Alaska Port’s Plans for Passenger Fees Cause Debate

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Have you ever wondered what cruise destinations do with the port fees they collect from the passengers who visit each year? In Juneau, Alaska, officials are limited to using the funds in ways that benefit both the ships and passengers – which some of Juneau’s plans may not do, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska.

CLIA Officials Object To Juneau’s Use Of Port Fees 

During the busy Alaska season, Juneau collects millions of dollars in passenger fees from cruisers annually – a number that is expected to add up to more than $20 million in 2024. 

Based on the terms of a 2019 settlement, which came after a three-year legal between the Juneau Assembly and Cruise Lines International Association Alaska (CLIA Alaska) over how the port spends money collected from cruisers, officials in Juneau are supposed to use those funds to better the city in a way that positively impacts the visiting ships, in addition to the passengers. 

“[F]ees for services that benefit a vessel (that facilitate marine operations) are constitutional, whereas those expenditures that do not benefit a vessel are unconstitutional,” reads the settlement. “The expenditure must also have a ‘nexus to the marine operations of a vessel.’ Benefit to passengers is not enough, the benefit must be to the vessel itself.” 

However, according to CLIA Alaska, some of Juneau’s plans for 2024’s port fees – nine to be exact – fall outside of what the settlement allows. In a letter sent to the city, CLIA Alaska officials said that those projects “do not meet the necessary criteria set forth by either the law or the Settlement Agreement.”

The plans at question include adding public Wi-Fi in Junea’s downtown area, increased bus service to the Mendenhall Valley, street cleaning and repairs, improved lighting for OverStreet Park and its Canoe Statue, and a revolving loan program, among others. These projects would take place in 2025 using the funds earned from cruise passengers in 2024. 

During a finance meeting held during the weekend of April 6, 2024, Juneau Tourism Manager Alix Pierce said she thinks the Assembly should move forward with funding the projects as planned, despite the objections, because the feedback from CLIA Alaska came too late.

Juneau Cruise Pier

Juneau officials and CLIA Alaska are supposed to meet annually to discuss plans for the port fees, and Pierce alleges these objections were not raised during the annual meeting. 

“CLIA’s aware of that timeline. And we had a meeting where we discussed the budget. And then, very late in the process, they came forward with this letter that does not follow the timeline of our process,” Pierce told KTOO, a local news station in Juneau. 

But while Pierce says too many plans have been made under the assumption that they would be approved, it’s not too late for the Juneau Assembly to consider CLIA Alaska’s objections and alter course. City Manager Katie Koester said that CLIA Alaska could potentially sue them again if they fund the projects as is, but that she was also not concerned about going back to court just yet. 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from CLIA, Renee Reeve, said she’s “confident the organization and the city will come to a resolution” in an email to KTOO. 

As of the time of publication, the Juneau Assembly has not made the final determination on which projects will move forward, but the budget is expected to be finalized in the coming months. 

Juneau Gears Up For Busy Alaska Cruise Season

Of the Alaska ports, Juneau is one of the most popular. The state’s capital received a record-breaking 1.6 million cruise passengers in 2023, and is expecting to welcome an even greater 1.7 cruise guests in 2024 across 660 ship calls. 

In fact, the cruise traffic is so intense that Juneau is actually taking measures to limit the number of cruise ships that can visit the port. On the busiest days, Juneau welcomes more than 20,000 cruise passengers, more than half the size of the local population of approximately 31,685 residents. The tentative agreement, which will go into effect in 2026 if approved, would set a limit of five cruise ships in the port per day.

Carnival Spirit in Juneau, Alaska
Carnival Spirit in Juneau, Alaska (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock)

Read Also: Your Guide to the Best Alaska Cruise Ports

But with no agreement in place as of yet, Juneau is bracing for a busy cruise season. Each year, the popular Alaska destination receives visits from the major cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Viking Oceans, and Seabourn.

This year, Norwegian Cruise Line kicked off the 2024 Alaska season with a 7-night voyage onboard Norwegian Bliss, which departed from the Port of Seattle on April 6, 2024. In addition to Juneau, the Breakaway Plus-class cruise ship will also call on Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan in Alaska and Victoria, British Columbia, before returning to Seattle on April 13. 

Meanwhile, Princess Cruises is also about to begin a record-breaking Alaska Season, with nearly half of its 18 ships deployed in Alaska throughout summer 2024. The cruise line also began the year with an over 20% surge in Alaska bookings, the highest in Princess history for the month of January. 

Across seven ships, Princess will offer 14 different Alaska itineraries, including 158 departures and 81 scenic cruising opportunities through Glacier Bay National Park. Additionally, the cruise line unveiled two new cruisetours to add to its repertoire of packages that combine land and sea vacations.

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