ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- More than a means of traveling from Seward to
Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks, riding the Alaska Railroad
provides a romantic look at the golden era of U.S. rail travel as
well as panoramic views of the state's interior.
The railroad dates to 1923 and carries 500,000 riders each year,
according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
The state-owned railroad has its own one-stop tour packaging
operation, which pays 10% commission and offers volume commission
incentives for net rail sales.
Alternatively, the Alaska Railroad provides hook-ups for the
cruise-tour rail cars of Holland America, Princess and Royal
Caribbean International/Cele-brity Cruises during cruise
The cruise-tour cars feature narration on what passengers are
seeing out their windows, reserved seating in glass-domed cars and
HAL and Princess make space on their cars available to clients
who aren't necessarily cruising with them.
Although the cruise lines' cars are by far the more luxurious,
there's something to be said for the Alaska Railroad's traditional,
less costly arrangement.
"I like to be able to move from car to car, and you can't do
that with the privately owned cars," said Allen Sears, president of
Nervig Travel in Panama City, Fla., who often uses the Alaska
Railroad for groups.
"When you go on the Alaska Railroad, you've got a chance to meet
people from Alaska," he added. "It's not just a tourist train; it's
year-round transportation for people. And there's great history and
stories to it."
Linda Androlia of Sunstone Tours & Cruises in Malibu,
Calif., described the atmosphere aboard the Alaska Railroad cars as
"low-key, funky and fun."
Small-ship cruise and independent land-tour people generally
lean more toward the Alaska Railroad experience than that of the
cars operated by big-ship cruise lines, Androlia said.
"You have to qualify your clients," she said.
Fortunately, it no longer has to be an either-or choice.
RailsNW, a Portland, Ore.-based rail marketing company, is
paying agents 10% commission on rail tours for the first time in
2003 and can combine Alaska Railroad and Princess portions of a
trip, as this season also marked the company's debut as a
Selling Princess rail trips without the cruises "is not being
done a lot," according to Thomas Horstmann, president of RailsNW,
"and has certainly not been well packaged outside the cruise line,"
which he said is where his company comes in.
"Princess is a nice option for people looking for elevated
standards and the larger windows," Horstmann said. "[But] anybody
who wants a true, traditional train experience or a more affordable
itinerary would want the Alaska Railroad. Or, they could do a mix
of the products, with segments on each."
At the Alaska Railroad Corp. here, Susie Kiger, manager of sales
and marketing, said that one of the best-selling packages, the
10-night Alaska by Daylight, includes a new train ride from
Anchorage to Whittier for a day cruise on Prince William Sound.
The trip is priced at $2,072 per person, double, in value season
or $2,179 during peak season, June 7 to Sept. 1.
The ride to Whittier is on the railroad's new Glacier Discovery
Train service between Anchorage and Grandview, with stops in
Whittier, Portage and Spencer Glacier.
Also new from Alaska Railroad: the seven-night Deluxe Alaskan
Adventure Sampler ($1,598 or $1,690 per person, double), featuring
the Glacier Discovery to Spencer Glacier, to either dog-mush on the
glacier or kayak on Prince William Sound; and the four-night
Glaciers and Hot Springs ($848 or $883 per person, double), with a
night at Chena Hot Springs.
For one-way packages like the last-named two, Kiger said, "we
can fly clients back to Anchorage for $132."
As for the cruise lines' steel wheels, Holland America is taking
delivery of four new rail cars from the Colorado Rail Co. that will
make up half its fleet in 2003. The entire fleet of eight will be
new by 2004.
Paul Allen, vice president of Alaska sales and marketing for
HAL, said the new cars, seating 88 passengers each, will replace
66-seat Pullman cars.
The new cars' dining rooms, he said, "will enable us to feed the
entire complement of the cars in two seatings [instead of
An outdoor platform at the rear of each two-car pair, four
separate air-conditioning systems per car and Global Positioning
Satellite-guided narration also are new features for HAL.
Holland America's rail tours may be booked through Gray
Line/Holland America Tours, at 10% commission.
Horstmann of Rails NW, said he finds the Princess cars "the most
comfortable," but admires Royal Celebrity's cars for being "the
On Royal Celebrity, all seats face forward, but can be turned
360 degrees in pairs to form group settings.
In 2001, Royal Celebrity Tours became the "new guys on the
block," when the firm began operations with its 85-foot Wilderness
Express cars, according to Craig Milan, president of the
Hallmarks of Royal Celebrity Tours' fleet of four cars are wood
paneling, spiral staircase to the domed, observation level and a
wheelchair lift to the dome level, a feature that Milan said still
is unique in the market.
Royal Celebrity Tours started with two new cars in 2001 and
added two for 2002. Milan said a decision would be made in late
2003 on whether to add more cars for 2005.
Will Royal Celebrity Tours' rail cars ever be made available to
people who are not cruising with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity?
"At some point, they will," Milan said. "It depends on when we
get to the point where our land capacity exceeds our ability to
convert cruise passengers to the land tours. We're not at that
Also, Milan added, "One of the models of this business is we
don't co-mingle [Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity]
"If we move to rail only, it could impact the guest experience.
So it's just not in our model right now. But never say never."
Making tracks in Alaska
Phone: (800) 544-0552
Gray Line/Holland America Tours
Phone: (800) 544-2206
Phone: (800) PRINCESS
Phone: (800) 717-0108
Royal Celebrity Tours
Phone: (888) 307-8401
Web:www.royalcaribbean.com or www.celebritycruises.com