It must have been quite the sight for the people of Icy Strait Point to see a cruise ship finally call on their brand new pier. The new development was built through a partnership between Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Huna Totem Corporation, village corporation owned Alaska Native shareholders and Norwegian Encore had the honor of being the first ship to call on it earlier this month. The development also includes a new high-speed Transporter Gondola for easy access to the Historic Salmon Cannery and Adventure Landing.
NCL President Harry Sommer joined Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss his cruise line’s return to Alaska, the possibility of returning to Cuba and what the future has in store for Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet.
Return to Icy Strait Point
When asked about Norwegian Encore’s call on Icy Strait Point, Sommer gave us his thoughts on what his cruise line achieved.
“It really was a monumental achievement. We’ve been planning the pier and the surrounding area for a number of years now and it really came together beautifully. I was thrilled, despite the logistical challenges caused by COVID, we were still able to get the pier ready and open on time for our first call of this year last week. The guests really seemed to enjoy it.
When it comes to port-building, Sommer outlined that NCL wanted to do something different and he indicated he was pleased with how the new development turned out.
“We’ve done so many great things there, we sort of challenged ourselves to look at the port development process a little bit different and here we had three core principles. One that we wanted to partner with the local community, and in this case it was with the native Alaska community. Number two is that we wanted to do something that was authentic and real, not just create another waterfront with a bunch of jewelry stores, but actually do something that was true to the heritage of the area. Number three to do something that was environmentally friendly.”
How do Locals Feel About the Return of Ships?
A huge part of any cruise to Alaska is seeing nature unencumbered by human development. NCL wanted to make sure guests got an authentic experience while making sure the local community remained a large part of the dialogue during development and once cruisers started visiting. Partnering with the Huna Totem Corporation was a key component in that regard. In keeping with the sustainability and environmentally-friendly aspect of the development, Sommer estimated that their new gondola system “took 100 buses off the road”, something the local community definitely appreciates.
Will NCL Return to Cuba Once Restrictions are Lifted?
If you remember a few years ago, one of the most sought-after cruise destinations in the world was Cuba after the United States relaxed the travel embargo to the island nation. An administration change saw that leniency go away, but there’s some hope that could again change in the future. Sommer was asked about whether he thinks his cruise line will return to Cuba if allowed.
“I sure hope so. We’re optimistic. President Biden was Vice President under [President] Obama when the restrictions were first lifted and seemed to be a supporter of this, so we believe, once COVID is behind us, because obviously President Biden has other more important things pressing from a geopolitical perspective right now, but we’re hoping that when we get to the other side of this, sometime in 2022, that this gets addressed. We’re ready to go back, we’re eager to go back. The ships we had servicing Havana, unlike some other cruise lines that got rid of some of their older tonnage, the ships that we had servicing Havana were not older tonnage, and they continue to be in our fleet and they’re ready to go,” Sommer said.
Will NCL Build LNG-Powered Vessels?
One of the newest trends in cruising is the rise of LNG-powered vessels which forgo traditional diesel fuel in favor of a cleaner, more efficient natural gas. Norwegian Cruise Line has yet to build a new LNG ship, but Sommer let us know it is something his cruise line is exploring.
“We continue to talk to all the shipyards about the next class of ships. In fact, we just had a meeting about this last night to talk about what comes after Prima. You know we have six ships coming through 2027, so it’s amazing in the industry you have to plan for 2028 now already. It’s a very forward looking business. We’re looking at LNG, we’re also looking at alternative sources, too soon to tell where we’re going to get with that, but NCLH, the entire company, is committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” said Sommer.