Major cruise lines and small-ship operators are beefing up their Alaska offerings this summer, giving vacationers more choices and promising to boost the passenger count above one million for the first time in four years.
Eleven major lines will be making cruises in the region in 2013, along with a number of small-ship operators. Holland America and Princess each will have seven ships sailing in the waters of the 49th state. Norwegian Cruise Line is bringing a third ship to the region, Oceania is returning to Alaska after a year’s absence, Celebrity is bringing its much-heralded Celebrity Solstice to Alaska, and several lines are stationing newer or recently renovated ships there.
All of which will give passengers not only more choices of ships and ship styles, but also of itineraries, departure dates and land options.
“We estimate total passengers in 2013 to be just over a million,’’ said John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association. That would mark the first time since 2009 that the passenger count passes the million mark.
That stronger interest in Alaska, however, may signal one drawback for prospective passengers: “We won’t see the rock-bottom deals of the past couple of years,’’ explained Erica Silverstein, feature editor of Cruise Critic.
As for all the negative publicity resulting from the fire and stranding of the Carnival Triumph, Silverstein predicts its impact on Alaska cruises, if any, is likely to be minimal. “Previous disasters have been found to impact first-time cruisers,” she said; most Alaska passengers have cruised before.
Silverstein said this year is also bringing more interest in cruisetours, cruises that include a land component and are especially popular in Alaska, where train rides and Denali National Park are strong draws.
“More than half of our [passengers] are on cruisetours,” said Lisa Syme, vice president commercial for Princess Cruises, which is the biggest cruise operator in Alaska. Both Princess and Holland America operate many land tours, and now Norwegian will offer such tours with its third Alaska ship.
Some of the changes major cruise lines are making this season:
• Holland America is doubling the number of departures by its Amsterdam by changing from 14-night to seven-night sailings.
• Princess will deploy the larger and recently remodeled Grand Princess to its Alaska sailings from San Francisco, replacing the Sea Princess.
• Norwegian not only is bringing a third ship, the Norwegian Sun, to Alaska but also will make Gulf of Alaska cruises for the first time.
• Both ships Royal Caribbean will base in Alaska, the Radiance of the Seas and the Rhapsody of the Seas, are or will be renovated this season.
• Celebrity is introducing a Solstice-class ship, the Celebrity Solstice, to Alaska for the first time.
Among the smaller ships offering Alaska cruises, the former InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari cruise lines are offering a variety of sailings under the company’s new name, Un-Cruise Adventures. With three yachts, three expedition vessels and a Victorian style steamer, the line offers active adventures and up-close explorations of nature and wildlife, as do most other small ships operating in Alaska. Safari Legacy, the Victorian steamer, joins the fleet in August to make a pair of cruises retracing Gold Rush history.