Confusion over unannounced cruise ship visit

Passengers: Cordova was highlight of trip

Bret Bradford, piloting the F/V Nerka, watches the cruise ship Le Soléal depart. The ship first visited Cordova on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Bret Bradford, piloting the F/V Nerka, watches the cruise ship Le Soléal depart. The ship first visited Cordova on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The last cruise ship that dropped anchor at Cordova was a petite 157-foot motor yacht. When Le Soléal, a 466-foot French cruise liner, appeared unexpectedly in Orca Inlet on Aug. 21, businesses scrambled to prepare for the disembarking tourists.

“We got a couple of calls from people who could physically see the ship coming,” said Cathy Renfeldt, executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. “We pulled together some shopping and dining guides and ran them down to the dock… It was a little crazy for a second, but we were able to get down there and get it going.”

However, cruise line Ponant says that the ship’s arrival shouldn’t have been a surprise. The visit was part of the cruise itinerary and had been confirmed in advance by the port agency, wrote Michael James Westwood, port operations officer for Ponant, in an email. Passengers also said that their Aug. 21 stop-off in Cordova was a scheduled part of the cruise.

The cruise ship Le Soléal departs Cordova. The ship first visited the town on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The cruise ship Le Soléal departs Cordova. The ship first visited the town on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Harbormaster Tony Schinella said that, although the visit was welcome, Ponant did not confirm it ahead of time.

“From what I understand, it’s the last day of the trip for this crew, so they pulled in here for a couple of hours,” Schinella said on Aug. 21.

Launched in 2013, Le Soléal is a 264-passenger ship registered in Wallis, a Polynesian island administered by France. The vessel features luxury facilities including a salon, a swimming pool, a gym, a theatre and two restaurants. In 2013, Le Soléal became the first French commercial shipping vessel to cross the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, according to an article by industry news site SixStarCruises.

Michael Colston, a passenger from Henley-on-Thames, has taken “safaris” to all seven continents. However, this Alaska cruise stood out for its majestic scenery and its friendly locals, he said.

“For me, this has been the highlight of the trip,” Colston said after arriving in Cordova. “I was having a look at some sea otters, very close up. It’s very unusual. You don’t get them in Europe, never mind the UK. And look at the mountains behind all that smoke – amazing, isn’t it?”

English traveler Michael Colston photographs the Fisherman’s Memorial. Colston visited Cordova on Aug. 21 on the cruise ship Le Soléal. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
English traveler Michael Colston photographs the Fisherman’s Memorial. Colston visited Cordova on Aug. 21 on the cruise ship Le Soléal. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Australian passenger Ross Corney remarked that, scenic as Alaska was, it was also unexpectedly hot. Corney found much of the clothing he’d packed too warm to wear in Cordova, he said.

Le Soléal departed Cordova on the evening of Aug. 21, and made a planned return on Saturday, Aug. 24 with new passengers. Passengers on Le Soléal’s Aug. 22-Sept. 3 “Wildlife and Forests of Alaska” cruise will spend 13 days traveling from Seward to Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The chamber is interested in supporting sustainable tourist traffic without having a negative impact on the quality of life for the community,” Renfeldt said. “The people that I met seemed to be interested in an authentic experience and having a positive impact on our economy, so, if we’re going to have this size of vessel coming through, we’re going to be taking a look at how to make sure that the community maximizes the positive impact.”