Cruise to Alaska

Visiting the 49th state by sea means you're in for scenic grandeur and grand hotel comfort

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One of the docks the Volendam sidled up to was the first port of call: Juneau, Alaska. There was only one other cruise ship in port. That was unusual. In the peak of summer there are often more—sometimes as many as five at a time.

The number of ships has led to a common cruise ship—port of destination conflict. Juneau is Alaska’s capital, but it’s a small town of roughly 30,000 people. When several thousand tourists rush ashore each summer day, intent on getting something Alaskan out of a nine-hour visit, they have an impact. They have changed the waterfront into a froth of jewelry and trinket shops, and have filled the skies with helicopters. Cruise ship passengers are offered long menus of things to do onshore, and helicopter rides to glaciers are among the most popular. About 35 helicopters are based in Juneau all summer. To help pay to mitigate cruise ship impact, the city of Juneau recently passed an ordinance imposing a fee on cruise lines of $5 for every passenger they bring to town.



That may be just the beginning. Alaska’s governor, Tony Knowles, has been calling attention to discharge of polluted wastewater by cruise ships in Southeast Alaska. A report summary on tests paid for by the cruise industry and conducted in Alaska last year on the outflows of 21 large cruise ships stated that the ships’ marine sanitation devices "are not working well at producing an effluent that meets the standards set by EPA."

Pollution in general has been a stain on the cruise industry. A number of cruise lines have pleaded guilty to charges of dumping oil or garbage against regulations.

Aware that their clientele is sensitive to environmental issues, cruise lines are making efforts to look very green. In spite of the complaints from Alaska, recycling and sewage control equipment on modern ships is more rigorous than in some coastal cities. On the Volendam, some of the efforts were vivid.

One morning when I went to the deserted Lido Deck at six, I saw a crewman hosing it down. I thought he was sloshing the debris of the previous day’s party over the side, but I was wrong. In the scuppers were small traps that caught bits of food and plastic. When he was finished hosing, the crewman scooped handfuls of trash out of the traps and put them in a bucket. "If he’d put anything over the side, anything," Frits Gehner, the ship’s hotel manager, said later, "he would have faced severe disciplinary action."

As the ship moved north, the days lengthened. "In Alaska," the captain said happily, "you have to sleep fast." People started to get into little habits. Jan and Randal Hundley ran on the treadmills every morning and could usually be found in the Java Cafe about two in the afternoon. In Skagway the weather held fine and there were more shore excursions. The Rones rode bicycles on the hillside roads above the trail where gold miners had struggled on their way to Dawson City in the Yukon in the late 1890s. We took a train up the old White Pass & Yukon railroad line to the Canadian border and back, and met a group of six women from Florida and New York, who were traveling on the Volendam without their husbands and were having a great time, except for one thing. "I haven’t seen many whales," said one of them.



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