Giant cruise ship to (briefly) almost double Unalaska’s population

The Celebrity Millennium. Wikipedia photo.
The Celebrity Millennium. Wikipedia photo.

Unalaska’s population could nearly double Sept. 15 when the Celebrity Millennium docks here.

Community leaders are worried enough, they’re holding a town hall meeting on how to handle—and help—the onslaught of tourists at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Burma Road Chapel.

“It’s going to be overwhelming,” Unalaska/Dutch Harbor ports director Peggy McLaughlin said.

Cathy Jordan with the Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau said she’s expecting at least 2,100 passengers and 1,200 crew.

They will have spent three days at sea and will be spending five days at sea after their day in Unalaska.

“We expect all the passengers to disembark,” Jordan said.

The occasional cruise ship is nothing new to Unalaska, but this floating city is much bigger than usual.

“Typically, we’re in the hundreds, not in the thousands,” McLaughlin said. “This is the largest one we’ve seen.”

Alaskan towns like Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan often see their populations double when several big cruise ships come to town. Unlike those towns, Unalaska isn’t set up to handle a large influx of cruising tourists.

“Generally, cruise ships and industrial working ports is not really a good mix, unless you’re set up that way,” interim Unalaska city manager Don Moore said.

Moore told Unalaska City Council Tuesday night that there’s always a risk passengers will step off their cruise ship go wandering around docks where cargo handling and other industrial activities are going on.

“That is an issue that probably needs to be addressed,” Moore said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to hear people’s suggestions for how the community can help the throngs of people enjoy their eight-hour visit to Unalaska, and how the community can weather the storm of tourists.

They’re looking for bus drivers and volunteers to help out on the big day as well as businesses that might want to exploit a brief opportunity to have a large number of customers.

The Unalaska School District has offered its gyms and auditoriums for lectures, dances or other activities for the cruise passengers. Entrance fees would raise funds for the school district.

The 965-foot ship will dock at the U.S. Coast Guard dock off Ballyhoo Road.

“This is a new arena for us,” McLaughlin said. “It’ll be sidewalks full of people wearing the same jackets, is my guess.”