Cruise season begins amid uncertainty

Cruise season began this week in Seattle with the first of what the Port of Seattle says will be a record 223 cruise ship calls at the port's two cruise terminals.

Holland America Line’s Amsterdam arrived Monday at the port’s Smith Cove Cruise Terminal just as Seattle-based Holland America announced that it will cut Seattle-Alaska cruises next year from 69 in 2010 to 50.

The cruise line will shift that capacity to Europe, where the cruise business has been growing rapidly.

The cruise business has suffered mightily in the recession, slashing fares and making deals to keep ships full.

But in the Alaska market, based mostly out of Seattle and Vancouver, the cruise industry has battled with the state of Alaska over taxes.

Voters in Alaska imposed a $46.50 head tax on cruise passengers in 2006.

The industry sued in federal court and announced cutbacks.

The tax proponents blamed the cutbacks on the economy, not the extra taxes.

The Alaska Legislature this month reduced that cruise tax to $34.50 hoping to regain some of the lost traffic.

The cruise industry is big business in Puget Sound. Each of the 223 cruise ship calls leaves $1.9 million in the local economy, said the Port of Seattle.

Cruise passengers stay in local hotels, take local tours and eat in local restaurants before and after their cruises.

The cruise lines spend millions on provisions, fuel and staffing.

Eleven cruise ships will call regularly on Seattle this summer from Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, Celebrity and Carnival cruise lines.

Most ships call on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but Carnival’s Spirit will begin calling on Tuesdays for the first time.