James Poulson/The Daily Sitka Sentinel via AP
SITKA (AP) - Sitka could see nearly a half-million cruise ship visitors next year - almost double its previous record - after a new docking agreement was announced with Royal Caribbean Cruise. The deal between the cruise line and Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal came as one of the world's largest cruise ships arrived, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported. "It ensures they have a place to bring their ships and additional ships to Sitka for the future," said Chris McGraw, manager of Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal. Halibut Point Marine, owned by McGraw's family, is majority owner of the cruise terminal. The Royal Caribbean ship Ovation of the Seas, which is 1,138 feet long - nearly the length of four football fields placed end-to-end - arrived Aug. 17. Officials said the visit got off to a great Alaska start, with a bear walking along the dock as the ship pulled in. The ship's arrival marked the formal completion of a cruise terminal dock expansion that Mc-Graw said is the first phase of plans intended to position Sitka as a premier port in Alaska. The Ovation of the Seas, which can hold up to 4,900 guests, brought about 1,500 passengers to Sitka. There were fewer passengers because of COVID-19 mitigation measures. Sitka could see as many as 460,000 cruise ship passengers next year as a result of the Royal Caribbean's announcement as well as a new plan for weekly visits by Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Royal Caribbean announcement is expected to result in 200,000 passengers a year to Sitka alone. The city's previous high for cruise ship visitors was about 289,000 in 2008. Its expanded 1,100-foot dock can accommodate two large cruise ships at once. Mc-Graw said Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam and Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas will share the space most Wednesdays for the rest of this season. He expects large ships to call on Sitka five or six days a week next year.
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