A cruise isn’t the best way to experience Alaska’s dramatically rugged landscape; it’s practically the only way. BY GARY BUCHANAN
In terms of geography Alaska may be America’s ‘Last Frontier’ but when it comes to natural beauty it is first without equal and the unspoilt landscape of glaciers, waterfalls, lakes and soaring mountains is truly awe-inspiring.
Clients considering a cruise to Alaska need to be aware of the choices on offer. Some cruises, principally ‘Inside Passage’ itineraries, operate round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Others operate one-way ‘Gulf of Alaska’ cruises to and from Seward or Whittier, near Anchorage, sailing into College Fjord and the Hubbard Glacier as well as the Inside Passage – a 1,000-mile maze of channels encompassing countless islands which are home to humpback whales, basking seals, grizzly bears and bald eagles.
It is here the popular ports of Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Skagway and Haines are located, as well as Glacier Bay and the Sawyer Glacier. The cruise season runs from May to September, with high season typically between June and August. James Cole, managing director of Cruise118.com and SixStarCruises.co.uk believes land tours enhance cruises in Alaska and allow clients to really get an insight into the culture and wildlife.
He said: “Popular land packages such as Whistler Mountain; the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train and whale watching stays undoubtedly add to the experience.” He also praises the good flight schedules and UK regional connections; the quality of hotels in Seattle and Vancouver and the solid infrastructure at cruise ports which enable slick embarkation and disembarkation.
Cole also offers useful tips. He said: “Agents must appreciate that attention to detail is critical when selling an Alaska cruise. They need to give advice on the best time to see certain wildlife; packing appropriate clothing and pre-
planning excursions as some can be extremely adventurous and perhaps unsuitable for clients with limited mobility. Transfer costs in some of these destinations are quite expensive so this needs to be kept in mind if they are selling tailor-made packages.”
Dan Townsley, CEO of Cruise1st. co.uk says sailings to Alaska are selling well. He said: “Despite its incredible natural attractions, Alaska has struggled to position itself as a top cruise destination within the UK market. This is beginning to change as more cruise lines are placing their ships there and sailings are now selling well in the UK.
“We would advise booking between January and March to make the most of exclusive offers. Research shows that 70% of bookings come from first-time cruisers who venture to Alaska for glaciers, mountains and wildlife.”
Highlighting the appeal of America’s 49th state, Townsley observes: “One of the best ways to explore Alaska is by adding a cruise tour which takes passengers further afield to explore the Arctic tundra and northern lights. A typical land package would be between three and eight nights, in conjunction with a seven-night Alaska cruise, and would include destinations such as Denali National Park, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula.
“Cruise lines with the most established cruise tour programmes in Alaska include Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean.”
Princess Cruises’ head of sales, Rachel Poultney is enthusiastic about Alaska. She said: “Alaska is definitely a popular choice for UK cruisers. Princess Cruises is trading up in passenger volumes on 2016 deployment. There will be six
ships sailing from May to September on itineraries spanning seven to 10 days so there is a huge amount of choice, not to mention the popular land tour packages which include stays in a Princess-owned wilderness lodge.”
Poultney stresses the importance of the trade. She said: “Agents need to have confidence in their knowledge of the destination to sell the product to passengers effectively. Princess has recently launched online destination guides which include information on programme releases, shore excursion recommendations, video content and recommended Academy training courses – it’s the perfect tool to share information with potential clients all hosted on www.onesourcecruises.com.”
The draw of wild and wonderful scenery on an immense scale is not lost on Sarah Harraghy, director of commercial sales for Celebrity Cruises UK. She said: “Our Alaska product is extremely popular with agents selling worldwide cruise holidays and we work closely with a number of trade partners to tailor Alaska itineraries. For agents selling a truly immersive experience our cruise tours visit Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise and the Calgary Stampede; other cruise tour options visit the Gold Rush town of Fairbanks, Denali National Park, the Talkeetna River and a trip on the Wilderness Express.”
Lynn Narraway, managing director UK & Ireland for Holland America Line believes Alaska is easy to sell. She said: “People tend to think of Alaska as a cold weather destination but actually temperatures reach up to 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer when the days are long and bright. “Using our 68 years of experience we are always looking at new experiences for our guests. Many of our Land+Sea Journeys include up to three days at the luxurious
McKinley timbered lodge chalets in the middle of Denali National Park and a Wilderness Tour. Guests also get the chance to travel between Anchorage and Denali aboard the glass-domed McKinley Explorer train and experience some incredible scenery.
“We work with tour operators such as Titan Tours and Saga Holidays who package our Alaska cruises with air and tour arrangements meaning that agents can book their clients one seamless, oftencustomised holiday. There’s also lots of detail on Alaska within our HAL Academy agent learning programme and on our website.”
Alaska cruises offer a wealth of excursions. Narraway said: “There’s something for everyone from zip-wiring through the rainforest in Ketchikan or a journey by floatplane into the spectacular Misty Fjords; to whale-watching tours or a vintage narrow-gauge railway trip on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad which was built to take prospectors to the goldfields.”
Narraway is also MD for Seabourn Cruise Line in the UK and Ireland and is delighted that for the first time in 15 years Seabourn will return to Alaska in summer 2017 offering luxury, expedition-style adventures. She said: “Seabourn Sojourn will undertake three, 11 to 14-night itineraries departing from Vancouver and Seward to iconic Alaskan ports combined with hidden gems. Every cruise will offer Zodiac cruising and wildlife viewing as well as escorted kayak excursions launched from the ship.”
Another luxury cruise company, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, is positioning Seven Seas Mariner to Alaska this summer offering increased capacity as the last few seasons have been a sell-out. The sailings include complimentary land programmes and unlimited shore excursions which in Alaska, where tours can be quite pricey, this is a real bonus. In addition to popular seven-night sailings between Anchorage (Seward) and Vancouver or vice-versa, there are several 10 and 14-night cruises, some of which begin or conclude in San Francisco.
Mick Dupont, UK Head of Sales for Crystal Cruises says Alaska continues to be a popular destination. He said: “The stunning scenery and the abundance and diversity of wildlife makes Alaska a popular destination. The duration of the cruise is an important factor and we offer a choice of seven or 10-night Alaska cruises. Guests can choose from a selection of shore excursions such as an Alaska Sled Dog Discovery and Musher’s Camp from Juneau and a Chilkoot Horseback Adventure from Skagway.
“Crystal Cruises has also partnered with the Rocky Mountaineer to offer packages combining an all-inclusive luxury cruise with a trip through the Rockies.”