(11:15 a.m. EST) -- Got two and a half months to spare and the desire to experience Alaska? P&O Cruises has announced that it will return to the cruise region in 2011 -- for the first time since 1970.
The adults-only Arcadia will embark on a special, one-off voyage departing Southampton on 12 April, 2011, sailing across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and Panama Canal, along the west coast of the U.S.A. northwards to Alaska and back again in 72 days.
P&O isn't the first British cruise line to feature Alaska -- Fred. Olsen's Balmoral sailed there early in 2009 from Dover on its world cruise -- but this is the only round-trip on offer for passengers who don't want to do an entire circumnavigation, bringing the magnificent scenery and wildlife of America's far northwest coastline within reach of Brits who won't or can't fly.
The announcement comes at a time when U.S.-based cruise lines are actually cutting capacity in Alaska due to an unpopular tourist tax of $50 per person, introduced in 2006, pushing prices to a level that is unpalatable to Americans. Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have all reduced the number of Alaska sailings for 2010.
Things are, however, looking up for 2011, when luxury line Crystal Cruises has announced a return to the destination. Disney Cruise Line will also sail in Alaska for the first time that year.
For now, though, the P&O voyage will be the only chance to see Alaska on a ship where the food and entertainment are geared to British tastes.
The itinerary has other highlights, too, including two full days in San Francisco, a day and evening in Vancouver and two transits of the Panama Canal. As well as mainstream Alaskan ports like Juneau, Skagway, Whittier and Ketchikan, there's scenic cruising in College Fjord, Tracy Arm and the lesser-known Yakutat Bay.
The voyage goes on sale 1 December, with prices from £6,999 per person, early booking offers of £1,300 per person and onboard spending credit of £250.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Southampton to Alaska -- And Back! -- With P&O Cruises
November 11, 2009