OUT ON A LIMB: It’s time we took on Alaska as a cruise destination

In order for us to have a cruise industry, we need to market ourselves as a destination

“This is what we’re competing against,” my wife said as we walked a trail in Icy Point Straits, Alaska.

“This” involved an old cannery converted into a museum, gift store and restaurant. Outside, the metallic grating sound of a sky-high zip line whisked riders down to the ground from a mountainside – for the price of $50. It was all a new port of call for our cruise ship, the Celebrity Century, near the town of Hoonah, Alaska. This out-of-the-way place had managed to convince cruise lines to stop in and take advantage of the usual coastal shore excursions: whale watching, kayaking, flightseeing, eating and, of course, t-shirt buying.

Campbell River’s efforts to be a port of call involved the same sort of setting. The same off-ship excursions, even the same quality of scenery. What we can’t offer is the right location. We’re too close to the beginning of the Alaska run to entice cruise ships to stop. Thus, our cruise ship terminal sits currently unused.

One of our other ports of call during our cruise to Alaska last week was Ketchikan, Alaska. Now, I hate to be mean but frankly, Campbell River has everything that Ketchikan has and more. Except the dumpy backstreets and run down lots. But what Ketchikan has is it’s in Alaska and sits at the end of a day’s cruising up the coast of British Columbia. Our cruise, like all the others, raced past the coast of B.C. as fast as it could to get to Alaska to poke around various inlets and coastal towns. The penultimate point of our cruise was the Hubbard Glacier which was, quite frankly, spectacular. A worthy destination. As for the rest of the tour, don’t get me wrong, it was nice and the ship and its tour amenities of shows, food, activities and more food was great, but other than being in Alaska, it wasn’t a whole lot different than B.C.

Which is the challenge. In order for us to have a cruise industry, we need to market ourselves as a destination and not as a stop on the way to Alaska. And why can’t we? “Canada!” looks just as romantic and mythological on a poster as “Alaska!”

I kept thinking we need to have some cruise company brave enough to develop a cruise tour around Vancouver Island and even part of the central coast. Include Haida Gwai and you have as spectacular a tour as anywhere. The ancient village of Ninstints – a World Heritage Site – would make an amazing penultimate stop (google it). Campbell River and Nanaimo both have cruise terminals. Alternate between them as stops in a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island before heading to see the  land of the “Spirit Bear” on the central coast or the Bears of Bute Inlet near Campbell River.

Developing this as a destination would take time. You can’t just be in it for one or two seasons. And of course, you’d be competing against Alaska.

Bring it on.