Petersburg could see a little busier cruise ship and visitor season this summer. The community will see stops from a larger French cruise ship during the warmer months and plans to offer tours for the passengers. Mitkof Island will also see a new ferry connection with Prince of Wales Island starting in May.

Dave Berg, president of Viking Travel and the local representative for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska said the visitor industry locally is looking up for 2015. He said a French company called Ponant will be offering sailings on the 466-foot ship L’Austral between Vancouver and Seward, and bringing passengers into Petersburg.

Photo from

Photo from

“They wont be able to dock here,” said Berg. “They’re gonna lighter in and anchor out, lighter in their passengers. But we’re gonna have about a 100, er excuse me about 220 people on each one of their sailings that they have coming in. So that will be a fairly large group for our town. We haven’t seen groups this size since the likes of the paddle wheeler that came into town. This is actually a little bigger than that.”

Tauck Tours, a cruise and travel company, has chartered half of the berths on the L’Austral during its Alaska voyages. Berg said that company is looking for more shore-based outings for its passengers and Viking Travel is looking to hire people for the season. “As Viking Travel we’re looking for guides to help us out with dock walks. Because we’re gonna have over the course of time of a vessel being in we’ll have seven dock walks offered of 20 passengers each. So we need guides to help us do that. We also will have some walking tour guides or step on guides and we’re also looking for someone to do something out at Sandy Beach.”

Ponant plans at least six stops with the L’Austral this summer with the first one in June. And Berg thinks the company is looking at returning to Southeast Alaska in future years if this year’s schedule works well.

Petersburg will also continue to see stops by boats owned by Alaska Dream Cruises and Un-Cruise Adventures, along with National Geographic Expeditions’ Sea Bird and Sea Lion. The first cruise ships will be arriving in May and will be running through the first week in September.

Meanwhile, Berg said his company has been expanding because of an increase in independent travelers interested in package tours on the state ferry to Alaska and the Yukon. He says independent tours numbers up from last year. “We think that’s gonna be a good thing for Petersburg and for the independent tours in Alaska, that normally kinda shy away from the ferry because it’s a little difficult to kinda figure out. And it’s a lot easier for people to go buy a cruise. But, obviously they don’t get to see small towns in Alaska and when you’re in Juneau for 6-8 hours you don’t get to see what it’s like at nighttime and what it’s like after the big ships leave.”

Berg said it’s difficult to track the number of visitors who come here each year with independent ferry passengers, cruise passengers and lodge customers. However, he thinks a reasonable guess is around 20-thousand people.

As for the state ferry, Petersburg will continue to see one stop a week in July and August and early September by the fast ferry Fairweather, arriving from Juneau, besides several stops a week from the mainline ferries connecting to Bellingham. There’s also a new sailing starting up in May. Once a month the ferry LeConte will sail from Juneau to the South Mitkof terminal, 25 miles south of Petersburg, and then connect to Coffman Cove on northern Prince of Wales Island. Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said those dockings by the LeConte will be the first time the state has used the South Mitkof facility. “It was built with the interest that the Inter-Island ferry Authority would run a north end ferry service with their other vessel,” Woodrow said. “Though that didn’t pan out for their operations so it has been unused. So to give the terminal use the state has added this additional ferry service to connect those communities.”

That terminal was built by the state in 2005 and 2006 using federal funds of over 10 million dollars. It was used for three years by the Inter-Island Ferry Authority offering service to Wrangell and Coffman Cove between 2006 and 2009. With suspension of that route in 2009, the terminal went unused until this year. The state wants to use that terminal along with the one in Coffman Cove so it does not have to pay back federal money used to construct those docks.

Woodrow says the state will see what kind of interest there is in the connection between South Mitkof and Coffman Cove to determine if it should continue. That new state service starts will be once a month between May and September.