Season begins with cruise ship
Heidi Zemach | For the LOG
Customers, eager to check their e-mail or Facebook, wait outside The Sea Bean.
The Diamond Princess made a port of call in Seward on Monday with 2,600 turnaround passengers traveling from the Far East and a crew of 1,200. With the Alaska Railroad passenger train also in town, having returned to its daily tourist season schedule on Saturday, the area’s population had more than doubled for the day.
“It’s starting off gangbusters,” said Cindy Clock, Director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce on Monday afternoon. No one could avoid noticing the massive cruise ship docked across from the small boat harbor, nor miss the stream of visitors crowding the harbor, downtown businesses and tourist attractions. The ship marks the arrival of the regular tourist season, which runs through mid-September, and had seen one early cruise ship, Crystal Serenity, on April 14.
“It’s a wonderful shot in the arm,” said Jennifer Headtke, the owner of the Ranting Raven, a coffee shop on Fourth Avenue that served tourists all day. “We don’t get a lot of port of calls.”
Of the 52 ships arriving here this season, only five will make port of calls in Seward. Local businesses particularly benefit from those ships as passengers have all day to spend experiencing all that Seward has to offer, said Clock. With some of the other cruise ships, such as the Friday ships, Royal Celebrity’s Radiance of the Seas and Millennium alternately, the passengers disembark and get onto awaiting tour buses that head straight out of town. Train passengers, and independent travelers, who have done their homework, and want to do things here, also are great for business, she said.
After six straight days at sea crossing the rough Gulf of Alaska, and being snowed on for the last two, the tourists were glad to be out exploring the town in the sunshine, cameras in hand. They filled up tour buses headed for scheduled trips aboard Kenai Fjords Tours, Major Marine Tours, or Seavey’s IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours and Bardy’s Trail Rides. They also piled onto the yellow First Student school bus shuttles the city provided, and headed downtown to the Alaska SeaLife Center to see Woody, the largest sea lion some had ever seen.
“We enjoyed it very much. We went to Seavey’s and saw all the dogs, and it was a lot of fun,” said Chris Jensens, who was here from Hart, Michigan, with her husband, Dave. They took a dog sled ride at the Seavey’s IdidaRide and were introduced to the 2012 Junior Iditarod Champion, Conway Seavey.
“Yes, it was very good time, Madam. And so nice mountains,” said French-speaker Alice LaRouche, of Quebec, one of the 900 Canadian passengers on board the cruise ship. “Les Mountains son superbe!”
They had been to places like Beijing, China, Korea,Vladivostok and Sapporo, Japan, but they also appreciated the smaller, more unique things such as the town’s many colorful murals, and Urbach’s giant gold cash register, which belonged to the original store, built in the early 1900s. The store saw a constant stream of friendly customers who were happy to find quality merchandise such as clothes and shoes, said Dorothy Urbach. The return of the busy season, and perhaps also the sunshine that day put Urbach in a positive frame of mind about the upcoming season. “I’m optimistic. I always am. I think it will be a good season,” she said.
Every chair was filled, and people were actually standing, waiting to get a seat at Matt Hershock’s Sea Bean Cafe, chiefly because of the WiFi Internet access it provided to passengers weary of the slow connections available on the ship. “It’s good, because the winter was tough,” Hershock said, referring to the long, cold winter and the rise of energy and fuel costs. “So this is actually really, really nice. It’s long-awaited.”
The hotel owners and tour boat companies report bookings are way up this summer, which is a sign of a good start to the tourist season, because when visitors overnight in Seward, they eat in the restaurants, and shop here too, Clock said.
“It feels like our first big day out on the water,” said Geri Nipp, the Kenai Fjord’s Tours marine passenger services manager, although they also had a brisk time with early-season whale-watching. “We’re always optimistic that it will be a good season though,” she added. Kenai Fjord’s had partnered with Princess and Holland America to provide a few additional tour ships to meet the demands of the Diamond Princess’ schedule.
Meanwhile at the cruise ship terminal, summer workers who will be checking people in, providing security, performing longshore work, or even janitorial service, greeted one another fondly, seemingly glad to be back at work for the season and earning some extra spending money. Many are local residents with other businesses, or second or third jobs, or returning college students.
Leon Youngblood | The Seward Phoenix LOG
The first Alaska Railroad Corporation train of the 2012 season arrived in Seward on Saturday.
“I’m happy to be back,” said Pat Siemsen, one resident who returned to her duties Monday supervising port operations at the terminal. “I’ve done this for years. It’s great fun. I’m thoroughly enjoy it, and love the people we work with,” she said. The funniest story she told that day was of the passenger who insisted that she ride the yellow school bus to town rather than the extra shuttle bus Princess Cruises provided, as she had never been on a yellow school bus before and had heard so much about our unusual shuttle service. Another passenger told The LOG she had accidentally tried to board an actual school bus in town, thinking it was the shuttle. She laughed as she recalled her embarrassment and the confused students’ expressions.
The Radiance of the Seas arrives tomorrow with 2,502 passengers and 859 crew members. It is followed Sunday with the Zaandam, a Holland America cruise ship with 1432 passengers and 615 crew members.