Most of us Alaskans take cruise ship visitors for granted. We look upon them as a resource to be tolerated and exploited. We view the cruise ship industry as another ATM to be raided whenever we need more money for local projects, or on those infrequent occasions when, in a fit of hysterical electoral pique, we blindly lash out at them as if they were some sinister force. Even today (January 7th), the Anchorage Daily News took another shot at the cruise industry, chiding the Alaska state government for allegedly "sandbagging" the implementation of the emotional, misguided Cruise Ship Initiative mistakenly passed by impressionable lemmings at the ballot box in 2006. Rarely do we hear from the cruisers themselves.
However, one such cruiser was Jim Smith, a writer for the Long Island (NY) daily, Newsday. In a column entitled "Learning the dos and don'ts on an Alaskan cruise", picked up on January 4th, 2007 by the Salt Lake Tribune, he discusses his experience on an Alaskan cruise he took with his wife. While he did characterize it as a worthwhile experience, his observations can educate us Alaskans more effectively on the effect our policies have upon those at the receiving end. Here are portions of his column, broken into excerpts:
Alaska, though, was a place we've always wanted to see, and we decided to get our feet wet by taking our first cruise there this summer through the Inside Passage aboard the brand-new Norwegian Pearl.
Leaving from Seattle, we spent seven chilly days visiting Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Glacier Bay and Victoria, Canada. It was an experience we'll never forget. The 93,000-ton vessel took 2,380 passengers and had 1,154 crew members from 65 nations providing outstanding service.
The Norwegian Pearl has 12 restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, a casino, a theater, a video-game arcade, a bowling alley, two swimming pools, six hot tubs, a rock-climbing wall, a tennis court, a basketball court, a fitness center, a walking track and shuffleboard courts.
We spent $2,431 to book the cruise through Fairview Cruise and Travel in Mineola, N.Y.; $720 for airfare and $881 for onboard charges, including fees for three shore excursions; and a $140 fee for tips. We had 19 meals onboard; the food was great and included in the booking fee.
O.K., let's stop there for a moment. This guy shelled out a total of $4,172 just to get on the boat. Stateroom and meals only, except for three excursions. Imagine how much less he would have had to pay five years ago, before the latest round of cruise ship tax hikes by ports of call like Juneau, Ketchikan, etc., and in particular, the passage of the intrusive and cumbersome Cruise Ship Initiative a couple of years ago. One is tempted to believe that if a cruiser can afford $4,100, he can easily afford $5,000. But what happens if the cruiser can't afford $5,000? He takes his $4,100 and spends it ELSEWHERE; Alaska doesn't get a penny. We kill the golden goose through our greed.
And there are other expenses. While discretionary, for the most part, they are significant. Back to the column:
Here's what we learned:
* Don't take wine. We paid $31 in Seattle for a 1.5-liter red and a 750-milliliter white but upon boarding were charged a $15 corkage fee for each. Onboard a Corona beer was $5.18; a snifter of Courvosier, $8.91; a glass of Duckhorn Chardonnay, $12.36; a bottle of Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, $52. We didn't drink much alcohol.
* Don't log on to the Web. I did that in the ship's Internet Cafe to check my fantasy baseball team results, and it cost me $21.75 for 28 minutes. During one shore excursion, I found a cafe with computers that took quarters and paid $4 for 30 minutes online.
* Don't expect to get to all the onboard activities; there are too many. The library was the only place to hide from incessant messages from cruise director Simon Murray, touting art auctions, beauty treatments, jewelry seminars, shopping tips, bingo, photo sessions, line dancing, disco parties, etc. I read a James Patterson novel in one afternoon of blessed quiet as the magnificent scenery slid by.
* Do enjoy the nightly free entertainment; it was first-rate - short and sweet, about 75 minutes a show. We saw a Second City comedy troupe twice, once doing an improv show based on audience suggestions. The Jean Ann Ryan Co. of dancers presented ''Garden of the Geisha,'' featuring flying circus acrobatics, and another night it put on a Las Vegas-style singing and dancing revue. Other nights, there were a comedian, a magician and the crew's comical, water-spitting revue.
* Do take shore excursions. They break the monotony of staring at the horizon, and doing them every other day was a great way to view nature. Get a front-row seat, take binoculars, guidebooks, hats and layers of clothes. Our highlight was a guided river boat tour ($162 a person) out of Haines to a bald eagle preserve, where we also saw two moose. We also enjoyed visiting Juneau's receding Mendenhall Glacier ($49 a person) and Ketchikan's Totem Bight State Historical Park ($37 a person) to hear the stories behind the carving of towering totems.
All in all, our first cruise was a great experience, and we'll do it again, especially now that we know what to expect. On to Anchorage!
It ends there; he didn't discuss his experience in Anchorage. But you can see that he was quite positive about it.
Our job as Alaskans is to avoid passing the type of intrusive and restrictive legislation which would make it a less pleasant experience. People don't just make travel decisions based upon choreographed travelogues and professional hucksters; they rely upon information supplied by friends and family. If the "adventure of a lifetime" doesn't work out, they are quick to spread the news. And we lose their business and their revenue.
And here's something else to consider. Supposing, in yet another fit of hysterical electoral pique, we decide to throw out both Ted Stevens AND Don Young in the same election next year. That would be a catastrophic loss of seniority. Their replacements will not be able to funnel to Alaska the beneficent financial resources to which we've become accustomed. This means we will have to start paying more of our own way. And we cannot pay our own way through hunting, fishing, subsistence, and PFD checks. We have to construct an economy. KFQD's conservative shock jock Dan Fagan is fond of saying that Bush Alaska has a false economy. He's wrong - the whole damn state has a false economy. An economy overdependent on one golden goose - oil, supplemented by tourism and fishing, with a bit of mining thrown in. And while the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) and Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) are intended to ensure we get a bigger piece of the oil and gas pie, it is political brinksmanship on the part of Governor Sarah Palin. Suggest you read former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro's blog post on AGIA to gain some coherent insight on objections to AGIA.
Prosperity for all requires a diverse economy. We Alaskans need to set aside our antiquated Luddite attitudes towards development and open this whole frigging state for business if we're to prosper. Alaska cannot effectively prosper as nothing more than a 600,000+ square mile national park.