MIAMI -- Royal Celebrity Tours' maiden season in Alaska went
"phenomenally well," according to company president Craig Milan.
Milan said there had been some hesitation from travel agents to
book the new rail and motorcoach tour, but after having run a
number of fam trips, he said he has "not gotten one complaint from
a travel agent."
The $2.4 million, 80-passenger Wilderness Express train cars
debuted in May. The Wilderness Express was the first product
launched by Royal Celebrity Tours, the land-tour company founded in
2000 by Royal Caribbean Cruises, parent of Celebrity Cruises and
Royal Caribbean International.
In 2002, the cars will serve Celebrity's Summit, launched in
October, and Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas with 13 different
itineraries, six pre-cruise and seven post-cruise. The Summit will
replace Celebrity's Mercury in the Gulf of Alaska, joining Legend
of the Seas in seven-day sailings.
Mercury had been scheduled to sail a variety of Baltic and
Mediterranean cruises next summer, but following the Sept. 11
attacks, Celebrity repositioned the ship in U.S. ports, Milan said.
In May, Mercury will join Celebrity's Infinity and Royal
Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas and Vision of the Seas in
roundtrip Alaska Inside Passage sailings from Vancouver,
complemented by Royal Celebrity's new Canadian Rockies pre- and
post-cruise rail tours.
"We're committed to this market," Milan said. "This year
combined, our two companies, based on the number of berths, had the
largest cruise group in Alaska. "But capacity will be down [in
2002] because we've shortened our season," he added. The season
will begin the third week of May instead of May 7. "As an industry,
we've struggled with selling the early season," he said. "Most
travel agents don't realize that May can be a phenomenal weather
month, with greater probability of seeing wildlife than in July or
Next season, Royal Celebrity will double its inventory of rail
cars to four, Milan said. It also will increase its motorcoach
fleet from 20 to 38 buses, each carrying 40 passengers. Of the 38
buses, 14 will be handicapped accessible. Six of the present
coaches have lifts. In addition to being the newest cruise car
traveling on the Alaska Railroad, the Wilderness Express also is
the tallest (18 feet) and longest (85 feet).
The car has two levels. On the first is a dining room that
serves breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on the itinerary; a
gift shop, and bathrooms. A spiral staircase leads to the
observation level in the dome, which has surround windows and
individual seats as opposed to the bench seats found on some cruise
lines' cars. The seats are on a raised platform for better viewing.
The car also is handicapped accessible, with a lift for bringing a
wheelchair on board and for access to the dome. Bob Stone, vice
president of Royal Celebrity, said the new product differs from its
competition in these ways:
• The bus leapfrogs the train, going on ahead with the
passengers' luggage to the next night's accommodations. Passengers
can take the bags they need and leave the rest on board. "You know
that the luggage is going to be there every night, not just when
you get to Fairbanks," Stone said.
• Tours are small-group escorted tours of about 40 people.
"Everybody goes with the escorted tour. On the others, about 10%
buy the escorted tour. The rest go FIT."
• Seats on the observation level swivel 360 degrees in pairs to
form group settings of four. "The demographics has changed. We had
400 kids this summer. By rotating the chairs, families can be
• Lift extends to the dome. Stone said most of Royal Celebrity's
cruise-tour guests book through travel agents. "We take direct
bookings over the Web site, but 99% book through travel agents. We
look at travel agents as our partners going down the road."
Commissions range from 10% to 18%, on both cruise and land,
depending on volume, he said.
Royal Celebrity uses the following accommodations, depending on
the itinerary: Anchorage Downtown Marriott in Anchorage; Westin
Alyeska Prince Resort in Girdwood; Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge in
Talkeetna; the Denali Bluffs Hotel or the Grand Denali Lodge in
Denali, and River's Edge Cottages or Pike's Waterfront Lodge in
Lodging is included in the rail tour; meals are not. On the
train, the average dinner with appetizer and dessert for two people
costs around $80. Alaska cruise-tour combinations range from $1,699
for an inside stateroom on the nine-night Mount Alyeska and
Anchorage package, to $8,099 for a penthouse suite on the 13-night
Great Land Expedition. The per person rates are for early
For cruise-tour reservations, agents can call the cruise-tour
desk at (888) 307-8401.