Cruise Preview 2005

What’s new and noteworthy on Alaska’s waterways

By: M.T. Schwartzman

While some cruise destinations remain plagued by uncertainty, one thing is sure: Alaska cruising keeps growing. In 2004, some 883,000 people made landfall in Juneau (Alaska’s state capital and most popular port of call) on ships big and small, according to preliminary figures from the local convention and visitors bureau. The growth rate for the season was 14 percent, the bureau also reports the highest it’s been since 1998.

For 2005, the cruise lines have devised an ever-increasing number of ways to enjoy America’s Last Frontier. Newsworthy developments for the upcoming season include more extended-length cruising, added drive-to options from convenient North American homeports and the second season of operations at Icy Strait Point, Alaska’s first master-planned cruise destination. Increased glacier viewing has become a highlight of many Alaska-bound cruises. On the land side, Holland America and Princess will both introduce expanded options for backcountry adventure. Princess Cruises, meanwhile, will begin a new “Direct to the Wilderness” rail service, offering expedited transfers from the dock in Whittier to the company’s wilderness lodges near Denali National Park. The rail express saves time en route and allows for 70 percent more time to be spent at the park, according to Princess Tours president Charlie Ball.

The Alaska cruise season runs from May through September. Cruises are seven days unless noted. Here’s a look at what each line is offering in 2005: American Safari Cruises has the 12-passenger Safari Escape , the 12-passenger Safari Spirit and the 22-passenger Safari Quest, three of the smallest ships sailing the Inside Passage. Itineraries run eight, nine and 15 days, with a new cruise sailing roundtrip from Juneau.

The American West Steamboat Company returns for its third season of steamboating in Alaska. Itineraries aboard the 235-passenger Empress of the North run 11 nights one-way between Seattle and Juneau or new for 2005 seven nights roundtrip from Juneau. Airfare between Juneau and Seattle is free for passengers booked by Feb. 26.

Carnival Cruise Lines travels “The Glacier Route” between Vancouver and Whittier aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit. Inside Passage cruises roundtrip from Vancouver are scheduled at the beginning and end of the season.

Celebrity Cruises’ trio of big ships the Mercury, Summit and Infinity offers Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska cruises from Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Seward. Cruises are seven or 12 days, with a 10-day positioning cruise on the Infinity in June. Selected departures once again feature a day call at Icy Strait Point.

Clipper Cruise Line’s Yorktown Clipper and Clipper Odyssey feature eco-cruises and expedition cruises respectively. The Yorktown Clipper sails for eight days roundtrip from Juneau or for 12 days between Juneau and Seattle; the Clipper Odyssey explores the Bering Sea on 15-day expeditions.

Cruise West, a leading small-ship operator, offers a little bit of everything: traditional Inside Passage cruises, Gulf of Alaska cruises, Bering Sea expedition cruises and short cruises of Prince William Sound. The company’s fleet of seven ships ranges in capacity from 70 to 114 passengers. Itineraries extend from three to 13 nights.

Crystal Cruises returns to its traditional San Francisco homeport for a series of 12-day cruises aboard the 940-passenger Crystal Harmony. Ten departures are scheduled. New for 2005 is a seven-day roundtrip Alaska cruise from Vancouver, scheduled on May 21.

One of Alaska’s bigger small-ship cruise lines, Glacier Bay Cruiseline, now operates under new stewardship after several years of native ownership. The company’s craft include the 87-passenger Wilderness Discoverer, 69-passenger Wilderness Adventurer and 31-passenger Wilderness Explorer. New for 2005 is the anticipated return of the 49-passenger Executive Explorer.

Holland America Line fields seven ships in Alaska for 2005: The Amsterdam and Oosterdam sail roundtrip from Seattle; the Volendam and Zaandam sail roundtrip from Vancouver; and the Ryndam, Statendam, and Veendam sail one-way between Vancouver and Seward. The Ryndam and Statendam each make one Vancouver roundtrip to begin or end the season.

Lindblad Expeditions specializes in eco-cruises of the Inside Passage aboard the 70-passenger sister ships Sea Bird and Sea Lion. Sailings are scheduled for eight or 12 days.

Norwegian Cruise Line brings four ships to Alaska for the first time ever in 2005: Norwegian Star, Norwegian Spirit and Norwegian Dream roundtrip from Seattle; and Norwegian Sun roundtrip from Vancouver. New for 2005 are 10- and 11-day cruises. Spring and fall positioning cruises may sail one-way between Seattle and Vancouver.

Princess Cruises has Alaska’s biggest ships, with the Diamond and Sapphire Princess sailing roundtrip from Seattle. On the Gulf route, Princess offers four ships the Coral and Island Princess, plus the Sun Princess and Dawn Princess sailing one-way between Vancouver and Whittier. The Regal Princess cruises 10 days roundtrip from San Francisco.

Bucking the trend, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises now offers primarily seven-day cruises, with 13 departures between Vancouver and Whittier and two roundtrip departures from Vancouver. A 13-day Pacific Coast repositioning cruise begins the season, and Radisson is offering two-for-one pricing. All cruises take place on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner.

Royal Caribbean International sails the Inside Passage on Radiance of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas roundtrip from Vancouver, and crosses the Gulf of Alaska with Vision of the Seas from Vancouver or Seward. Gulf cruises feature a day call at Icy Strait Point.

Alaska Cruise Preview Contacts

American Safari Cruises

American West Steamboat Company

Carnival Cruise Lines

Celebrity Cruises

Clipper Cruise Line

Cruise West

Crystal Cruises

Glacier Bay Cruiseline

Holland America Line

Lindblad Expeditions

Norwegian Cruise Line

Princess Cruises

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises

Royal Caribbean International