Thousands of unexpected visitors made a stop in Haines today, when an unscheduled cruise ship docked in town this Tuesday morning. The boat was headed for Skagway, but high winds caused a change of plans.
The ferry dock is crowded and the wind is strong. It’s a reminder of why the Crown Princess is stopped in Haines and not Skagway. Some passengers walk back and forth to town. Others wait nearby, while tour operators mingle with the crowd.
“We got up early to do some excursions in Skagway,” says Damon Patterson. He and Stephanie Patterson are visiting Alaska from Kentucky.
“We actually ate early and everything,” says Patterson. “We were ready to go. And then he changed his mind on the port and came over here.”
The Patterson’s are enjoying their time in Haines, but disappointed to not be on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad as planned.
Haines Tourism Director Leslie Ross says the official call to come to Haines wasn’t made until around 6:30 a.m.
“We were warned a few days ago that they might blow in,” says Ross. “And it’s not a complete surprise. When it gets this windy, sometimes, I mean it’s not the first time it’s happened.”
It’s the first time this year a cruise ship has had to stop in town unexpectedly, though it has happened in previous years. Still, Ross says this is a larger ship then would normally come to town. The Crown Princess holds just over 3,000 passengers.
“So it was dealing with a couple thousand people trying to find places to go this morning,” says Ross.
According to Ross, local tour operators sell tours in both Skagway and Haines, so they were ready to go, but it’s harder to get the word out to shop owners who were expecting a quiet day. An extra cruise ship will bring in a lot of extra money, and Ross says in these situations, usually people end up happy.
“They end up being pleasantly surprised,” says Ross, “and our tour operators jump in and are getting a lot of our folks out but if not they’re just taking our free shuttle downtown and enjoying the area and most people still come back happy.”
The Crown Princess is not the only ship that didn’t make it to Skagway. Weather also prevented the Nieuw Amsterdam from docking.
Skagway tourism director Cody Jennings says today was supposed to be the last four-ship day of the season.
“What you find out on the streets still though right now is that pretty much all the shops still are open,” says Jennings. “But definitely much lower than we expected today. It’s definitely a quieter day around town.”
With around half the expected visitors, Jennings expects local businesses to take hit.
“We were expecting a little over 10,000 visitors and what we have is just over five [5,000]. So for those people that stick it out until the end and want to be here for our visitors, it definitely makes a difference for all of them,” says Jennings. “I expect for all the small businesses as well.”
Still, Jennings says it seems so be business as usual in Skagway, despite the smaller crowd. And she says, this doesn’t happen often enough to be a major concern.