Cruise West has operated for more than three decades, carving out a niche market with small ships offering up-close tours.

“They’ve played a huge role in Southeast. They’ve been a long-term player bringing people to Alaska,” says Fred Reeder, a former mayor of Sitka who serves as local port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska.

He hopes Cruise West is able to continue its Alaska sailings. And he says a shutdown would impact the region.

“Nobody knows whether they’re coming back. Or what their reorganization means. It will be interesting to see. But they were a longtime company and well respected in Alaska,” he says.

Juneau recently became Cruise West’s main Southeast port.

“What set them apart, of course, is because they’re small ships they were able to go to communities that are not normally on the large ship itineraries,” says Lorene Palmer, executive director of Juneau’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This year, Cruise West's four regional ships began and ended sailings in the capital city. Palmer says that meant passengers tended to spend more money.

“You know, it’s really wonderful to have people spend the night in town, have the opportunity to have a pre- or post-cruise experience here in Juneau. So that’s played a really nice niche that isn’t currently served. Our large ships of course only come in for port calls during the day,” she says.

Cruise West used to sail up the Inside Passage, stopping at a number of large and small communities.

A new routing system dropped Ketchikan, and reduced time at some other destinations. But it maintained stops in Sitka, Haines, Skagway, Petersburg, Wrangell and Metlakatla. And for the smaller towns, the company made up a significant part, if not the majority, of the visits.

Cruise West ships just finished up their summer season in Southeast. And they averaged about 100 passengers each, far fewer than the big ships, which can carry several thousand tourists and crewmembers.

But Sandy Lorrigan of the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau says small-ship visitors often spend more money — and are more interested in local culture and history than — large-ship tourists.

“Small ships like these all add up over the summer. Many of them come in once or twice a week. It’s still sending dollars for our community. I feel like their passengers and their crews have been a part of our community for a long time since they have been coming here. It’s kind of an institution, like the larger cruise ship lines are,” she says.

Cruise West is not taking reporters’ calls, or answering direct questions about its status. A recording on its main phone line denied reports that it had been sold. And a note on its website said it would continue some Northwest sailings based in Seattle and Portland.

But that note stated it was ending an around-the-world cruise and selling off some assets. It also advised passengers how to get refunds for unused tickets.

Meanwhile, the Washington's Employment officials said the company is laying off 65 employees.

Read the Seattle Times story: Financially sinking Seattle company Cruise West is laying off 65 employees and has left some passengers desperately seeking refunds after it abruptly ended a world cruise and halted reservations.

Read more about Cruise West's history and operations from When the West family, the founders and owners of Cruise West, began offering unique and personal travel experiences in Alaska more than 63 years ago, a philosophy commenced that remains true to this day: provide up-close travel that focuses on the destination — its scenery, wildlife, natural history and culture — all in the company of limited numbers of like-minded travelers. The company expanded from land tours to its first Alaska ocean cruise offering in 1958, originating the passenger cruise market in the 49th state.
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