Council resolves to consider cruise ship impacts, possible policies

Resolution 24-048 directs Homer commissions to conduct conversations with city staff and stakeholders

It’s time to talk about the cruise ships.

The Homer City Council passed Resolution 24-048 at their last regular meeting on April 22, which requests that the Port and Harbor Advisory Commission and Economic Development Advisory Commission discuss and consider cruise ship capacity and policy adoption for Homer’s port and harbor operations, and discuss and consider broader community effects and potential City cruise ship policies, respectively.

As Homer gears up for its peak summer season, so too must it gear up for the influx of cruise ships that comes with it. The first cruise ship arrived at the Deep Water Dock in Homer on Wednesday, April 24 — the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, carrying more than 600 passengers plus 500 crew members. The Seabourn Odyssey was scheduled to arrive in Homer on Thursday, May 2 at 8 a.m., carrying up to 450 passengers and 335 crew.

The next cruise ship arrival is scheduled for Tuesday, May 21. The Regatta, carrying up to 824 passengers and 386 crew members, will be docked in Homer from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Homer has historically been a port of call for numerous cruise ships; Resolution 24-048 states that the city “should expect continued interest in cruise ship calls in the coming years.”

However, the capacity of the ships that are expressing interest in calling into Homer may necessitate a conversation on how the city wants to respond in future.

An April 22 memorandum to city council from council members Shelly Erickson and Rachel Lord, who sponsored Resolution 24-048, states, “As (cruise ship) itineraries are developed early, it is prudent for the City to understand our infrastructure and staffing capacity, and the community to broadly understand their interest and appetite for cruise ships sooner rather than later.”

Erickson is also the owner of Homer Tours, Inc. and has worked with the cruise ship industry since 1995.

“Back in the mid-2000s … (Homer) marketed for smaller cruise ships that could land at our dock,” Erickson told Homer News on Saturday. “We knew we had the infrastructure to handle those sizes of ships and do a good job. The sentiment was to make sure cruise ships could come in without disrupting other businesses in Homer.”

Erickson described past cruise ship calls into Homer as an “add-on to the normal tourist season.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest ships that came into Homer carried about 1,200 people, she said. The city handled the visitor capacity well with regard to the number of available public bathrooms and the various venues both in town and on the Homer Spit.

“It was always a busy day for everyone, but that was it,” Erickson said.

Now, she said, the economic standard for the cruise industry is swinging to larger ships.

Cruise ships impact Homer on several levels — the port and harbor, city infrastructure and emergency services, local businesses and the “community-at-large.” According to the resolution, Homer’s Deep Water Dock can accommodate cruise ships up to certain sizes, but larger ships are unable to dock there. Instead, they are required to anchor further out and tender, or transport using a smaller vessel, passengers to harbor floats to disembark.

Homer received requests from four ships with 2,500-person capacity to call into the port, Erickson said. Three of them were turned away because, according to the resolution, the harbor does not have the operational capacity to safely accommodate them. The fourth, the MS Westerdam, which has a passenger capacity of up to 1,964 people and 800 crew members, is scheduled to arrive in Homer on Friday, June 28.

The Westerdam was granted permission to come in, Erickson said, because the fishing fleet will be gone, leaving enough room in the harbor to tender passengers from the cruise ship to the harbor dock system.

Erickson spoke to the potential impacts that an influx of nearly 2,000 passengers could have on both the Spit and the main Homer business district, including traffic, public bathrooms, pedestrian pathways, and demand on local businesses and city infrastructure.

“These are the questions that (Homer) needs to talk through,” she said. “Ahead of the game, we need to look at this and make a conscious decision, what we as Homer want, whether we say ‘Yes, let’s take all the big ships,’ or we say, ‘We’d rather have a certain size ship that fits our dock and that we can traditionally handle in town.’

“We need to have a realistic view — do we have enough bathrooms? Do we have enough places for people to eat, sit, do whatever they need to do? How can we handle emergencies with that number of people off the boat? What if a tsunami or an earthquake occurs, when we have tenders that take half an hour? Where do those people go? How do we physically move them off the Spit?” Erickson said. “We’re pushing for this conversation because there needs to be this community dialogue sooner rather than later.”

The resolution states that, currently, the City of Homer operates the port and harbor “under written policies that may not fully encompass the considerations for cruise ships, especially larger vessels that have to (tender) passengers.” Whichever way the city determines is best to proceed, more concrete policies need to be put into place, Erickson said.

The memo cites other communities in Alaska and in the Lower 48, such as Juneau and Wrangell, or Bar Harbor, Maine, that have conducted conversations and implemented policies surrounding cruise ships and their impact on communities.

“We need to make a very deliberate decision to know by next year whether to encourage those big ships to come in or not,” Erickson said.

Erickson encouraged community members in the Homer area to include their comments or perspectives on cruise ships in their feedback to the comprehensive plan rewrite project. She also recommended that community members engage with the commissions who are holding the initial discussions on cruise ship calls to Homer.

“If people feel strongly (about this), they need to go to the commissions and lobby there,” she said. “When commissions have tasks like this, their comments get weighted really heavily by the council.”

The Port and Harbor Advisory Commission is set to provide a report back to council with a summary of their conversations or findings, noting where further discussion may be needed, and any immediate policy recommendations by the regular city council meeting on July 22.

The Economic Development Advisory Commission is scheduled to do the same at the council’s regular meeting on Sept. 23.

The council, according to the memo, would also encourage the Homer Chamber of Commerce “to engage with Homer-area businesses to better understand the limitations and opportunities within the private sector around cruise ship tourism in Homer.”

Resolution 24-048 can be read in full at

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