American Cruise Lines getting into the Alaska spirit

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Meet the Fleet

American Glory
Maximum passengers: 49
• American Spirit
Maximum passengers: 100
• American Star
Maximum passengers: 100
• Independence
Maximum passengers: 104
• Queen of the Mississippi
Maximum passengers: 150
• Queen of the West
Maximum passengers: 120

American Cruise Lines will enter the Alaska market this summer with one ship, the American Spirit, and is including all shore excursions in its cruise fares.

The 100-passenger American Spirit will ply the Inside Passage, roundtrip from Juneau, with departures from June 2 to Sept. 1.

"Our passenger base has been asking for Alaska for a long time," said company President Charles Robertson. "The demand got great enough, so we decided to go ahead and do it."

The small-ship market in Alaska opened up a bit when Cruise West ceased operations in the fall of 2010.

According to Glacier Bay National Park, Cruise West had secured three permit contracts shortly before its bankruptcy filing: one for a cruise ship and two for tour vessels.

Charles RobertsonThe "available-use days" in the cruise contract -- 92 days, the length of a summer season -- went into a pool that other companies could draw from. American Cruise Lines had responded to a request for proposal to scoop up those available days and was awarded its contract, said a spokesman for the park.

According to Robertson, the planning for his company's entry into the Alaska market has been easy.

"Everybody has been helpful and anxious to do business with us," he said, including a wide range of ground operators to handle excursions.

American SpiritIn addition to Glacier Bay, the American Spirit itinerary features Tracy Arm Fjord, Sitka, Hoonah and Petersburg. Two or three tours will be offered at each port call.

In Petersburg, for example, the line is offering a jet boat tour on the Stikine River, where a variety of wildlife can be spotted, such as moose and brown and black bears.

In Hoonah, an excursion takes passengers to the Heritage Center Native Theater for the Tribal Dance and Cultural Legends performance. And in Sitka, passengers can take a motorcoach tour or book a charter fishing trip.

Fares aboard the American Spirit start at about $5,300 per person for a seven-day cruise. Robertson said the line relies on agents to book the vast majority of its passengers.

"Agents are vital to our business," he said, adding, "I'd say they are the heart and soul of the business."

Agents can review all of the line's products at www.americancruiselines.com.  

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.

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