Kodiak to see major cruise uptick in 2023

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Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska has published its summer schedule for the state, and 23 large and small cruise ships are currently scheduled to visit Kodiak. That’s the most to visit since before the pandemic and the tides of tourism might be shifting our way. 

Cities in Southeast Alaska usually see more than a  million cruise ship passengers per year, but Kodiak takes in barely a fraction of that. Aimee Williams is the executive director of Discover Kodiak, the local visitors bureau. She says Kodiak only sees around 25,000 visitors from such vessels per year. 

Cruise Ship Westerdam set to arrive in Kodiak in May. Photo by Roger Wollstadt – Flickr: Costa Maya – Westerdam, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

“I think the cruise ships are starting to see more and more bookings and larger numbers coming back to Alaska,” Williams said. “I think that Kodiak is going to continue to see a rise because the larger ports like Juneau and Skagway and Ketchikan are actually putting signs to put limits on how many cruise ships can be there a day.” 

Last year, fewer than a dozen cruises visited the island – the first since 2019, but Williams says there’s a huge uptick in this year’s schedule. 

“There’s two days where we have two here at once,” she said. “One will have to be at anchor and the other will be at the pier.”

As tourism starts to rebound after the pandemic, some companies are even starting to offer trips through the Arctic that stop in places around Alaska. It’s an interesting position for smaller, coastal communities like Kodiak, Valdez, and even Nome, as more unique trips to remote areas of the state are in higher demand.

But Williams says she’s unsure if Kodiak is ready for huge groups of tourists all at once. 

“We don’t have a huge infrastructure that can handle those really big ships where there’s 4000 people on a ship,” she said. “I think we saw our biggest ships last year that were coming in – if they would have been at full capacity, we would have had over 2000 people here so that’s quite a big influx to a community that has 6000 people inside of its city limits.”

Despite the rise in cruise ships, Williams says Kodiak’s main source of tourism will likely keep coming from wildlife tours and chartered fishing. 

“For tourism, the charter boat fishing and the bear viewing will probably always be our strengths and it’s going to be up to the community to kind of decide how big they want to let the cruise ship industry grow,” she said.

The schedule will likely fluctuate before the summer, but so far, the first cruise on the Westerdam is expected to arrive in May  2 and the last will leave the island on the Regatta on October 15. 

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