Courting multigen travelers, cruise lines go big this season

View from a Princess Cruises ship sailing in Glacier Bay.
View from a Princess Cruises ship sailing in Glacier Bay.
Mary Pemberton
Mary Pemberton

An estimated 1.1 million cruise ship passengers are expected to visit Alaska this summer, with many of them arriving on new and larger ships with more amenities and programs to accommodate the trend toward multigeneration passengers.

Thirty-one cruise ships from a dozen companies will bring passengers to Alaska this summer. The ships include Royal Caribbean’s 3,835-passenger Explorer of the Seas, touted as being nearly 40% larger than many of the other ships coming to Alaska. Princess Cruises is sending two of its larger ships, the 3,084-passenger Ruby Princess and Princess Crown, and Celebrity Cruises is sending its 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice.

Alaska has been preparing for this next generation of larger ships. A 400-foot floating dock will be ready when the first cruise ship arrives on May 11 at Icy Strait Point near Hoonah. Juneau also is building two floating docks to accommodate the larger ships. The first should be ready for the 2016 season.

Cruise ship lines are adding more amenities and programs to satisfy the trend toward multigeneration passengers, whether it is grandparents traveling with grandchildren or adult children with their parents.

Holland America is repositioning its newest ship — the 2,100-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam, with more amenities and new onboard experiences — to the region as part of a seven-ship lineup offering excursions from May to September.

“Alaska is the region that travelers return to time and again, and we recognize how important it is to continuously evolve and enhance our program to attract new guests and keep our loyal guests coming back,” said Orlando Ashford, Holland America Line’s president.

The newer, larger ships are geared toward multigeneration passengers, and offer a larger menu of activities and amenities to satisfy a broader range of interests. That means more amenities ranging from rock wall climbing to more water slides to larger arenas for evening shows, said John Binkley, president of CLIA Alaska.

The formula is working, he said: “We can count on the ships being completely full when they come up here.”

The outlook for Alaska tourism continues to remain strong for this summer. Between May and September of last year, Alaska received nearly 1. 8 million out-of-state visitors (the highest number recorded since visitor tracking began in 1985) with 56% being cruise ship passengers, a 3% increase over the previous year. Much of the increase was because of larger ships replacing smaller ships, according to a McDowell Group report prepared for the state. The report says planned itineraries indicate a 2% increase in cruise traffic this summer.

Lysa Syme, vice president of Alaska product management for Princess, said the line is expanding its popular “North to Alaska” program that was introduced last year. The program includes a wider array of activities and food enhancements, including bringing Alaska sled dog puppies onboard to interact with guests and having the ship’s culinary team prepare meals using fish caught by passengers who go on shore excursions.

Princess has several new things in store for passengers choosing to go on land tours, which Syme said are selling to capacity. Its lodge near Talkeetna has a new theater that is designed to show a panoramic view of the Kahiltna Glacier base camp at Denali.

Princess also is hoping by May to have a vintage fixed-wing aircraft like those used to bring supplies to early expedition climbers installed outside the new theater.

Princess is finding that Alaska’s intriguing history plays well with the multigeneration passenger, no matter how young or how old. “Alaska is so perfect for that,” said Syme.

Crystal Cruises will sail seven voyages to Alaska in 2016. Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez said the aim as always is to “bring the destinations to life for our guests by offering authentic, memorable experiences” that cater to just about every interest.
Highlights include dog sledding on a glacier and fly-fishing by floatplane.

“The spirit of adventure permeates every part of life in Alaska, naturally, we strive to showcase this culture to travelers in every possible way,” Rodriguez said.

The dozen cruise lines operating in Alaska this summer are: Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney, Crystal, Silversea, Ponant, Carnival, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Norwegian.


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