Cruising the Last Frontier

By now, most of Middle America, the northeast and even portions of the west coast have felt the sting of cold and blustery winter weather, which probably doesn't make most people think about taking a cruise in Alaska. Yet now is a good time to book, as ships will fill up closer to the beginning of the season, which begins in May and runs through September. Most Alaskan cruises follow the same ports such as Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. It's important for agents to play up Alaskan shore excursions, as they are a huge selling point. Most lines concentrate on creating memorable excursions such as dogsledding and gold rush tours. Here is a run down of cruise line operations this year in the Land of the Midnight Sun. 

Carnival Cruise Lines: The Carnival Spirit began Alaskan cruising in 2001 and remains Carnival's flagship in Alaska. Carnival says that it will keep the Spirit in Alaska at least through 2008. The 2,124-guest ship is ideal for Alaskan waters, with its high percentage of ocean-view and balconied staterooms, multiple indoor and outdoor vantage points of the spectacular Alaskan topography and an enclosable pool. The Spirit also offers Alaskan delicacies in its formal dining rooms, including fresh fish purchased at the various ports of call. Carnival offers seven-day Glacier Bay itineraries and seven-day northbound and southbound Alaskan voyages, leaving from Vancouver and Anchorage, respectively. Cruises begin May 9, leaving every Wednesday thereafter.

Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean has three ships in Alaska: Radiance of the Seas, Vision of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas. Radiance and Serenade are particularly suited for Alaska with expansive amounts of glass paneling, which allows optimal viewing points. RCCL mainly does seven-night cruises, but does have nine-, 13- and 14-night cruises, the latter originating from Vancouver and ending in Los Angeles. Rates begin at $550 for an inside room on a seven-night cruise, but move up well past $1,000 for a suite.

Norwegian Cruise Line: NCL does two different itineraries, a Sawyer Glacier program and Glacier Bay program. Both are seven-day affairs conducted on four ships: Norwegian Star, Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Wind and Norwegian Pearl. The Sawyer Glacier itineraries are all round trip from either Seattle or Vancouver, while Glacier Bay is round trip from Seattle only. NCL's freestyle cruising allows flexibility when selecting shore excursions.

Princess Cruises' Sun Princess in front of the College Fjords in AlaskaPrincess Cruises: Princess has one of the most extensive Alaska programs. So much so that it offers two separate cruise programs: Voyage of the Glaciers and Inside Passage. The former provides seven-day cruises between Vancouver and Whittier, while Inside Passage does seven- and 10-day itineraries from Seattle and San Francisco. Princess' array of ships in the region give guests even more choice with ships ranging in size from 670 passengers to 2,670 passengers. In all, Princess will operate its largest Alaskan fleet ever this year with eight ships consigned to the region. New this year are mid-week departures aboard Pacific Princess.

Holland America Line: HollandAmerica has long been synonymous with Alaska cruising, operating eight ships in the region. HAL has popular Alaskan Explorer Cruises on the Amsterdam, Noordam and Oosterdam, which depart from Seattle and sail to such renowned spots as Glacier BayNational Park. All cruises are seven days in length.

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity offers seven-night cruises aboard the Infinity, Mercury and Summit. It also offers two 13-day cruises and one 14-day cruise, dubbed the "ultimate Alaska cruise." It wraps up Celebrity's Alaska season, embarking from Vancouver on September 14, before ending in San Diego. Prices begin around $600 for an inside room.

Luxury Lines: Both Silversea and Regent run itineraries in Alaska, each considerably more expensive than the above-mentioned lines. Regent does 15 seven-night voyages between Vancouver and Seward and one 11-night voyage departing from San Francisco, all on its Seven Seas Mariner. Prices begin around $3,500. Regent does offer complimentary economy-class air tickets and ship credits of $250 per suite. Meanwhile, Silversea has 11 nine-, 10- and 12-night Alaska trips aboard the Silver Shadow, with departures from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Seward. Prices begin well over $5,000 and can reach more than $20,000 for an owner's suite.

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