The 2009 cruise ship season in Vancouver is almost at a close.  The Star Princess, Coral Princess, and Norwegian Pearl are all here today.  All are headed south to the sunshine, sandy beaches, and waving palm trees.

Some are not to return.

Disney announced to great fanfare two weeks ago they would be homeporting Disney Wonder in Vancouver for a series of roundtrip Alaska cruises in the summer of 2011.  But for 2010, the Port of Vancouver faces its bleakest cruise season in years.

Bleak is, of course, a relative term.  Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity are all returning.  Even five-star, ultra-luxe lines Silversea and Regent Seven Seas will be back.

The list of who will not be returning, however, is growing.  NCL, pulling all ships out for the first time since they entered the Alaska market nearly two decades ago.  Norwegian Sun has been sent to the Baltics, and Norwegian Pearl and Star will continue to operate out of Seattle.

Carnival is also pulling out of Vancouver for the first time since the line started Alaska cruises.  The 85,920-ton Carnival Spirit will reposition to Seattle for 2010, offering roundtrip Alaska cruises instead of the North/Southbound runs they’ve focused on for the last few years.

Royal Caribbean is almost out – Serenade of the Seas, which until now operated 7-Day roundtrips from Vancouver, will be sent full-time to the aqua waters of the Caribbean.  Radiance of the Seas will continue her North/Southbound runs, and Rhapsody will reprise her roundtrip sailings from Vancouver.

Blame for the withdrawal is being placed squarely on the Alaska State Head Tax, a $50 per-passenger surcharge approved by the State of Alaska in 2006.  The issue has become such a hot-button item that he Alaska Cruise Association, representing Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean launched a lawsuite against the State of Alaska, calling the tax “unconstitutional.”  The tax collected so far has been used for a variety of infrastructure projects – none of them related, in any way, to improving dock or passenger facilities in Alaskan ports.

Caught in the middle: Vancouver.  The higher cost for American tourists who fly into YVR has been hotly debated on sites like CruiseCritic for years now.  The highly-publicized taxi cab shortage at Canada Place in the past hasn’t helped either.

Couple this with the worst recession in decades, and it becomes more clear why lines are pulling out.  The American tourists want somewhere they can fly to cheaply, and the cruise lines listened.  They are, after all, a highly mobile industry; why stay if it doesn’t make financial sense?

The Disney announcement served as a bit of a silver lining – a glimmer of hope that 2011 might not see the losses that 2010 has. 

That ultimately rests with the success or failure of the Alaska Passenger Tax.  We’ll keep you posted.


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