On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that is largely seen as the first step in restoring some kind of Alaska 2021 summer cruise season.
The bill, which can be found in full here, would allow Alaska-bound cruise ships to bypass restrictions that were preventing ships from sailing out of the U.S. ports, including ports in Washington State, through Canada to Alaska.
The bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent on Thursday and will now have to pass the House and be signed by President Biden.
If it does pass then the bill would exempt large cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which requires cruise ships to either start their itineraries in Canada or stop in a Canadian during them. That means that Transport Canada’s ban on cruise ship travel into 2022 would not prevent Alaska sailings from going forward. The exemption would then end in February 2022.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the author of the bill, said in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday that it “has been a struggle to get everyone pulling together, but I think we are at a place where there is a glimmer of hope for Alaska's tourism industry.”
In a statement, Cruise Lines International Association thanked Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan for working to get the bill passed.
"Congratulations to Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for passing PVSA waiver legislation in the U.S. Senate today, and for all their efforts to help save the Alaska cruise season. Our members hope to return this summer and to help put Alaskan communities back to work."
According to CLIA, the Alaska cruise season is responsible for 23,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in wages.
While the bill is good news for the U.S. cruise industry and for the Alaska season, the sailings will not go ahead until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allows cruise ships to sail out of U.S. ports by sometime this summer, which has been the plan.
Cruise lines would still need to move ships to the region, staff the ships, and market and sell the sailings to their guests. Some cruise lines have previously estimated that process could take up to two months, while some others have planned for the possibility.
Carnival Cruise Line, in its most recent update, said that it was still committed to restarting in July in the U.S., with Vista and Breeze sailing out of Galveston and Horizon sailing from Miami. Carnival also said that it was planning on sailing Carnival Miracle to Alaska from Seattle should the possibility arise.
NCLH’s Frank Del Rio recently said that while NCL was hoping to get sailing out of the U.S. as soon as possible, a restart in July was “seriously” in doubt and August was also in jeopardy because of a lack of guidance from the CDC.