The popular port of Skagway, Alaska is hoping to have completed the emergency mitigation work to minimize the risk of rockslides near the critical White Pass Railroad Dock by the time the summer sailing season opens in April. This could help ensure cruise ships are able to safely dock, and bring a record number of passengers to the iconic destination.
Skagway Repairs on Schedule for Cruise Season
During the summer of 2022, the White Pass Railroad Dock in Skagway, Alaska – an important dock where the largest cruise ships can safely berth – was damaged by a number of rockslides from the steep adjacent slope. The dock was completely shut down for a time for emergency measures to be put in place, but more permanent slope rehabilitation is necessary to minimize additional rockslide risks.
Now, much of the preliminary work is completed and Skagway mayor Andrew Cremata is expecting a full season with potentially a record-breaking number of cruise passengers, according to the Skagway News.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not much of an optimist, but I am a realist,” Cremata said. “I firmly believe that we will host a record number of cruise passengers in 2023. If not, we will be close.”
After the first rockslide on June 23, 2022, which caused minor damage to Discovery Princess, an environmental consulting firm was hired to thoroughly examine the slope and recommend mitigation measures and emergency procedures to safeguard cruise ships and guests on other parts of the dock.
Full, long-term measures to improve the slope’s safety are estimated to cost $40 million (USD). The town has has applied for emergency grants from the federal government to help fund these essential projects.
Now, emergency measures are complete, and a plan is in place for ships to safely dock in 2023. Larger vessels, such as Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakway-class vessels, will dock on the aft portion, but will use buses to move passengers off the pier.
“To achieve this, the rockslide area must meet highway rockfall safety standard,” explained Cremata. “Because the scaling is going so well, engineers believe this standard will be achieved.”
Furthermore, Cremata explained that spotters will monitor the slope while buses are in use for an instant response if rock movement is detected.
“This is an extra safety protocol to ensure that passengers and dock workers aren’t at risk,” he said.
Ships docking on the forward portion of the dock will use tenders to move guests well out of the rockslide zone.
These two measures – buses and tendering – may slow down passenger movements slightly, and guests visiting Skagway should be patient as they move to and from their ships, understanding that these precautions are to ensure everyone’s safety.
Skagway, located 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the state’s capital, Juneau, is typically one of the most popular ports of call on Alaskan itineraries.
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Nicknamed “Gateway to the Klondike,” the town of just 1,240 residents often hosts multiple cruise ships daily through the height of the summer cruise season, and is especially favored for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad excursion and other top tours, stunning vistas, and fantastic wildlife.
The quaint downtown area is also great for souvenir shopping with many local retail outlets, including the famous Klondike Doughboy with delicious cinnamon-sugar dusted “fry bread” that visitors line up for.
Despite lower-than-typical ship occupancy at the beginning of the cruise season, as well as the dock problems that caused several ships to miss Skagway as a port of call, Klondike Doughboy owner Rocky Outcalt said the 2022 season was exceptional, and is looking forward to an even better 2023.
“I’ve hired full staff,” he said. “The ship schedule looks good. I’m sure ships will be full.”
Alaska remains a top summer sailing destination for cruise travelers worldwide, and many cruise lines are planning very busy seasons for 2023 and 2024. Princess Cruises, for example, will deploy nearly half its fleet to Alaska in 2024, and bookings for that year have recently opened.
A wide variety of cruise lines call on Skagway, including Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Disney Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Cunard Line, and more.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss is scheduled to be the first cruise ship to visit Skagway for the 2023 season, spending a long day in port from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, as part of a 7-night roundtrip sailing from Seattle that will also call on Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria, with time cruising through scenic Glacier Bay.