Mary Pemberton
Mary Pemberton

The number of cruise ship passengers arriving in Alaska this year has surpassed 1 million — for the first time since 2009 — and judging from their added capacity, cruise lines seem confident the upward trend will continue in the years ahead.

The final estimate for this year is 1,014,000 passengers coming to Alaska. Next year "is looking even better, as we anticipate breaking an all-time record with an estimated 1,060,000 cruise visitors," said CLIA Alaska president John Binkley. The previous record of 1,033,000 cruise ship passengers was set in 2008.

"An increase in Alaska marketing, a stable tax policy and a safe destination have all contributed to the growth," Binkley said. The industry has been rebuilding since 2010, as the state recovered from a drop in cruise traffic that Binkley attributed to a passenger head tax that he said prompted lines to reduce capacity: Initially set at $46 in 2006, it was reduced to $34.40 in 2010.

Next year, Holland America Line is bringing another ship to Alaska, and Seabourn is re-entering the Alaska market.

In 2018, Princess will be adding another ship to cross the Gulf of Alaska, and Norwegian will be replacing a smaller ship with the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Bliss. Viking Ocean Cruises is planning on coming to Alaska in 2019.

Holland America Line's Oosterdam with Hubbard Glacier in the background.
Holland America Line's Oosterdam with Hubbard Glacier in the background.

Next year will mark Holland America's 70th anniversary of bringing visitors to Alaska. The company began with tours and expanded to cruises, and now has seven ships serving Alaska. Next year, Holland America anticipates 135 Alaska departures, more than any other cruise line.

To support the increasing demand for Alaska summer cruises, Holland America is redeploying the Oosterdam from Europe to Alaska for summer 2017. The cruise line is offering 126 seven-day cruises and nine 14-day "Great Alaskan Explorer" sailings to begin in late April and run through late September. Orlando Ashford, Holland America Line's president, described Alaska cruises as being "at the heart" of the company's global itineraries.

Seabourn is re-entering the Alaska market after a 15-year absence; it will be offering 11- and 14-day cruises aboard the Seabourn Sojourn, a smaller cruise ship that can stop at some more out-of-the-way ports.

Seabourn's well-appointed onboard experience with more space and less people, and its expedition-style Ventures Program for the more adventurous traveler, will do well in Alaska, said Brian Badura, director of public relations. "The market overall in Alaska fits well with us," he said.

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