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The Rising Tide of Seattle’s Cruise Industry

May 31, 2018

Gone are the days when a cruise ship in town was a novel sighting. Now, cruise ships have become an iconic part of the Seattle waterfront and a primary economic driver for Seattle.  Since 2000, Seattle has grown to the #1 U.S. West Coast cruise port in number of passengers, with 19 different ships coming to port in the 2018 season. The rising tide of the Seattle cruise industry lifts all ships, hotels, airports, tourist destinations, and even local businesses, suppliers, and restaurants. 

There are several reasons that Seattle has become the hub for Alaska cruising: the natural deep water port that can accommodate some of the largest vessels in the world, award-winning and world-class cruise facilities that can accommodate large groups of passengers, the cruise terminals’ spectacular settings, and easy access to Sea-Tac International Airport.  

Here’s a quick timeline of how things have evolved in the Seattle cruise industry over the last 18 years: 

2000 — First Cruise Ships
The cruise season brought 6,615 passengers to town with six vessels calling in port

2017 — 1 Million Passenger Record
Last year, Seattle set a new record of 1 million cruise passenger arrivals. To put that number in perspective, it equates to one-half the population of King County spending money at the airport, in hotels, and in local restaurants and retailers. 

2018 — More Growth
This season is expected to bring 216 vessel calls and 1,100,600 estimated revenue passengers to the Port of Seattle cruise terminals. 

This Week — The First Megaship
This week’s milestone brings the first of the new megaships to Seattle, the Norwegian Bliss with 4,000 passengers. She’s the largest cruise ship on the West Coast, is custom-built for Alaska cruising, and recently became the largest passenger vessel to transit the Panama Canal.

Here’s a snapshot of how cruise ships boost the Seattle economy: 


  • This year Seattle will serve more than 1 million passengers at Pier 66 and Pier 91

Improved Infrastructure and Partnerships

  • Because of a strong relationship between the Port of Seattle and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), the cruise company contributed funds towards $30 million of improvements to the Bell Street Cruise Terminal 
  • Long-term contracts with global brands like Norwegian Cruise Lines that provide long-term assurance of cruise business and passenger volume guarantees estimated to bring $73 million dollars of revenue to the port. This partnership, signed in 2015, secures NCL ships in Seattle for 15 years and is forecast to generate $2.3 billion in total business revenue for the region, nearly 900 jobs, and over $65 million in state and local taxes.
  • Other terminal improvements including construction of a new gangway to accommodate larger ships and passenger loads, new bollards to berth larger ships, and improved terminal and roadway access
  • Compelling services that benefit passengers like the Port Valet program, a complimentary luggage service that’s sponsored by the Port of Seattle

Economic Impact

In 2019 the Port completed an updated economic impact analysis. Based on forecasts for the 2019 season:

  • Every season, the cruise industry provides more than 5,500 local jobs 
  • Every cruise season brings $900 million to the local economy 
  • Every vessel call brings $4.2 million
  • 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.

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