The biggest cruise ship to ever visit Alaska made its inaugural visit to Sitka Friday (5/17/19). About 15 Sitkans took a tour of the ship which can hold over 6000 people, passengers and crew combined.
Audio: “Welcome aboard, welcome aboard.”
On the Ovation of the Seas, it seems passengers can do virtually whatever they want. There’s a basketball court, four pools, a skydiving machine, a surfing simulator. It has a music hall that seats 1200 people. Romario Felizatti gave some Sitkans a tour when the Royal Caribbean ship arrived at Old Sitka Dock on Friday. He showed off one of the ships most skilled bartenders who doesn’t need a health insurance plan, just an oil can.
“In some of the bars we don’t really need anyone to operate,” says Felizatti, gesturing toward a silver and white bar, with two blue robotic arms where the bartender should be. “That’s the bionic bar. We place iPads here during the operation. We have pre-made drinks but you can create your own drink. And then the machine will do it for you.”
The Ovation is the biggest ship to ever visit the state and Sitka- it’s a “neopanamax” ship. After the Panama Canal was widened in 2017, the class of massive cruise ships that typically winter in the Caribbean could finally make it through the canal, to the Pacific for the warmer summer months. This year four neopanamax ships are visiting Alaska, including the Ovation. The ship can hold 4,905 guests and around 1500 crew, meaning that, if it’s at capacity it could house over half of Sitka’s population.
Felizatti has been working for Royal Caribbean for 5 years, but he’s only been on the Ovation for two months. He says it can be difficult to corral so many passengers.
“It’s huge, it’s more challenging, especially to put the people out and off the ship. Especially here, the city is far from the port. And they need to take buses, it’s kind of challenging. But I think we did pretty well today.”
It’s 18 stories high. And it makes use of advanced technology in quite a few ways. I didn’t get to see a stateroom, but if a passenger doesn’t stay in one of the 1500 rooms with a balcony, perhaps they’ll get one like this:
375 of the rooms on the Ovation have screens instead of window that simulate the experience of looking out onto the water as you set sail.
For Sitkans like Chris McGraw, of Halibut Point Marine, the promise of bigger ships arriving with more frequency means growth in Sitka’s tourism industry. McGraw spoke to the ship’s captain Henrik Loy.
“Our first ship was the Century of the Seas in 2012 at roughly 800 feet. We’re 7 years down the line now and very glad to welcome the first NeoPanamax ship to the state of Alaska, and we hope you come back many more times.”
“Thank you all very much, and we’re hoping to come back many many more times in the future,” Captain Loy said.
“For sure!” Mayor Gary Paxton exclaimed.
The Ovation will only call to Sitka one time this summer. It is set to return to Alaska in 2020.