Royal Caribbean International vessels visit Icy Strait Point in Alaska, where zip-line tours are a popular shore activity.
Exploring North America’s last frontier, Alaska, remains a “bucket list” item for many travelers. Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) annual State of the Cruise Industry released earlier this year revealed that 4.5 percent of all global itineraries visit the 49th state. While some Alaska ports are farther distance-wise than some destinations that cruisers can reach from U.S. ports and the voyages are usually pricier than cruises to the Bahamas and Caribbean, the experience is unforgettable with dramatic natural beauty. Here’s a sampling of 2015 Alaska cruise action.
More balcony and oceanview staterooms await Alaska guests booked on Royal Caribbean International next summer as the line will operate two Radiance-class vessels. Radiance of the Seas will alternate northbound and southbound Alaska and Hubbard Glacier cruises, both seven-night itineraries from Vancouver, B.C., and Seward, AK, respectively. The ship will cruise the Inside Passage, visit Hubbard Glacier and call at Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Skagway in Alaska.
On September 4, 2015, Radiance of the Seas also will sail a seven-night round-trip itinerary from Vancouver that includes cruising at Tracy Arm Fjord and calls at Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Ketchikan. In addition, Jewel of the Seas will sail seven-night round-trip itineraries from Seattle, cruising the Alaska Inside Passage and Tracy Arm Fjord to Sawyer Glacier; these call at Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, B.C.
Clients seeking a more immersive Alaska vacation? Royal Caribbean cruise tours combine a Radiance of the Seas sailing with a three- to six-night fully escorted tour that spends at least one night in Denali National Park and one leg on the Wilderness Express, comprised of glass-domed train cars. Vacationers also might combine a Radiance of the Seas or Jewel of the Seas Alaska cruise with one of four pre- or post-cruise land tours of the Canadian Rockies and Canada’s Okanagan Wine Valley. A 19-night “Ultimate Cruise Tour” includes a Radiance cruise plus Alaska and Canada land touring.
Norwegian Cruise Line will operate three ships in Alaska—Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Jewel roundtrip from Seattle and Norwegian Sun on one-way voyages between Vancouver and Seward. Departing Saturdays, Norwegian Jewel will sail seven-day Sawyer Glacier cruises from Seattle. Departing Sundays, Norwegian Pearl will sail seven-day Glacier Bay itineraries. Both itineraries feature stops in Ketchikan; Juneau; Skagway, Alaska; and Victoria.
If clients desire a lengthier trip, Norwegian Jewel will sail one nine-day Glacier Bay itinerary on May 7; it will visit Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point, along with Victoria. Norwegian Pearl also will offer a 10-day Glacier Bay itinerary from Vancouver to Seattle on May 7, with calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point and Sitka, AK, and Victoria. Departing Mondays throughout the season, Norwegian Sun will sail seven-day cruises between Vancouver and Seward. These “open jaw” sailings will give guests a chance to add on a pre- or post-cruise Alaska land tour. From Vancouver, the ship will cruise to Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier as well as call at Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau, AK. From Seward, the ship will cruise the Inside Passage, visit Sawyer Glacier and Hubbard Glacier, and call at Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Icy Strait Point.
In addition, Norwegian Sun will operate three seven-day roundtrip cruises from Vancouver plus one 10-day Glacier Bay itinerary roundtrip from Vancouver on May 8; on the latter, the ship calls at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Sitka and Victoria.
Ketchikan’s historic Creek Street near the cruise terminal offers a museum, shops and galleries.
Following its Australia inaugural season, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend will head for Alaska and operate 16 week-long voyages, each with an onboard naturalist to educate guests about eco-sites and wildlife. The cruises sail from Seattle on Tuesday, with port calls at Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria and sail to either Tracy Arm Fjord or Glacier Bay.
Carnival Legend will also operate a special one-time Glacier Bay voyage from Vancouver on May 18, disembarking in Seattle on May 26. Shore options include helicopter flightseeing, rainforest canopy tours, and hiking, canoeing and kayaking expeditions.
Premium or Upper Premium
With seven ships in Alaska next year, Princess Cruises has a robust schedule of land-sea options. Ruby Princess and Crown Princess will sail roundtrip Inside Passage cruises from Seattle. The popular “Voyage of the Glaciers” route between Vancouver and Whittier will be operated by Coral Princess, Grand Princess, Pacific Princess and Star Princess.
Golden Princess will sail roundtrip to Alaska from San Francisco. The line’s robust land-and-sea packages include interior Alaska as well as two new Canadian Rockies tour options for 2015.
Another line with a strong “Great Land” presence is Holland America Line with seven ships sailing 124 departures. From Seattle, the line will operate seven- and 14-day, roundtrip “Alaskan Explorer” cruises that call at Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Victoria, BC. On those sailings, Westerdam also will visit Glacier Bay National Park, Amsterdam will visit Tracy Arm, and Statendam will sail to Tracy Arm, Icy Strait Point, Homer, Kodiak and Hubbard Glacier.
New for 2015, Noordam will sail from Vancouver as will Volendam and Oosterdam. Seven-day roundtrips will call at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and cruise the Inside Passage. All three ships have a Tracy Arm service call for shore excursions. Also new, Zaandam will sail the Gulf of Alaska between Vancouver and Seward. Oosterdam will also sail that route, which includes Glacier Bay.
In 2015, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder will sail seven-nights from Vancouver to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Departures are weekly, June 1 through Aug. 31. Competitor Celebrity Cruises will position three ships—Millennium, Infinity and Solstice—in Alaska and, for the first time, call at Haines.
Upper premium Oceania Cruises will return the 684-passenger Regatta to “the Great Frontier.” Most voyages are of the 10-night variety, with Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway calls along with less-visited Haines, Wrangell, Sitka and Hoonah stops. On many sailings, guests can add a “Discover Denali” land experience that includes a scenic train trip in a deluxe domed railcar, a welcome reception with Denali lecture and a tundra wilderness tour on which guests might spot moose, caribou, brown bears and 160+ species of birds.
Upscale clients might check out Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Navigator, which will sail seven-night voyages between Vancouver and Seward, along with a few other longer Alaska voyages. Guests will hear onboard commentary by guest lecturer Terry Breen. This line offers free shore trips and optional paid shore excursions.
One included tour for very active guests is the four-hour “Advanced Bike Trip” at Sitka. This 18- to 26-mile ride is for highly experienced bikers who can handle an elevation gain of 800-plus feet. The bike tour traverses parts of Sitka that most cruisers will never see. Raingear (pants and a jacket), a helmet, water bottle, candy bar, and light snack will be provided.
Silversea Cruises will also return to America’s “Great Frontier” in 2015 with a sizable amount of sailing dates for luxury clients to consider. Silver Shadow will sail 18 mostly seven-day voyages between Seward and Vancouver. Onboard enrichment is a big part of Silversea’s luxury product. On June 11, voyage 3514, Eric Roorda, professor of history at Bellarmine University and director of the Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport Museum, will provide onboard lectures.
A whale breaches in sight of Holland America Line’s Statendam.
Small-Ship / Niche Players
New in 2015, Un-Cruise Adventures will position more of its vessels in Glacier Bay National Park; 79 of the line’s 107 Alaska cruises will visit the park for two days of in-depth exploration including hiking and kayaking. Six vessels will visit Glacier Bay on rotating itineraries—three yachts, Safari Quest, Safari Explorer and Safari Endeavour, and three expedition vessels, Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer and Wilderness Explorer. They’ll sail four itineraries from Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka.
Week-long Un-Cruise Adventures in Alaska visit few, if any, ports, to allow guests to spend maximum time in remote wilderness areas. Itineraries can be combined to create two or three week adventures. Twelve-night repositioning cruises operate in spring and fall between Seattle and Juneau.
With some cool guest-enrichment tools—such as underwater video and audio, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic sails eight-day “Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness” itineraries on the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird or National Geographic Sea Lion. Guests view remote islands, glaciers and fjords, and such wildlife as whales, bears and eagles. This ship carries a six-person expedition team and clients who book by December 31 will get free air on select May and June expeditions.
For something a bit different, Lindblad’s 15-day itinerary between Seattle and Sitka includes many of the weeklong cruise highlights mentioned above but also exploration of the remote Gulf Islands of British Columbia and Alaska’s islands of Haida Gwaii.
The non-profit Boat Company offers southeast Alaska eco-voyages, with hiking, fishing and kayaking excursions. Part of the fare is tax deductible.
Upscale Compagnie du Ponant will sail into Alaskan waters with L’Austral on “In the Wake of Pioneers” voyages between Vancouver and Juneau. The small, sleek ship will call at Haines, Skagway, Petersburg and Ketchikan and cruise Tracy Arm. In addition, its “Aleutian Islands & Wrangel Island Reserve” itinerary sails between Seward and Pevek, Russia.
A full service hot-chocolate bar on the Sun Deck of American Spirit is one of the creature comforts of American Cruise Lines’ 11-night voyages from Seattle to Juneau. The ship also offers weeklong roundtrip Juneau sailings. Guests can visit smaller, less-trafficked ports such as Petersburg, a fishing village with a strong Norwegian heritage.
Another small ship line, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers nine-day Inside Passage sailings for families; nine- and 10-day Point Adolphus, Frederick Sound and Stevens’ Passage voyages; 11-day southeast Alaska sailings and eight-day Glacier Bay and island voyages, among others.