Holland America has announced that next year will be its busiest Alaska season ever, but don't get too excited yet. The truth is that though the line's total capacity will be higher than any year in the venerable line's history, there will actually be three fewer departures than last year (156 in 2007 vs. 159 in 2006). Also, there will be no actual increase in the number of ships serving the region; it'll be eight, just like this year.
So how can it be a record-setter for HAL? The qualifier here is that three Vista-class vessels -- including Noordam, the line's newest and a newbie to Alaska -- will offer slightly higher passenger capacity and fresher onboard options (last year, mainstays included Westerdam and Zaandam).
Good News for Road Warriors: Those who choose a tour along Alaska's roadways will do so via brand-new or "recently enhanced" Explorer Coaches; the 39 new coaches (used on longer highway runs) and 36 retrofitted vehicles all feature more creature comforts for touring, including extra legroom and comfy leather seats (think first-class!), a mini-galley with cold snacks and beverages, an eight-channel in-seat audio system, and an enriched narration program, topical handouts and exclusive videos.
A New "Old" Railway: Holland America has always used the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, but in 2007, a new section between Lake Bennett and Carcross will be completed (to the tune of $8 million). On CruiseTours 3, 4, 5, and 6, guests will actually stop at Lake Bennett, the staging point 100 years ago for 20,000 gold rush stampeders.
More Wilderness Options: The line has actually coined a new term for 2007, "Your Personal Wilderness," and has created tours to convey this concept to guests. In 2007, Holland America is on tap for more Glacier Bay visits than any other cruise line, and features the park on all three itineraries. (Holland America will also offer 18 -- same amount as last year -- "Double Denali" experiences: two nights at a wilderness lodge near the gates of Denali National Park, a comprehensive guided Tundra Wilderness Tour and optional excursions.)
Meanwhile, Princess tells us that they'll deploy the intimate Pacific Princess to the region next year -- a small yet still mass-market option in Alaska for folks who like the big-ship amenities (alternative dining and balconies) in a more intimate atmosphere. They'll also offer more Gulf of Alaska voyages (with five ships on the route) than any other cruise line.
For more of what's new in Alaska for 2007, be sure to visit Cruise Critic's Alaska page often; we'll post a full update as the season approaches.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor