SAN FRANCISCO -- Move over, Vancouver; step back, Seattle. Cruise
lines, especially the big ones with a large presence in Alaska, are
taking greater notice of the City by the Bay as a starting point
for voyages to the Last Frontier.
It's a longer cruise from the Golden Gate Bridge to Ketchikan --
the first port of call in Alaska -- than it is from the ports of
the Pacific Northwest, to be sure, but more time at sea is just
what many seasoned cruisers want, according to some cruise
Crystal Cruises has had San Francisco as its jumping-off point
for 12-day Alaska cruises aboard the Crystal Harmony since
This year, it will be joined by Princess Cruises' new
688-passenger Pacific Princess, which will offer 11-day sailings to
Alaska, and by Holland America Line, which announced in November
that the 794-passenger Prinsendam would spend this summer running
14-day cruises to Alaska from San Francisco instead of sailing
through Asia and Europe.
HAL's 2003 San Francisco roundtrips are the line's first
regularly scheduled departures from that port, a spokeswoman
"We've seen a very strong demand for our other California
departures," the spokeswoman said. "And this is a unique
Even without counting HAL -- but counting Celebrity Cruises'
Mercury, which is operating scheduled San Francisco service down
the coast -- passenger volume in 2003 will be at a 17-year high,
trafficking more than 110,000 passengers, according to figures from
the Port of San Francisco.
Doug Wong, executive director of the port, said the city has
worked for several years to develop more cruise business.
"These cruise lines' announcements couldn't have come at a
better time for San Francisco's visitor industry," he said.
All three ships will offer the sights that roundtrip cruisers
from Vancouver or Seattle normally see.
"Each itinerary is a little different in [port] order, but they
all include the key Alaska ports," said Dean Brown, Princess
Cruises senior vice president of sales. "Passengers want to see
Juneau, they want to see Ketchikan, Skagway. And they want a
glacier. So we've included all the basics."
On the Princess cruises, guests sail to Victoria or Vancouver,
British Columbia; Sitka, Juneau and Skagway; and cruise Tracy
Crystal passengers will visit Vancouver and Victoria as well as
Sitka, Juneau and Skagway. They'll also cruise Hubbard Glacier or
Tracy Arm or, on the July 8 cruise, Glacier Bay.
HAL's Prinsendam, which offers the longer, 14-day itinerary,
calls in Astoria, Ore., and Wrangell, Alaska, in addition to Sitka,
Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria. It also visits Tracy Arm
and Hubbard Glacier.
Because of the complex port schedules and the number of ships in
Alaska, the port calls are not always in the same order.
Cruise executives pointed out three major advantages to San
Francisco: An easy sell to a large drive market in the Bay area;
convenient airlift that reduces travel time; and the ability for
guests to combine a cruise with some San Francisco or Napa-area
Adam Leavitt, Crystal's senior vice president of sales and
marketing, said the line offers three-day, pre- or post-cruise
tours of the Napa region to accompany its Alaska itineraries.
"That's been, generally, a fairly popular program," he said.
Brown agreed Alaska cruises are a popular draw for California
"We've been sailing cruises from San Francisco for as long as I
can remember, well back into the '80s," he said. "For that market
in the Bay area, there's no reason to get on a plane."
But even for those not within driving distance of the
Embarcadero -- the boulevard that runs along the San Francisco
waterfront -- there's still a good reason to recommend clients fly
to the city.
A flight from Miami, the nation's cruise capital, to San
Francisco is about six hours, nonstop.
Alaska Airlines operates a nonstop flight from Miami to Seattle
that takes a little under seven hours; but more likely clients will
have to connect -- especially if they're flying to Vancouver.
Of course, flying to San Francisco for an Alaska cruise means
that guests will be taking a cruise nearly twice as long as a
standard, seven-day Inside Passage voyage.
It takes one day at sea to sail from San Francisco to British
And with a more costly airline ticket to San Francisco, as well
as a choice of three smaller ships on three upper-market cruise
lines, clients will pay a little more to sail from the City by the
But executives said a longer cruise, with extra sea-days at the
start of the voyage, was what these guests -- especially seasoned
cruisers -- are looking for.
"For slightly longer itineraries, which our past passengers
appreciate, there's more time on board the ship," Leavitt said.
"We have people who do want to stay on board," a Crystal
spokeswoman added. "They want the Crystal [experience] ... so a
roundtrip from San Francisco to anywhere is a bonus."
The smaller sizes of the three vessels -- none carry more than
1,000 passengers -- also is a plus.
Brown said that although Alaska as a destination attracts a
large number of first-time cruisers, the Pacific Princess probably
will track a higher number of repeaters.
"The experienced cruisers always speak [about] wanting to cruise
on a smaller ship," he said.
And, Brown added, San Francisco is not Princess' largest Alaska
market; hence, a smaller ship fits the line's needs.
Last year, Princess moved the 1,590-passenger Regal Princess to
San Francisco, a post-Sept. 11 repositioning of that ship away from
a planned Suez Canal transit.
This year, HAL plans to do a similar thing with the