Alaska Cruising: What’s Ahead for 2012

Holland America in Alaska
Holland America will increase its Alaska sailings by 6 percent for 2012.

Cruising in Alaska is on the rise as agents begin booking now for next year’s sailings.

With a limited cruise season, ships fill up fast for voyages to Alaska. This cruise season hasn’t even started yet, and already cruise lines and travel agents are making plans for 2012.

Take Disney Cruise Lines, for example. The company has not even begun its inaugural sailings for this year but has already announced that beginning May 28, 2012, Disney Wonder will sail 14 seven-night cruises with exclusive Port Adventures (departing on May 28; June 4, 11, 18 and 25; July 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30; and August 6, 13, 20 and 27) from Seattle to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, as well as Victoria, B.C. Rates for the seven-night Alaska cruise itinerary departing from Seattle start at $917 per person for a standard inside stateroom, based on double occupancy.

Ron Peck, president of the Alaska Travel Information Association (ATIA), tells us, “I don’t know yet what their sales are for 2011, but that’s a very good indicator.”

On top of the Disney news, Peck tells us that Princess will be returning  with a new offering, Oceania will be plying Alaska waters, and Crystal Cruises has returned. The new itineraries are good news, although Peck tempered his excitement by noting, “There are more cruise options than last year, but the net effect is only about an increase of 7,500 passengers,” he notes.

That doesn’t put a dent in the thousands of cruise passengers Alaska lost since 2008 when it’s total number for the year topped 1 million. Now hovering around 877,000, Peck’s best estimate is 885,000 visitors to Alaska by sea next year. It’s inching up, he says cautiously, and is holding out hope for getting it up to 900,000 by 2014.

That was just the latest good news for the state, whose cruise industry looked to be going into freefall just a year ago, thanks to the rough economic climate and its stringent regulations and taxes on the cruise industry. Enter Gov. Sean Parnell like Gary Cooper in “High Noon” to wipe the destination of its naysayer element. When ship lines began pulling out in 2009 and 2010—citing Alaska’s per-passenger tax—it fell to the then-new governor to stop the bleeding. An unknown entity when he first first took the podium at Cruise Shipping Miami in March 2010, Parnell returned the conquering hero (and keynote speaker) this year, having successfully worked with the state legislature to lower the cruise passenger head tax and significantly increased funding for tourism promotion.

Looking Better

It’s been baby steps, but Peck and the ATIA are optimistic. Among the slew of 2012 cruise announcements made in the past few weeks, Holland America Line will increase its total Alaska sailings by 6 percent with four itineraries on seven of its mid-sized vessels, totaling 130 departures from May 2 through September 23. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean will debut three new Alaska cruise-tours onboard Radiance of the Seas.

The positive news has extended to the small-ship business as well. After the demise of Cruise West last year, there was some uncertainty about that market but a new player created by longtime Alaska day-cruise operator Allen Marine Tours has stepped into the breech. Alaskan Dream Cruises kicks off its inaugural season with new four- and five-day cruise itineraries.

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