ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Like so many visitors to Alaska, Phyllis McNamara was eager for a seven-day cruise along a majestic stretch of coast that is teeming with whales, bears and glaciers.
But the Indianapolis woman and her friends were among hundreds of tourists who had their vacation plans scuttled when a mechanical problem aboard the 965-foot Millennium forced the cruise operator to cancel six Alaska sailings.
"This is becoming just a nightmare," said McNamara, 68, who went ahead with a planned land excursion in place of the cruise.
Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean cruises Ltd., which owns Celebrity Cruises, said passengers will get a full refund of the cruise fare paid. They also will receive certificates for future cruises.
"We appreciate how very disappointing this unexpected turn of events has been for our guests, and we deeply regret the inconvenience," Martinez said.
It's not the first problem for cruise industry this year. The Carnival Triumph was disabled during a February cruise by an engine room fire in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving thousands of passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power outages while the ship was towed to Mobile, Ala. It remained there for repairs until early May when it headed back to sea under its own power. In May, a fire onboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas cut short a cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas.
Tourism -- particularly cruise ship traffic -- is important to a number of Alaska communities, which are accessible only by air or water and where once-strong industries like timber are no longer thriving. More than 900,000 cruise ship passengers visited Alaska last summer, according to a study commissioned by the state. Places like Juneau, Alaska's capital city, can see several large ships arrive in a single day during the summer, its denizens disembarking to take in local sites or shop.
In the case of the Millennium, some passengers are trying to make the best of the situation.
Alicia Benavides Eichler of Long Beach, Calif., was a passenger on the first Millennium Alaska sailing that was canceled in early August after the mechanical problem -- an issue with a propulsion motor -- was initially found while docked in Seward. Eichler and her 13-year-old son ended up flying right back home after spending a depressing day in the small town.
Eichler said she will be reimbursed for the cruise and day excursions. But it rankles her that she will not be reimbursed for a flight to Alaska that turned out to be pointless.
"We used the airfare to board a broken ship," Eichler said.
Kelly Fazzone of San Antonio was on the cruise that was canceled this week in the southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan. The ship returned to Ketchikan about an hour after it left. Fazzone and her family were on the cruise to celebrate her mother's coming 80th birthday.
Fazzone said everyone in her party has been exploring the town. They watched a lumberjack show, toured a totem pole park, and some were planning to take a zipline ride when they weren't hanging out on the ship. They shopped at a local Walmart and bought some board games to entertain themselves.
"We've been having a lot of fun," Fazzone said. "It could have been absolutely worse."