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Milestones in Seattle Cruise History

May 28, 2019

So much can happen in 20 years. Kids grow up and graduate from college. Seattle morphs into a world-class city. And a few sporadic cruise ships evolve into an industry that helps drive the economy of our region. 

In 2019, the cruise business will create nearly $900 million a year in local business revenue, with each home port ship call contributing an average $4.2 million to the state’s economy and supporting more than 5,500 jobs. 

“Over twenty years ago this community turned a novel idea into a nearly $900 million industry and helped the Port become the most environmentally progressive home port in North America,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Stephanie Bowman. “Today that economic opportunity reaches all the way from Eastern Washington farms and ranches that provide food for cruise customers, to King County attractions that depend upon summer season travelers to support year-round activities. Alaska cruises are a ‘bucket list’ item for people all over the world, and we look forward to hosting them for decades to come.”

Here’s a history of the rise of the Seattle cruise industry to become the hub of  Alaska cruising.

Before 1996

Cruise vessels arriving in Seattle made port of call stops in Elliott Bay.


The Port of Seattle opened the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66. In the process, the Port held more than 100 meetings to solicit community input.

Bell Street Cruise Terminal


 Norwegian Cruise Line was the first cruise line partner.


Cruise ships in Seattle were still a novelty, with six vessels and a little more than 6,000 passengers every year.


  • The first homeported cruise ship was the Norwegian Sky on May 7
  • Regularly scheduled cruise service begins with a long-term commitment from Norwegian Cruise Line, beginning a partnership that lasts to this day

Norwegian Sky and the city of Seattle


Holland America starts from Pier 66 as its home port.


Holland America and Princess Lines start service at Terminal 30.


Shore power innovation
Seattle installs shore power capabilities at two cruise berths. Plugging in a large ship to electrical power at the cruise terminal eliminates the need to run the ship’s engines for up to 10 hours in order to keep onboard systems running. This reduces emissions and helps keep our environment clean.

Cruise ship being plugged into shore power

Preventing wastewater discharge
In 2004 the Port of Seattle partners with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the cruise industry to sign the Memorandum of Understanding for Cruise Operations in Washington State, ensuring cruise ships exceed industry, state, and federal environmental performance standards. This agreement requires the highest treatment level and bans discharges near shellfish beds and the discharge of untreated gray water.  


In 2005, Seattle becomes the first port in the world to provide shore power at two cruise berths. 


Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Terminal 91 opens with two new cruise berths. The two shore power plugs are relocated to continue providing shore power at this new two berth facility.

Two cruise ships at Smith Cove


Passenger growth
For the eighth year in a row, Port of Seattle cruise terminals welcomed over 800,000 revenue passengers.

Long-term partnership with Norwegian
In August, the Port of Seattle signs a historic 15-year lease with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The deal secures berth space for NCLH ships in Seattle for the full term of the lease and guarantees passenger volume estimated to bring $73 million dollars of revenue to the Port. Norwegian manages the cruise operations at Pier 66 and has priority rights to the cruise vessel berth during the cruise season. The Port operates the facilities outside the cruise season.

Pier 66 Renovations
An estimated $30 million dollars of improvements commence at the Bell Street Cruise Terminal (Pier 66) as part of a joint agreement between Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and the Port of Seattle. The renovated terminal features three times the square footage within the same walls of the prior facility, and was custom designed to handle the 4,000 passenger Norwegian Bliss.


The Port of Seattle is named Best North American Home Port by Cruise Critic, the world’s leading cruise reviews and online cruise community.


Record-Breaking Passenger Levels
The Port of Seattle hits the one million passenger mark for the first time with 1,071,594 passengers during the cruise season.

Passengers at the cruise terminal

Port Valet Launch
Port Valet allows cruise passengers to have their bags taken from the ship, transported directly to their airline at Sea-Tac International Airport, and checked all the way through to their destination airport. Passengers also receive their airline boarding pass before leaving the ship. The popular program allows cruise guests to visit Seattle luggage free and significantly improves the operational efficiencies of processing cruise passengers at both the seaport and at the airport. The reductions in congestion and passenger wait times improves the Port of Seattle’s ability to process larger cruise ships. 


Breaking Passenger Records Again
Seattle receives a record-breaking 1,114,888 cruise passengers, the second year of hitting the million passenger mark. 

Norwegian Bliss Comes Home
On May 14, 2018, the newly-commissioned Norwegian Bliss, (20 decks; 2,200 cabins; 4,000 passengers) made its maiden voyage from Germany to arrive in Seattle, its new home port. It’s the ninth-largest cruise ship ever built, designed for Alaska cruising, and transited the Panama Canal just two years after it was expanded to accommodate larger ships. Seattle’s natural deep water harbor can accommodate these ships.

Norwegian Bliss cruise ship against the Seattle skyline


In 2019, the Port expects an estimated 1,208,590 revenue cruise passengers with 213 vessel calls.

Three New Vessels
The Port of Seattle will host the three largest cruise ships on the West Coast: 

  • The Norwegian Joy, carrying 4,000 passengers
  • The Norwegian Bliss, carrying 4,000 passengers 
  • The Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Sea, carrying 4,180 passengers and the largest cruise vessel on the West Coast this season

Ovation of the Seas at Smith Cove

New Cruise Terminal

With the expected growth of the global cruise industry, continued cruise line interest in Seattle and passenger demand continues to rise, a new terminal will support that demand and will also mean more economic benefits for the neighborhoods near downtown and the entire region. The Port is working to secure a partner to develop and operate a new, single berth cruise facility at Terminal 46). Learn more about the new cruise terminal.

Environmental Leadership

Commissioners adopted principles to ensure that a growing cruise business increases local economic benefit and maintains the Port’s leadership as the most environmentally progressive cruise home port in North America.

Economic Impact

By 2019, Seattle has become the hub for Alaska and Pacific Northwest cruises, with significant economic benefits to the region:

  • In 2019, non-resident passengers spending time in Seattle spent an average of $850 per party pre-cruise and $697 post-cruise directly generating an estimated $226.8 million in business output and will support an estimated 2,490 jobs, and $83.2 million in wages including benefits.
  • Each vessel call supports an estimated $4.2 million in economic activity for our region 
  • Suppliers from across the state, including seafood and produce companies, florists, farmers, vineyards, and maritime support industries have built strong businesses selling to cruise companies

Watch a video about how the cruise industry supports local businesses 

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