Passenger ship’s arrival in Seattle marks return of cruise industry rocked by COVID

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The arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas early Tuesday marked a milestone in the city’s shortened cruise season and became the first of eight ships to operate out of Seattle.

Each ship is slated to make 10 round trips to Alaska this summer, marking a return of the cruise industry to West Washington after the outbreak of the COVID pandemic last year meant an immediate halt.

There were 220 cruise ship docks in Seattle in 2019, but that number dropped to zero in 2020.

“This ship and others will be here for a few weeks to prepare to sail because they have been out of service for a long time,” said Stephanie Jones Stebbins, maritime director for the Port of Seattle.

The Ovation’s crew will be vaccinated and will still need to be quarantined, despite Washington’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions end on Wednesday.

The ship’s capacity is 4,900 passengers, but it will set sail with far fewer passengers due to strict social distancing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Other holdovers from the COVID era will remain as well.

“Our passengers will continue to wear masks in the terminals,” said Stebbins. “You will have a specific window of time to arrive and it will be very tightly controlled and orchestrated so that we can handle people efficiently and avoid crowding.”

If the boats are operated at normal capacity, the city of Seattle estimates that each landing will bring in $ 4.2 million for the local economy.

The port is paid per passenger, but with limitations on capacity and the protocols to be followed, it is uncertain how well the cruise industry will rebound this year.

A new cruise terminal planned for the northern third of Terminal 46, which is closest to Pioneer Square and the stadiums, is now permanently on hold.

“So until we see this market recover, the idea of ​​building more terminals is really off the table,” said Port Commissioner Fred Felleman, adding that a newer generation of larger ships could mean fewer trips to Alaska are required could be. “They put more passengers on each ship (and) that too will delay the need for an additional terminal. And there is only so much space in Alaska. “

The proposed new terminal would have been a 50/50 partnership between the port and a cruise partner.

Felleman said, “They want someone with skin in the game, right, because they’re going to work to make it work.”

Until a cruise partner raises a financial contribution of more than $ 100 million for a new terminal, the seven leasing cruise brands will share Seattle’s two terminals, Terminal 91 near Magnolia Bridge and Terminal 66 near the Aquarium of Seattle.