A bit less crowded: Scaled-down cruise ship season gets scaled-down local welcome – until new visitor center can ramp things up


The first large cruise ship of the year docked in Longyearbyen early Wednesday morning and, unlike previous years, there was no welcoming party by locals to greet it.

But it had nothing to do with whatever frustrations some residents have had about the crowds of visitors arriving on increasingly large ships (although there will be notably fewer of them than last year). Rather, the welcoming is briefly on hold until a more personal one is possible when a new visitor center at the dock is finished.

The AIDAluna, a Germany-flagged ship carrying about 2,000 passengers, docked at Longyearbyen Harbor as scheduled at 8 a.m. Previously a cluster of locals gathered several hundred meters away on the mountainside across the road where, along with ingesting coffee and pastries for energy and warmth, they’d wave flags and shout cheers of greeting that doubtless went unheard by the new arrivals (although some waved acknowledgement at the tiny human dots on the horizon). This summer a new tourist information center was scheduled to open at the beginning of the season on the dock.

“Construction of the center has been somewhat delayed and during the first call by the AIDAluna in the morning we be improvising tourist information in open air on the quay,” Eva Britt Kornfeldt, manager of the Svalbard Cruise Network, announced the day before the arrival. “We are postponing the traditional breakfast on Burma Road until the new center opens in June.”

Cruise tourism contributed about two million kroner to the local economy, including fees benefiting non-businesses causes such as the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund, Kornfeldt noted. Officials are hoping for the same amount this year despite the total drop in passengers by boosting sales of tours at the dock.

A total of  about 41,000 cruise passengers are expected to arrive this year, down from abut 50,000 last year. Perhaps more notably for both locals and visitors who’ve complained about overcrowding on the busiest days, the largest ship docking here this year will also be considerably smaller. Last year the 5,700-passenger MSC Meraviglia became the largest ship ever to dock in Svalbard, but the largest ship this year is the 4,300-passenger MSC Preziosa.