By Brynn Grimley, January 12, 2013, Kitsap Sun
With its protected bay, snapshot views of the Olympic Mountains and its quaint, Norwegian-themed downtown, Poulsbo is the quintessential stop for cruise ship voyagers looking to experience the individuality of Puget Sound.
American Cruise Lines plans to navigate its 100-passenger cruise liner, American Spirit, in to Liberty Bay at least 15 times this year to introduce its passengers to the inland waterways of the area.
The 200-foot vessel will make its first stop in April as a part of an eight-day cruise around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Other stops include Port Townsend, Port Angeles, Anacortes and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The cruise starts and ends in Seattle.
This will be the first cruise that stops at ports within the Salish Sea for the Connecticut-based company. It also offers trips to Alaska, affording its passengers the opportunity to navigate some of the inland passages that larger cruise ships can’t access, and trips along the Columbia and Snake rivers. The company also has operations along the Mississippi River and up and down the East Coast.
Its voyage through Puget Sound will run during the shoulder season of the cruise line’s Alaska cruises — early spring between April and May and again in the fall between September and October. Half of its 15 visits will come in the spring, the other half in the fall.
“In our research of where we want to go, we look for places that are historically rich. Our passengers love discovering different cultures and history,” said American Cruise Lines spokeswoman Britt Rabinozici. “Poulsbo has a very interesting, Norwegian history. We think our passengers will love it.”
People have also repeatedly asked for it, she said.
Port of Poulsbo manager Kirk Stickels has been looking for the right cruise line company to come to Poulsbo. It’s an idea he’s explored for a couple years now, so when he connected with American Cruise Lines he was eager to see something work.
“From the standpoint of a destination, we’re set up just fine for the recreational boaters,” Stickels said, adding Poulsbo has no problem drawing recreational boaters each year.
With cruise liner companies it’s up to the company to market its visits, not the port, so Stickels has been waiting for the right company to come along, he said.
“Poulsbo’s pretty much a natural for this, much like Anacortes or Port Townsend where the moorage is striking distance of the main shopping district,” he said. “We worked hard the last few years to try to get one of these to jell.”
Under the arrangement the ship will come into Liberty Bay where it will drop anchor. Passengers will then be shuttled to the port’s dock where they’ll be dropped off in the morning to explore downtown and the surrounding area. They’ll spend the day in Poulsbo, then hop back on the boat and head to the next destination.
“That’s just a huge boost for our town,” said Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson. “We will make every effort to make them feel really welcome in the community. It’s really a great thing, they can shop in our stores and have some lunch here, dine in our restaurants before hopping on the boat and heading home.”
A cruise isn’t cheap — state rooms start around $4,000 per person — but it includes an all-inclusive trip with an intimate setting where crew members and fellow travelers get to know each other by first name.
Port officials are hopeful being a stop on American Cruise Lines will open then up to other boating opportunities.
“I think this will get us a little visibility among the smaller charter boat operations so hopefully we can do something more for the winter months,” Stickels said.
Port Commissioner Tony DeCarlo acknowledged Stickels persistence to see this through. His work will benefit more than the port.
I think it’s great,” DeCarlo said. “Part of the port’s function is economic development and this brings people into the city. And if they spend money, if it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”