Ship sail

Nome welcomes its first cruise ship in three years

Visitors dressed in red coats and yellow hoods disembarked under the cover of gray rain clouds. Most had white hair. Many spoke with French, German or Canadian accents. At first there were only a few, but on Saturday afternoon the town was bustling with hundreds of cruise ship passengers finishing or starting an 18-day voyage from Nome to Vancouver aboard the MS Roald Amundsen. Their visit marked the first cruise visit to Nome since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vessel, operated by Norwegian company Hurtigruten Expeditions, arrived in port on Saturday morning with more than 300 people on board and departed with another equally large group later that day.

Nome Discovery Tours coordinated the transfer from boat to plane – and vice versa – and organized a host of events and activities that passengers could take in during their few hours to explore the city.

Unlike 5,000-person skyscraper-sized cruise ships that stick to scenic Southeast Alaska destinations like Skagway and Ketchikan, the MS Roald Amundsen caters to a different type of traveler: one with a higher disposable income (packages for the trip start at around $8,500) and looking for destinations where tourists don’t typically venture. A planned stop in Savoonga was canceled due to stormy weather, but the itinerary also includes stops at places like St. Matthew Island and remote parts of the Aleutian Range.

“We love to travel a lot, and I’m very glad we took the trip that came here because you know the other Alaska,” said passenger Peter Aellig of Switzerland. “The coast from Vancouver to Anchorage, everyone talks about it, that’s where the glaciers are. I’m very happy that we got this extra room which is unknown to many people.

Aellig and his wife Barbara hopped on a yellow school bus that took them to Bill Potter’s gold shop near East Beach during a break in the rain. In calmer conditions, Potter explained, visitors would have seen gold dredging boats on the water. He gave a demonstration of how a sluice box works and showed the proper technique for gold panning. With a heavy dose of self-mockery, Potter pulled out all the gold he found in the last year: a whopping total of one ounce. “But it’s good exercise,” he said. He told his visitors that the best way to leave Nome with a million dollars is to come with two million.

Bering Tea prepared a lunch inside Old St. Joe’s. Maruskiya’s gift shop was crowded throughout the day. Dog lovers gathered around the Arctic Sky Kennel mushing team. At a craft fair inside the Church of the Nazarene, vendors sold handmade jewelry, dog collars, baked goods and other goods. Alice Bioff of Naataq Gear said a good mix of visitors and locals stopped by the store. “Stories have been exchanged! she says. For example, one visitor was surprised that people here eat walrus; meanwhile, Bioff and his daughter learned what an ibex goat was. “As far as sales go, Saturday was the most transactions since Christmas,” she said. “Cruise ship tours are exciting. What a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world and see the dynamism of our local economy.

The Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum had 163 visitors on Saturday. “The majority were cruise ship visitors, but we saw several local families as well as regional residents who had traveled to Nome for the craft fair and to pick aqpiit,” said museum director Amy Phillips. -Chan. Inside the Mini Convention Center, Parker Kenick and Alanna Johnson demonstrated athletic feats to passengers’ “Oohs” and “Ahhs” while NYO coach Vanessa Tahbone explained the significance of various Olympic Games events in the indigenous youth.

Despite the many activities available, some passengers were in search of themselves. A lone birdwatcher stood around the harbor with binoculars around his neck. He had seen red-throated loons, a long-tailed duck and a short-eared owl among a few other species, but he lamented that he had not had time to make an expedition on the road from Kougarok to Curlew Hill to knock a hairy-thighed curlew off its life list.

“Guests were just very happy with what happened here,” said Robin Johnson of Nome Discovery Tours, who was grateful for the city’s ability to come together in support of the ship. Johnson said the day went well despite bad weather, schedule changes and flight delays. Lunch times, airport transfers and check-ins had to be rearranged on the fly, but passengers were, for the most part, in very good spirits about it, she said.

Although the cruise ship required passengers to be vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 before boarding, several of the tourists had tested positive during their trip and had to be quarantined. Only one passenger had to continue self-isolating after the ship arrived in Nome, despite having no symptoms. “We worked with Norton Sound and the city manager, and we had a plan in place for what we do if we have an issue with COVID,” Johnson said. She explained that the passenger had been moved to an apartment to self-isolate until she could meet CDC requirements to board a plane.

Last week, the CDC announced it would revoke its program that allowed the public to monitor cruise ship reports of infections. The federal agency said travelers now have enough information to make their own decisions about their trips and cruise lines now have the tools they need to make their own mitigation plans. US Senator Lisa Murkowski applauded the decision. “I’ve been urging the CDC for months to be reasonable and not single out a single industry with excessive charges,” Murkowski said in a statement. Yet last week, the Alaska Department of Health reported that the largest COVID outbreaks remained among nonresidents on cruise ships.

The MS Roald Amundsen left Saturday night, but the ship will return later this summer with another group heading up the Alaskan coast from Vancouver in late August. When these passengers depart from Nome Airport, a new set will arrive to begin a 26-day journey through the Northwest Passage, ending in Halifax. Packages for this trip start at around $27,000. School will be in session on this next visit, meaning Nome Discovery Tours won’t have access to all of the school buses it used on Saturday, but Johnson said she hopes it won’t be too much of a problem. “We hope the weather is cooperating and the flights are on time,” Johnson said.