A new law will allow an Alaska cruise season this year

But voyages through the Northwest Passage are still on hold.

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A cruise ship sails in a fjord in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. (Scott Gende / National Park Service)

Federal legislation has cleared the way for the resumption of cruise travel in Alaska this year — though not at the record-breaking level that had been expected prior to the pandemic.

President Biden on Monday signed a bill sponsored by the Alaska Congressional delegation, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, that gives large passenger vessels a temporary exemption from the requirement that foreign-flagged ships to make stopovers in Canada. The Canadian government has halted voyages by large passenger ships until 2022, erecting an impediment for the large cruise ships that typically sail north to Alaska in the summer. (It also extended a ban pleasure craft from Canadian Arctic waters through 2022.)

“This law will allow large cruise ships to visit Alaska this year, a critical step for returning to normal in a state where one in 10 jobs is in the tourism industry,” Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the Monday White House briefing.

In Alaska, where the cruise business is a backbone of the tourist economy, nearly all voyages were called off in 2020, including several Arctic cruises that had been scheduled to cross through the Bering Strait on the way through the Northwest Passage.

While cruise voyages through the Northwest Passage are on hold for 2021, there are some cruises scheduled to sail through the Bering Sea port of Nome in Alaska.

The end of the existing causeway at the Port of Nome. (Yereth Rosen)