(Leaving Alaska this season: Holland America’s Oosterdam and Statendam, Princess’s Pacific Princess, Norwegian’s Jewel of the Seas and Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator.)
Note that RCCL’s Explorer of the Seas, which can carry more than 3,800 passengers, marks the advent of the mega-ships in the 49th State; Explorer of the Seas joins Radiance of the Seas, increasing the line’s presence in the 49th state by 12%. The ships sail itineraries ranging from 5 to 9 nights until early September.
In June, Alaska Native-owned small ship cruise line Alaskan Dream Cruises adds the 207-foot 74-passenger Chichagof Dream to its fleet. The ship will sail three itineraries: the eight-day Alaska’s Glacier Bay & Island Adventure; the nine-day Alaska’s Inside Passage Sojourn and the 11-day Alaska’s Southeast Explorer. New for this season: True Alaska Exploration, unscripted days for adventures, often a hike, wildlife encounters or wilderness discovery that the Allen family, the company’s founders, experienced during their personal explorations and asked staff to share with guests. The line will also offer eight-day Alaska’s Islands, Whales and Glaciers Adventure sailings on the Misty Fjord, a 10-passenger 60-foot expedition vessel. (The Misty Fjord is available for charters.)
In August, the Crystal Serenity embarks on an unprecedented 32-day Northwest Passage expeditionary itinerary from Anchorage to New York City, calling in Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Nome in Alaska; Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Canada; Greenland; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston; Newport, Rhode Island; and New York City.
Seabourn is back in Alaska; the Sojourn is making five voyages, ranging from 11 to 25 days.
Silversea’s Silver Shadow is doing a season of 7- to 14-day itineraries starting in mid-May and ending in early September. The line has scheduled these for Thursday departures in order to avoid crowds. The Silver Discoverer is making an expedition journey of 16 days in August, starting in Kukak Bay and ending in Otaru.
Un-Cruise Adventures is offering two new cruise itineraries and a new land tour option. The line’s new Alaska cruises--Exploring Muir’s Wilderness and Yachters’ Alaskan Frontier--sail round-trip from Juneau. Also new, the company’s escorted Denali National Park & Preserve and Knik River Adventure land tour package, which departs from Fairbanks and includes a two-night stay at a backcountry lodge in Denali National Park, a visit to Talkeetna and a two-night stay at Knik River Lodge before ending the trip in Anchorage.
Ponant’s Le Soleal, making six Alaska voyages in 2016, will be taking visitors to new ports such as Barrow, Elfin Cove, Endicott Arm, Alert Bay, Petersburg, Misty Fjords and Icy Bay.
Alaska leader Princess will have six ships (down from seven) sailing Alaska, with 106 departures from Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver and Whittier and 15 unique ports and destinations. The line’s signature Voyage of the Glaciers itinerary (which includes unique glacier-viewing opportunities), will be offered on Coral Princess, Star Princess and Island Princess between Whittier (Anchorage) and Vancouver. Itineraries through the Inside Passage will be offered aboard Ruby Princess and Crown Princess from Seattle and Grand Princess from San Francisco. Princess is expanding onboard cultural and culinary experiences, and also offering flexible ways to explore Alaska’s frontier. Land tours are being combined with a seven-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise, to include Princess’s premier wilderness lodges, the luxury Direct to the Wilderness domed rail service and visits to Alaska’s top two attractions: Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park.
Holland America has a full Alaska program until the third week in September, with eight ships sailing itineraries ranging from 7 to 15 days on eight ships; the Nieuw Amsterdam also does 3-day sailings from Vancouver to Skagway.
Oceania’s Regatta sails 7- 10-, 11- and 12-night cruises until early August.
The Disney Wonder continues to sail 7-day itineraries from May until mid-August. A five-night re-positioning cruise sails out of
Carnival’s Legend sails 7- and 8-day cruises from Seattle until early September; some 7-day itineraries cruise Glacier Bay.
Celebrity Solstice and Millennium cruise itineraries range from 5 to 9 nights until
Norwegian’s two remaining ships, the Sun and the Pearl, sail 7-, 8-, 10- and 14-day itineraries from May through mid-September.
Adventure Flow, a new tour operator in Juneau, is offering sailing trips in the Inside Passage. A Muir Alaskan Adventure follows in the footsteps of naturalist John Muir during a six-day cruise of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. For guests wishing to extend their trip, Adventure Flow also offers a nine-day tour on a private sailboat.
This May, cruise ships calling at Icy Strait Point (an Alaska Native-owned cruise destination set amidst the wilderness of Chichagof Island near Hoonah) will arrive at a newly built floating dock, Adventure Center and Duck Point Smokehouse restaurant. Constructed in partnership with the City of Hoonah, the 400-foot floating dock was built to accommodate the next generation of larger ships expected to call on Alaska in the coming years. The 7,000-square-foot Adventure Center, located in front of the dock’s covered trestle, will serve as a welcome center, departure lounge and tour booking center for the more than 20 shore excursions; these include whale watching, bear viewing and the world’s largest ZipRider.
Adjacent to the Adventure Center, Duck Point Smokehouse serves house-made smoked salmon, fresh Alaska seafood dishes, specialty pizzas and fresh crab tater tots. Outdoor seating on a covered patio offers views of Port Frederick. A short walk on the boardwalk is Icy Strait Point’s restored 1912 salmon cannery, home to a local history museum, Alaskan-owned shops and two other restaurants: the Crab Station and the Cookhouse Restaurant, the cannery’s original dining hall.
This season, between May and September, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Crystal Cruises will make 78 ship calls on Icy Strait Point, bringing nearly 160,000 passengers to the port.
Also expected for this season is the first of Juneau’s new Panamax docks, constructed to handle what’s known as Panamax-size cruise ships - the largest vessels that can traverse the Panama Canal. The new dock will float some 200 feet offshore and allow the city to accommodate 1,000-foot ships. Once the second dock is built, the city will be able to accommodate two of the big ships.
Holland America’s new Base Camp at the entrance to Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, is expected to open for the 2016 season. The complex, part of ongoing improvements being made at the 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort, will offer new dining, shopping and lounging options for guests at the resort. It will include a two-story 7,800-square-foot restaurant, the Gold Nugget Saloon (home to the “Music of Denali Dinner Theater”), an amphitheater with a covered performance stage and fire circles where guests may gather on cool evenings. Base Camp will be part of Holland America’s signature three- to seven-night Alaska Land+Sea Journeys.
NCLH (parent of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises) is making a major investment to improve the Bell Street Cruise Terminal and to expand the portion of the Pier 66 facilities used for processing cruise passengers. Under a new 15-year lease arrangement with the port, NCLH will manage the cruise operations at Pier 66 and will have priority rights to the cruise ship berth during the Alaska cruise season (generally from May through September). The port will operate the facilities the rest of the year. The renovation will expand space for processing cruise passengers from 44,262 square feet to 151,471 square feet, including the installation of two new passenger-boarding gangways and an automated conveyor system that would move passenger luggage from curbside to ship.
Bottom Line: There are more cruise lines sailing Alaska, more luxury vessels, more promotions (but generally higher rates), new ports, new excursions and attractions-with enough choice to please both first-timers and repeaters.