Glacier Bay National Park Issues New Cruise Ship Contracts

Glacier Bay National Park officials just signed off on decade-long contracts with four cruise ship companies.

Officials at Glacier Bay National Park have signed off on a small set of 10-year contracts for cruise ship operations. Is that a good thing?

That question popped into my head when I saw the duration of the contracts signed with four cruise lines. Granted, park concessionaires need to know they have some stability when they go to work in a park. Otherwise it can be hard to get banks to work with you when you need loans and what not.

But a decade-long contract...what if there are technological advances that arrive over that period of years, or new environmental concerns? Curious about that question, I contacted the National Park Service's regional office in Alaska and was put in touch with Kevin Apgar, the agency's concession program manager. Here's what he had to say:

Here's an excerpt from the contract on advancing technology:

"Sec. 4. Environmental

The Concessioner must utilize appropriate best management practices (practices that apply the most current and advanced means and technologies available to the Concessioner to undertake and maintain a superior level of environmental performance reasonable in light of the circumstances of the operations conducted under this Contract) in its provision of Visitor Services and other activities under this Contract."

In addition, the companies always have to comply with applicable law, regulation and policy, so if there are advances there, they have to comply as well.

Beyond that boiler plate, Glacier Bay officials expect cruise lines to maintain "high standards for minimizing air and water pollution, the impact of underwater sound on marine mammals, a comprehensive educational program for cruise passengers and fees for operating in the park."

Sounds reasonable. And the agency has gone to court in the past to see that those standards are followed. Back in 2007, Princess Cruise Lines was ordered to pay a $750,000 fine after one of its ships in 2001 ran into and killed a pregnant humpback whale in the park's waters.

Princess was one of the four companies to receive the latest contracts, according to Glacier Bay Superintendent Cherry Payne. The four contracts competitively allocated 82 cruise ship trips into the park, with an additional 71 trips including the same high standards allocated under “historical rights,” according to park officials.

The number of cruise ships entering the bay during the prime season of June through August is limited to 153, with no more than two per day, in order to protect park resources. Up to 92 additional ships are authorized in May and September. In 2008, 225 ships carrying 416,703 passengers operated in Glacier Bay. The new 10-year contracts are for the period 2010 – 2019.

“Strong competition and excellent proposals from the cruise ship industry will help minimize air and water pollution, focus ship-board activities on understanding and enjoyment of Glacier Bay National Park and provide fee revenue to sustain park research, resource monitoring and other park operations," said Supt. Payne.

According to park officials, Princess Cruises submitted the best proposal of the six companies competing for the contracts and was allocated 58 trips (32 of them under historical rights). Princess proposed the use of turbine engines, low sulfur distillate fuel and other strategies for reducing air pollution and to a “no discharge” policy to minimize water pollution. They committed to underwater sound signature testing, developed a “whale strike avoidance program,” offered a number of enhancements to the interpretive/educational program focused on Glacier Bay, and proposed a franchise fee of $12/passenger, $5 above the minimum, the park announced.

The remaining contracts and trips were awarded to Holland America Line (65 – 39 of them under historical rights), Cruise West (8), and Norwegian Cruise Line (22). Disney Cruise Line submitted a proposal but withdrew from the competition. Du Ponant, a French cruise operator, also submitted a proposal and could be offered a contract for use outside the June through August prime season.


These is a good idea and a good way to enjoy the beauty of the park. NPS is there to preserve and manage the parks for Americans to enjoy. A cruise ship is an ideal way to provide that enjoyment and they have attempted to make sure that that method does not do damage to the water and air.

We'll just have to wait an see, aren't we? Ten years is not much after all and I think this decision is for the best. The park needs to be protected, the sooner we start taking measures the better. As a tourist I wouldn't feel good to know that I harm the environment with my traveling.

As long as they abide by their contract I see no problem with the cruises.