It’s destined to be the ultimate banner year for cruises to the glittering glaciers, the snow-capped peaks and the wildlife of Alaska, along with opportunities to pan for gold.
As overseas flights get more expensive and travelers choose to see “America First,” industry group Cruise Line International Association is predicting a record-breaking 1.06 million cruise passengers to the Last Frontier in 2017. That’s up from a million last year and well above the 1.03 million record set in 2008.
The numbers had dipped recently because of the recession and a pullout of some older ships which couldn’t meet tougher exhaust standards imposed by regulators. But now newer and bigger ships with the latest eco-upgrades, including stack scrubbers and clean-burning fuels to reduce emissions, are in an impressive flotilla for 2017. There are ships big and small for every budget, as well as a new expedition ship and luxury Seabourn Cruise Line is returning after a 15-year absence.
Here’s a look at the new lineup:
Holland America Line
HAL is celebrating of its 70th year cruising the Alaskan coast with a fleet of seven ships doing a total of 135 Alaska departures– the most of any cruise line. They include the big Eurodam— replacing the smaller Westerdam this year–along with Eurodam’s sister Nieuw Amsterdam. The classic Oosterdam joins Amsterdam, Noordam, Volendam and Zaandam to round out the flotilla.
Highlights include 46 week-long round trips from Vancouver. There will also be 18 one-way intensives alternating north and south on one- week cruises between Vancouver and Seward, Alaska.
The second-largest expeditionary force is Princess, with six ships doing 113 departures from Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver and Whittier, the port for Anchorage. The line’s most popular route is the Voyage of the Glaciers from Vancouver, that features both Glacier Bay National Park and either Hubbard Glacier or College Fjord. Seven and 10-day round-trip options from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco are also available.
Rejoining the West Coast glacier route after a 15-year break is Seabourn Cruises. Seabourn Sojourn is plotting a series of 11-, 12- and 14-day itineraries sailing from Vancouver and Seward beginning in June. Highlights include exclusive Ventures by Seabourn kayak and Zodiac tours.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Legend will sail two dozen seven- and eight-day Alaska round-trips from either Seattle or Vancouver. In a first for Carnival, a cruise on the 2,100 passenger Carnival Miracle will do a unique 14-day round trip from Long Beach, Calif. that features stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Sitka in Alaska as well as Vancouver.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Wonder from Vancouver will make maiden calls at Icy Strait Point and Hubbard Glacier as part of a new nine-night itinerary. In August, the ship will sail its first five-night Alaska cruise from Vancouver to Tracy Arm and Ketchikan.
Most everything is included on the luxury Alaska itineraries of all-suite Silver Shadow, which is doing 16 seven-day voyages between Seward and Vancouver. In September guests can carry on to Asia with a 14-day sailing from Seward to Tokyo.
Celebrity Solstice, Infinity and Millennium are doing the honors in Alaska with sailings from Vancouver including special eight- and nine-night early season voyages.
Explorer of the Seas from Vancouver and Radiance of the Seas from Seattle will each sail seven-night round-trip itineraries. New in 2017 are two exclusive 12-night cruise tours with overnight stays in scenic Alaskan resorts before or after the cruises. They include the Kantishna Select Wilderness & Wildlife cruise tour in Denali National Park.
Crystal Serenity is doing a summer season of one-way and round-trip voyages from Vancouver to Seward and then it returns to the famed Northwest Passage in August. The 32-day expedition in the Arctic Ocean visits northern Canadian settlements on the route 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The adventure ends in New York City.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian boasts it has the youngest fleet in Alaska, with Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Jewel, sailing seven-day Glacier Bay and Sawyer Glacier itineraries, respectively, from Seattle; and Norwegian Sun, sailing seven-day Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Seward. New longer itineraries include a 14-day Ultimate Alaska from San Francisco to Vancouver on Norwegian Sun includes calls in Astoria, Oregon; Prince Rupert and Nanaimo and Icy Strait Point.
Regatta is sailing a series of 14 Alaska cruise departures from San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver between May and September. Among the extended itineraries is the 11-day Great Northwest route from San Francisco to Vancouver visiting Astoria, Ketchikan, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, and Prince Rupert. The 10-day Glistening Glaciers itinerary includes Victoria, with a customized food and cultural tour.
Using Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Quest new 100-passenger expedition ship, 15-day cruises will do nature intensive explorations of the British Columbia coast and the Inside Passage. Eight-day adventures are also offered on the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Lion
The boom in Alaska is shaping up to be a real gold rush.