The 2023 Alaska cruise season is poised to be the best on record since 2019. New ports are being inaugurated, new itineraries are being released, and new ships are coming to Alaska's ports of call once again. For many towns along the way, this year will break records in tems of both ships and passengers, from big cities like Vancouver and Victoria, to smaller towns like Ketchikan.
Everyone, it seems, is eager to cruise to Alaska in 2023 -- and Cruise Critic has put together this list of what's new and exciting this year in The Last Frontier.
(Photo: Colleen McDaniel)|description:Ocean Victory sits next to Norwegian Sun in Ward Cove, outside of Ketchikan. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)#}
In past years, conventional thinking held that the Alaska cruise season ran from May to September. But there has been a concerted push by Norwegian Cruise Line to extend the season even further, into the dark recesses of October.
For cruisers looking for an adventurous Alaskan cruise -- the weather in October can be ghastly along the Pacific Coast -- these late-season voyages show the quieter side of Alaska, after all the other ships have left port and the more touristic shops have closed up for the season.
Will it be cold? You bet. Will it rain? Absolutely. It might even snow. But Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Encore, and Norwegian Sun will operate from Seattle almost until the bitter end of October (Norwegian Sun will close the season out, arriving back in Seattle on October 30). And we couldn't be more excited about these unique and, frankly, interesting, voyages.
Following improvements to Icy Strait Point made during the pandemic and the 2021 opening of the terminal at Ward Cove, near Ketchikan, Alaska is poised to welcome ships to a new cruise port this year: Klawock.
Klawock Heenya Corp. has partnered with Huna Totem (the Indigenous-run corporation behind Icy Strait Point) to bring cruise ships to the Native village. Klawock Heenya is also Native-run, and the town plans to court smaller cruise ships at first, utilizing an existing dock.
What visitors will be treated to will be an authentic Native working town, with Oceania already set to call on Klawock in the summer of 2023.
Located on the western side of Prince of Wales Island, Klawock's dock used to be used for logging export. The town is noted for its fishing and its Tlingit heritage.
It's another great example of trying to provide cruisers with more diverse and varied ports of call -- particularly as Ketchikan braces for a record 1.5 million cruise ship visitors this season.
Last year, recurring rock slides closed one of Skagway's three piers to cruise traffic. The Railroad Dock, as it is known, also happens to be the largest dock in the former Gold Rush town, capable of docking two large cruise vessels at a time.
Fortunately, the Railroad Dock is currently under repair and expected to be completed by the time the season starts in April, according to reports from local media. The dangerously-shifting rocks were brought down last winter, and netting is now being put in place to prevent similar slides, similar to what is in place on highways through mountainous regions.
"There are multiple companies, so we have the people we’ve hired, engineers, rock experts, geologists, White Pass has as well, and Holland America has hired their own experts," Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata told KHNS FM. "So there’s a lot of eyes looking at it. It’s going to be the absolute safest it can be."
What's more, a new floating pier is currently under construction in Seattle that will be moved into position at the end of the Ore Dock by the end of the 2023 Season. This will allow two ships to tie up at the pier, located at the northern edge of town, in 2024.
Cruise lines tend to keep their Alaska deployments tight year after year. There are certain ships that just work better for Alaska's narrow fjords and cooler, wetter weather conditions, particularly during the shoulder seasons. Cruise lines typically find a vessel that's popular with passengers and stick with it, moreso than other regions of the world. It's for this reason that Royal Caribbean has sent its Radiance-class ships to Alaska for the better part of two decades, while Norwegian Cruise Line keeps 2001-built Alaska veteran Norwegian Sun coming back time after time.
In 2023, several cruise ships are making their Alaskan debut. These include Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which is sending its luxurious Seven Seas Explorer up north for the first time. The ship, built in 2016, will primarily offer weeklong cruises between Vancouver and Whittier, and replaces Alaska mainstay Seven Seas Mariner.
Although not new, Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas hasn't been seen in Alaskan waters in some time. The Radiance-class ship, which offers plenty of walls of expansive glass and even panoramic glass elevators, is a great choice for Alaska, particularly when it is conducting scenic cruising of the Inside Passage between Vancouver and Alaska. This year, the ship offers six-and-seven-night cruises sailing roundtrip from Vancouver.
Another "new" ship making its Alaskan debut is the 2009-built Carnival Luminosa. The former Costa Luminosa was transferred to Carnival Cruise Line from sister brand Costa Cruises in late 2022, debuting in Australia. On its first foray to Alaska, Carnival Luminosa will sail six-and-seven-day cruises roundtrip from Seattle.
The 2023 Alaska cruise season marks a return to the kind of season ports in Alaska and British Columbia were hoping to see before the events of 2020 shut everything down. Building on the success of the truncated 2021 cruise season and 2022's banner season, 2023 is looking bigger and better than ever for the state of Alaska cruising.
But don't think because there are plenty of ships that will translate into good last-minute deals, particularly for the popular summer months of June, July and August. Now is the time to be thinking of booking that Alaska cruise, and particularly that Alaska cruisetour, because cruising to Alaska is becoming one of the hottest tickets around.
Updated March 23, 2023