ROALD AMUNDSEN— The Cruise ship Roald Amundsen is docked at the Nome Port.

Nome prepares for biggest cruise ship visit ever next month

On June 21, the day of the summer solstice, Nome will welcome passengers from the biggest cruise ship to visit this region to date.
The Westerdam, a ship owned by the cruise company Holland America, can hold up to 1,900 passengers and 800 crew, though it likely won’t be sailing at full capacity.
Robin Johnson of Nome Discovery Tours, the local operator coordinating the logistics of the visit, said she has been told to prepare for about 1,700 visitors.
That’s still several hundred more people than previous record-breaking ships like the Crystal Serenity, which first visited Nome in 2016 with just over 1,000 tourists.
The vast majority of cruise visits to Nome are so-called turn days, with tourists either starting or ending their journey in Nome, spending just a few hours in town before rushing off to the airport or the ship. Westerdam passengers, however, will have a port of call in Nome, getting off the boat around 8 a.m. and getting back on around 5 p.m. Advertised as a 28-day Alaska Arctic Circle Solstice cruise, the journey will begin and end in Seattle, with the full-day stop in Nome representing the middle point of the trip.
“This is a great opportunity because they’re not tied to a plane schedule,” Johnson said. “If they’re turning, their time in Nome is very limited, and so they don’t really have time to get out and wander around. These guys, we’re hoping they go to the restaurants, go to the Berry Festival, enter our local establishments and spend money.”
The Berry Festival, which is organized by Kawerak and had previously taken place in August, was pushed up earlier in the summer to coincide with the cruise visit. All day at the Rec Center, vendors from around the region will be selling their crafts, artwork and food. Local singers, dancers and other performers will also provide entertainment.
June 21 is a Friday, and other Midnight Sun festivities will be taking place that weekend. Kevin Knowlton said the Bering Sea Lions Club will be conducting its annual chicken dinner fundraiser on June 20 and 21.
“We have increased the amount of dinner supplies to try to accommodate the potential of a higher demand on the 21st,” Knowlton said.
He added that the Nome River Raft Race is scheduled for Sunday, June 23, but the club doesn’t anticipate any impact on this event from the cruise ship passengers.
Besides wandering around Nome and mingling with locals on the longest day of the year, the passengers will have a selection of activities to choose from: a tundra hike around Gold Dredge No. 5, a Nome history tour, a hike up Newton, a visit to the AKAU gold resort, an Alaska Native culture camp at the Mini Convention Center and sled dog presentations and educational talk by a Nome Iditarod finisher.
“We just have tried to provide the largest menu possible based on our capacity here at Nome,” Johnson said.
Johnson is still trying to build that capacity. She’s looking for more locals to hire as tour guides and hike guides for the visit. She said another challenge is updating wayfinding materials and maps. Johnson wanted to encourage business owners to think about making signs and sandwich boards to advertise their shops and let visitors know what’s behind their doors.
Because Holland America is U.S.-owned, Johnson said she expects to see more American passengers getting off this ship than the large European-operated cruise ships. Those visitors are hopefully more likely to be carrying U.S. dollars to spend, and they won’t face the same international restrictions that prevent European visitors from bringing ivory home.
Harbormaster Lucas Stotts is also preparing his crew for the Westerdam visit, which will be the first cruise visit of the season.
“We’re just going to get our spring rolling, get our dock maintenance done like we do every year, get our floating docks installed, so that way by mid-June, we’re ready for those guys,” Stotts said.
With such a big influx of visitors, he has another logistical issue on his mind: bathrooms. He said the City will work with Bob Madden of Moonlight Springs Water Service and Suck and Shine septic services to rent out porta potties to strategically place at crowded areas around town on June 21. But looking ahead to the future, Stotts said he hopes to see a more permanent restroom at the port.
“I want to provide much nicer restroom facilities for our port customers anyways, but costs of development are just so high,” said Stotts. “We are pursuing some funding right now through grant opportunities. I’m really hopeful we get those over the summer and we can plan something in terms of a bigger shower house, bath house, maybe even laundry services in the port parking lot, which would be a really nice benefit for when the ships are coming in here.”
A future bathroom isn’t the only change in store for the port. Next summer a massive expansion project will begin to eventually make it so that ships like the Westerdam can dock in the harbor instead of anchoring offshore and lightering passengers back and forth.
Stotts said that the Westerdam only needs a depth of 25 feet to dock. This means that after the expansion, this ship could enter Nome’s 28-feet deep outer basin and tie up on the new east causeway, which would have a direct path into town away from all the industrial operations on the west causeway.
Speaking for himself and not the city, Stotts said that he hoped to see that waterfront area developed in a way that was more welcoming to visitors and residents.
“You go to a lot of ports and they have a waterfront with a bike path and some benches and a place where you can take your dogs, your kids and play and see the boats in operation, but you’re still a safe distance away and it’s a good gathering point,” he said. “When we have tourism, it’ll be a good welcoming point to Nome.”
The City of Nome recently hired a team of consultants to start mapping out a strategic plan for developing this waterfront area.
This year Nome will only see 10 visits from cruise ships, compared to 15 last year. Johnson said international politics may be to blame for the drop. Many of the cruises that had been planned featured itineraries that included stops in Russia that were canceled after the invasion of Ukraine. But she also noted that while the number of visits has decreased, the size of the ships has increased.
Anyone interested in applying to work with Nome Discovery Tours this summer can reach Robin Johnson at robin@nomediscoverytours.com.

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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