The great land of opportunity: Lines expand plans for Alaska

SEATTLE -- Your clients have "done" Alaska and come home happy. But where will their next destination be?

Cruise lines are hoping that the answer will again be Alaska.

"People are feeling like they'd go back several times," said Paul Allen, vice president of Alaska sales and marketing for Holland America Line. "It's not a question of once you've done Denali [National Park], you can go home."

After all, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S., and each cruise line that sails there claims its "unique" attractions, glaciers and hotel programs. Lines with cruise-tour options are expanding their programs for 2003, adding more nights in Denali National Park, one of the state's top attractions, as well as more tour options across Alaska.

Cruise lines are pushing ahead to the 2003 season -- and to Alaska attractions like Glacier Bay National Park. In 2002, the state represented about 8% of the cruise industry's total bed days, according to figures from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). About 430 cruises trolled Alaskan waters, CLIA said.

Cruise ship capacity will increase by about 10% industrywide in 2003. And with more ships comes more emphasis on Alaska: HAL will add one ship next year; Princess Cruises will use its four newest ships plus the new

Pacific Princess; and Norwegian Cruise Line will operate three ships. Smaller luxe lines, such as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises, and expedition-type vessels round out the options.

The attractiveness of the 49th state is threefold: plenty of great scenery and passenger options; a perceived safe, close-to-home destination; and higher yields.

The Alaska boom, however, led at least one travel agent to describe the 2003 season as resembling a "parking lot" of ships. But Andrew Stuart, NCL's senior vice president of sales and marketing, disagreed.

"I certainly don't think its overcrowded," he said. "It's managed well by the state and by the cruise lines. I do think there [already] are capacity limits in the areas where it's needed."

And there seems to be enough passengers interested in Alaska to fill those ships. Major cruise lines contacted by Travel Weekly said they had sailed full on their 2002 departures.

Hopefully, many added, 2003 pricing will be firmer than this year.

"Like every other segment, [2002] was not normal pricing," said Craig Milan, president of Royal Celebrity Tours. "We had to stimulate the market [this year]. I don't see that happening next year. [Normal pricing is] better for us, better for agents."

Stuart said that he was "reasonably pleased" with the initial pace of bookings for 2003, although he added NCL recently introduced "more aggressive" pricing.

"It seems that travel agents are eager to promote Alaska for the next season," he said.

The following is a rundown of cruise itineraries and cruise-tour offerings for 2003:

Princess Cruises

Most mega-line executives say that cruise-tours are the optimum sale for agents, and Dean Brown, Princess' vice president of sales and marketing, is no exception.

"If you want to see Alaska, you've got to do more than just take a cruise," he said.

In 2003, Brown said, every Princess cruise-tour includes Glacier Bay National Park and Denali.

Princess is the only line to build its own hotels for Alaska cruise-tour guests. Its fifth Wilderness Lodge -- the Copper River Lodge, which overlooks Wrangell-St. Elias National Park -- was introduced earlier this year.

At sea, meanwhile, Brown said Princess was sailing an "incredibly young fleet." The Coral Princess and Island Princess, to be introduced in December and June, respectively, will sail Gulf of Alaska cruises from Vancouver.

On the line's roundtrip itineraries from Seattle, Princess will use the year-old Star Princess and the Diamond Princess, which is slated for a July debut.

Holland America Line

HAL departs Alaska on several itineraries for the Yukon Territory. Fifteen of HAL's 31 cruise-tours feature two nights in Denali, Allen said, which guests can combine with a visit to Kluane National Park in Canada's Yukon.

"It has five of the seven tallest mountains in North America," Allen said of the park. "For people who want to get their hiking boots dirty."

HAL passengers also have the option of taking the roundtrip Inside Passage cruise only halfway, sailing from Vancouver to Skagway to begin the cruise-tour. Alternatively, guests can start their tour in Alaska and catch the ship as it heads to Vancouver.

"Demographics are getting younger," Allen said. "And more active. [Age] 60 now isn't what it was 10 years ago."

Celebrity/Royal Caribbean

The Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity brands have only been offering cruise-tour options through Royal Celebrity Tours for the past two years. In 2003, Milan said, the cruise-tour offerings are expanding.

The company is adding tours in Homer on the Kenai peninsula, the first cruise line to do so, Milan said.

"We've contracted with a property called Land's End, which sits at the end of Homer Spit and stretches out a couple of miles into the bay," Milan said. "There's great fishing ... art galleries, funky shops and restaurants."

Royal Celebrity Tours also is adding a second night to the Denali section of its tours, Milan said.

Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL does not have a cruise-tour division, but the line is adding a ship, the Norwegian Sun, in Seattle, joining the Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Wind on the Inside Passage route.

The Wind, which is based in Vancouver, will call in four cities on its seven-day itinerary and will begin visiting Wrangell in 2003.

Stuart described the program as "Alaska as it used to be," including excursions to see wildlife, glaciers and "a tremendous black and brown bear sanctuary."

Carnival Cruise Lines

The Carnival Spirit will continue its 2002 schedule: three seven-day cruises to Glacier Bay and 16 seven-day, one-way northbound and southbound cruises.

Carnival again will offer two-night pre- and post-hotel stays at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and the Alyeska Resort, a spokeswoman said.

Radisson Seven Seas

Radisson president Mark Conroy said the line would place the Seven Seas Mariner in Alaska as it comes off the tail-end of its 2003 world cruise, replacing the smaller Seven Seas Navigator.

That adds an extra 200 beds in the marketplace, a figure Conroy said is "not insignificant."

The Mariner will run a series of eight-day cruises from Vancouver to Seward.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal will continue to run 12-day, roundtrip cruises to Alaska from San Francisco on the Crystal Harmony.

Glacier Bay Cruiseline offers kayaks, culture

SEATTLE -- For those active clients who'd rather not jump on a megaship to sail to Alaska, there's the option of placing them on a "sport utility vessel."

That's what a spokeswoman for tiny Glacier Bay Cruiseline called its four ships.

"[The ships are] equipped with 22 kayaks and a Zodiac-like craft," she said. "We have the ability to get up close to land, wildlife and glaciers. We're on a different level than the larger vessels."

And when they say "high adventure," they mean it. "We can kayak up to 14 miles a day," she said.

But the line's demographics are varied, she said, from children all the way up to grandparents.

There's a cultural program on board as well -- the line is owned by Goldbelt, an Alaska native company -- that next year will feature calls to Hoonah, Metlakatla and Petersburg.

Guests have the option of spending a night in the Glacier Bay National Park Lodge or joining a Holland America Line cruise-tour.

Next year, the line also will begin cruising around the San Juan islands north of Seattle.

For more information, call (206) 623-7110, Ext 3310. -- R.T.

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