City continues cruise ship evaluation

The June 28 landing of the Westerdam will provide key data for Homer handling of larger ships

The City of Homer, including the Economic Development Advisory Commission and the Port and Harbor Commission and staff, are continuing work throughout the summer to evaluate cruise ships’ impact and the need for future management.

The PHC will submit comments on their findings to the city council at the council’s regular meeting on July 22.

The EDC is currently scheduled to report back to the council in September.

At their regular meeting in June, the EDC reviewed what city council had asked of them in regard to the ongoing study, including such tasks as working to understand municipal and cruise ship policies in other communities and engaging in conversation with the Homer Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders on the effects that the cruise ship industry has on local businesses.

“It’s not like a pro or con thing, necessarily,” community development director Julie Engebretsen said during the meeting. “But there are different things that happen with cruise ships in your community.”

In line with the second task, Engebretsen wrote in an email to Homer News that she will be sharing cruise ship dates with ED Commissioners so they can observe what happens on the Spit or in the business district on Pioneer Avenue during those days.

The arrival of the MS Westerdam on Friday, June 28, will be a key date for “field work,” Engebretsen wrote, with particular regard to how Homer handles larger ships.

The chamber announced in a newsletter released Wednesday, June 26, that in addition to the City’s work, “the business community will be evaluating the ability of our capacity to deal with ships of this size and that quantity of visitors.”

Community members are encouraged to send feedback and comments to in order to help the chamber “represent our members in this discussion.”

The Westerdam

The Westerdam is a Vista-class cruise ship owned by the Holland America Line, with a capacity of up to 1,964 passengers and 800 crew members. At 936 linear feet and a displacement tonnage of 82,348, it is the largest ship scheduled to visit Homer this summer.

The Deep Water Dock’s berthing limits are 800 linear feet and up to 65,000 displacement tons.

The Westerdam will arrive on Friday at 8 a.m. and depart at 5 p.m. Because of its size, the ship is unable to dock at the Deep Water Dock and is instead required to anchor out in the bay and lighter passengers into the harbor using smaller boats.

According to an informational memorandum from Homer Port Director Bryan Hawkins, submitted to the city council on June 17, port and harbor staff must “get creative” when cruise ships coming into Homer don’t fall within the facility’s size requirements, and are either too small — such as the smaller adventure cruise ships that typically carry 200-500 passengers — or too large, as in the case of the Westerdam.

When deciding whether to accept proposals from cruise ships that don’t fit the size requirements to utilize either the Deep Water Dock or the Pioneer Dock, Hawkins wrote that the Homer Port and Harbor must consider physical facilities and engineering stresses, scheduling availability for the facilities, the physical travel time involved to move people and boats proposing to disembark, safety considerations to all boaters and property in the harbor, and Port and Harbor’s facility security plan requirements.

“Our primary goal is, and has always been, to provide safe port and harbor facilities for our commercial and recreational users, to manage and maintain the facilities cost effectively, and to administer tariffs and procedures fairly and equitably for all,” Hawkins wrote in the memo. “In the end, whether a proposal from a cruise ship for a landing fits this primary goal or not is the reasoning to why we say yes or no.”

The City of Homer received proposals earlier this year from four cruise ships with 2,500-person capacity, Homer News previously reported, three of which were turned away because the harbor does not have the operational capacity to safely accommodate them. The Westerdam was granted permission to land in Homer because the fishing fleet will be absent from the harbor on Friday, leaving enough room to lighter passengers from the cruise ship to the harbor dock system.

“Our large vessel float (will be) mostly cleared out, so we could facilitate (the Westerdam) there,” Hawkins told Homer News on June 21. “We felt that it’d be worthwhile to do that, and it’ll give the community a look at … if this is the direction we want to go or if we want to actually come up with a plan for that.”

Passengers being lightered in from the Westerdam to the harbor will disembark at one of two security checkpoints set up for them, Hawkins wrote. The disembarkation points will be located at System 5, Ramp 8 and F Float, Ramp 3.

Passengers going on day excursions or who have signed up ahead of time to be transported to downtown Homer will be lightered to Ramp 8 to meet their tour buses. Passengers who simply want to walk around or go shopping on the Spit will be lightered to Ramp 3.

The chamber will also have volunteers at Ramp 3 that will greet passengers as they disembark the Westerdam and provide visitor guides and maps and answer questions.

According to Hawkins, the security checkpoints will be “maintained in accordance to the Port’s facility security plan and federal regulation requirements.” Security screening will be conducted by a local security agency, hired by the cruise ship agency at their cost, who is familiar with the Homer Port’s facility security plan and requirements and is capable of maintaining the regulated areas in accordance to the facility’s plan.

A map of the harbor highlighting the disembarkation points can be found under “Supporting Documents” at

‘Not just all or nothing’

The conversation on what kind of future with cruise ships Homer might want to see continued at the June 11 EDC meeting.

EDC Chair Karin Marks stated that the question before city staff isn’t “all or nothing” on whether cruise ships should be allowed in Homer, but rather what size of ships or how Homer might manage the ships that do come in.

“I think it’s very important to distinguish the difference between the small cruise ships and this large one,” she said, referring to the Westerdam. “We’ve had smaller cruise ships for quite a while. They ebb and flow with size and the numbers, but we have in the past seemed to be able to handle the smaller cruise ships.

“In my looking at this situation, it’s not ‘get rid of all the cruise ships’ or ‘let’s bring every last one of them in’ — we can pick and choose. We have a very diverse economy, so when something goes wrong in one area, we’re not down the tubes, like what happened with COVID when a couple of those cruise ship towns got nothing, and they just tanked,” Marks said.

Engebretsen shared information on how other Alaska communities are handling the demand from the cruise ship industry, particularly the increase in proposals from larger cruise ships.

“Juneau is like the poster child of cruise ships, good or bad,” she said. “They have 1.5 million visitors a year; this year they have a maximum of five ships a day. It’s a whole different animal than what we’re talking about here, but it’s a recognition that change happens slowly over time, and (asking) what kind of future does Homer want to have?”

Juneau has for more than 20 years had a tourism management plan in place, Engebretsen said. The plan includes agreements between the City and Borough of Juneau and cruise lines that dock in Juneau, a voluntary Tourism Best Practices Management program that “is intended to minimize the impacts of tourism in a manner that addresses both residents’ and industry concerns,” a tourism hotline where Juneau community members can submit complaints, concerns or compliments by phone or email, and more.

Further information about Juneau’s tourism management plan is available at or the City and Borough of Juneau’s website at

“It takes cooperation to make this a successful thing for everyone,” Engebretsen said. “This is an example, the only one I’m aware of in Alaska, where there’s high visitor and high mutual cooperation.”

Engebretsen said the city also hopes to have some “guiding thought” on cruise ships in the new comprehensive plan.

“It doesn’t mean that cruise ships aren’t welcome, or that we’re going to invite them to come, but it is sort of a ‘where we are today, and where would we like to go in the five to 10 to 20 year timeframe,” she said. “Would you like to become Juneau? Would you rather not? What’s the city’s role in inviting that or not inviting that? Those are (some of) the questions.”

Some discussion was also held on the economic pros and cons of cruise ship visitors coming into Homer.

“Our members are really split on the pros and cons because if (visitors) are here for too short of a time, they’re not doing those excursions,” HCOC Executive Director Brad Anderson said. “The excursions are where that adds to the economy. If we’re just shelling (visitors) around and they’re doing quick little stops, it’s a boost — we do see some transactions — but there isn’t a lot there.”

Anderson also commented on the logistics of accommodating large visitor volumes on the Spit and in Homer’s downtown.

The Spit alone can’t accommodate so many people as are coming in on the Westerdam, and visitors should see downtown Homer, he said. But the layout of Homer’s businesses and the availability of transportation may pose some challenges.

“The new busing schedule doesn’t drop people off where they used to, right in front of core businesses. Right now, all those buses are parking in more distant areas,” Anderson said. “So that’s getting a few folks already a little concerned that they’re not going to see that kind of economic activity (as in the past) because it won’t be delivered right in front of their doorsteps.”

Anderson echoed comments from the commissioners that the Westerdam’s arrival on Friday will be a “good example” of how a larger cruise ship might work in Homer’s environment.

Upcoming Cruise Ship Arrivals

Four more cruise ship landings are scheduled in Homer between July and September.

The arrival of the Hanseatic Spirit on Thursday, July 11 will bring the first overnight cruise guests to Homer. The ship arrives Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and departs on Friday, July 12 at 9 p.m.

The Hanseatic Spirit will return on Wednesday, July 17 at 6 a.m. and depart the same day at 10 p.m.

In August, Homer will see the Hanseatic Spirit again on Monday, Aug. 12 at 6 a.m. The ship will depart the same day at 10 p.m.

The Seabourn Odyssey arrives in Homer on Sept. 9 at 8 a.m. and departs the same day at 6 p.m.

For more information on the cruise ship schedule, contact the Homer Chamber of Commerce at 907-235-7740.

The full discussion on cruise ships from the recording of the EDC’s regular meeting on June 11 is available at