,” he said.

The Volendam, owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by Holland American Line, embarked from Kushiro, Japan. It was slated to make its first stop in Kodiak, then visit Glacier Bay and Ketchikan before heading to Vancouver to pick up new passengers. After this trip, it will be back in Juneau again on May 2.

The Carnival Miracle was slated to be Juneau’s first cruise ship of the season. That ship will be arriving on Thursday, May 1.

Juneau can expect to see 550 port visits bringing an estimated 929,269 passengers and 490,458 crew members to the capital city this summer, said Elizabeth Arnett, tourism marketing manager for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those figures do not include smaller ships with less than 50 people aboard, or the passengers arriving Saturday.

One thing that won’t be ready for the first cruise ship passengers is the cruise ship staging project, which reconfigured the three parking lots near the Mt. Roberts Tram for safety reasons.

“People treat that area like it’s Disney World and cross any place, in between cars,” Uchytil said.

Construction crews widened that area as much as possible to become more pedestrian-friendly — no more street parking or sidewalks. Pedestrians will be required to cross at designated crosswalks. Additionally, the pull-through lane for coach buses will be diagonal in order to load and offload people more efficiently. That work is still scheduled to be completed by May 2, according to the contract.

Even if businesses and tour bus and charter boat operators aren’t yet ready for Saturday, tourists will still have something to do in Juneau. The glacier is always open, as are hiking trails.

If they are ready and open for business, even better.

“It’s a good dry run for them for folks giving tours,” Uchytil said. “If they can poach a few fares or visits, it’s all good.”

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