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7 Reasons to Cruise Princess in Alaska
7 Reasons to Cruise Princess in Alaska
Alaska Cruisetours are Back: Here’s Why You Should Book For 2023 and Beyond
Bus Driving Away from the Denali Tundra Wilderness (Photo: Chris Gray Faust/Cruise Critic)

Alaska Cruisetours are Back: Here’s Why You Should Book For 2023 and Beyond

Alaska Cruisetours are Back: Here’s Why You Should Book For 2023 and Beyond
Bus Driving Away from the Denali Tundra Wilderness (Photo: Chris Gray Faust/Cruise Critic)
Tim Johnson
Contributor
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In 2021, the waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage were far too quiet and land tours operated only on a very limited basis, with most lodges in the state’s interior, including those at Denali National Park, shuttered.

But 2022 has been a very different season. Cruise ships are back, steaming through those subarctic waters. And, importantly, Alaska cruisetours – land trips by bus, train or plane that allow you to see the wonders that lie within the state’s massive interior -- back in full swing.

The perfect finish—or start—to your Alaskan voyage, these land-based adventures take you deep into the 49th state, giving a whole new perspective on this wild and wonderful place. Almost all cruise lines offer some kind of cruisetour that seamlessly takes you from your cruise, getting off in Seward or Whittier, and transporting you to the Kenai Pennisula, Denali, Fairbanks or even the Yukon territory in Canada.

Bear in Denali National Park, Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

Among Alaska cruisetour providers, both Princess Cruises and Holland America Line have traditionally dominated, as both cruise lines operate their own lodges. Princess has four different types of Cruisetours, ranging from three to ten days, from more affordable, independent self-guided itineraries (On Your Own), to trips where every details is taken care of, escorted every step of the way by a tour director (Connoisseur).

Holland America also offers a number of combinations, bringing together Denali National Park with fascinating towns like Talkeetna (literally “where three rivers meet”), plus Anchorage and Fairbanks. HAL has also been a leader in adding Dawson City and Whitehorse, Yukon to their trips.

Now is the time to plan your Alaska cruisetour for 2023 and beyond. Here are five of the best reasons to book your land extension to next year’s Alaska cruise, right now.

The Lodges Offer Wilderness Charm, Easy Access to Nature

Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge (Photo/Princess Cruises)

Princess alone operates five lodges in Alaska, and each one brings its own personality and style. In 2022, the same staffing shortages that have challenged the hospitality industry worldwide meant that Princess couldn’t operate the 85-room Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, although they expect it to be back next year. At each one, plan to spend time just enjoying the amenities and services on site.

At the small, charming Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, big bungalow-style rooms climb the hillsides, each one with its own private porch overlooking the greenery, perfect for relaxing with a book on a sunny day.

Fannie Q at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge (Photo/Princess Cruises)

At the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, right next to the national park, stroll the Nenana River and take photos from viewing platforms before grabbing a drink and sitting by the fire pits at Fannie Q’s. And Holland America’s McKinley Chalet Resort sits at the doorstep to Denali—spread over 60 acres, where you can explore on foot and find shows and lectures at the amphitheater, as well as restaurants serving fresh crab and caribou burgers. At both lodges, you’ll find lovely rooms, some in a brand-new building with junior suites that feature separate sitting areas and big balconies.

The Denali lodges are also convenient jumping off points for excursions, including the can’t-miss Denali Tundra Wilderness bus tour that takes you directly into the park for epic wildlife viewing.

The Alaska Railroad Is Not Only Convenient, the Views Can’t Be Beat

McKinley Explorer train in Alaska between Anchorage and Denali (Photo/Tim Johnson)

With more than 650 miles of track running between Seward in the south and Fairbanks at the northern terminus—just a tick below the Arctic Circle—riding the rails here is one of Alaska’s great thrills.

Princess and Holland America operate 20 special cars, rolling stock with expansive domes and outdoor decks for photos, but these were taken offline during the pandemic. They’re now back, and better than ever—an ongoing effort to renovate has continued unabated, with about two carriages per year coming out like new. The cruise lines use the McKinley Explorer trains, which carry you easily between Anchorage and the lodges at Talkeetna and Denali.

McKinley Explorer train with Princess in Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

No matter how long your journey, the train winds across vertiginous trestles, through deep valleys and past rushing, blue, glacier-fed rivers. Guides provide colorful stories and excellent interpretation, along the miles of track. It’s the easiest and most relaxing way to traverse a state that can have mind-numbing distances between towns.

Denali is a Natural Wonder, Which You Can Explore Several Ways

Denali in Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

Until you see it yourself, it’s hard to imagine the soaring majesty of Denali. Meaning “the great one” in the local indigenous language, the summit—draped in blue glaciers and flashing white snow—is North America’s highest, stretching to 20,310 feet. For a time known as Mount McKinley, it is surrounded by the six million acres of Denali National Park, a place as big as the state of Massachusetts.

Two Princess lodges—Denali, almost onsite to the park, and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge in nearby Talkeetna —as well as HAL’s McKinley Chalet Resort, offer a variety of ways to experience its natural wonders. The must do is the afore-mentioned Tundra Wilderness Tour that takes you deep inside by road, about six hours round-trip, giving exceptional opportunities to spot massive moose, sure-footed Dall sheep and big grizzly bears.

If you aren’t too nervous, a flight-seeing tour is worth the (somewhat steep) price tag. On a good day, you’ll glide right up to the frozen world, at the top of the mountain. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll never forget.

The Excursions Offer Varied Ways to Explore The Alaskan Outdoors

Flightseeing at Denali in Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

All of that wilderness is sitting right at your doorstep. Just like a shore excursion on the ship, on a land tour, all that you need to do is sign up, and tour operators will take you into the wild—typically, you’ll simply board a vehicle near the front desk, with the details and plans taken care of.

Rafting on the Kenai River in Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

The choices are endless. Fly in a helicopter over glaciers, roll on a paddle-wheeler to visit sled dogs, or just enjoy a leisurely ride, rolling on a raft down the Kenai River, the perfect platform to spot bald eagles along the shoreline. You can bike, hike, fish or pan for gold. Options exist for all levels of ability.

The Guides and Coaches Offer Expertise and Comfort

Guide on the Denali Star train with Princess in Alaska (Photo/Tim Johnson)

In a wild and vast place (Alaska is so big, you could fit Texas inside it more than twice), booking a land tour provides so much ease and convenience, allowing you to see and tour giant swaths of territory, with minimum fuss or trouble. Leaving one lodge for another, simply attach a tag to your suitcase and leave it outside your door, and your bags will be waiting for you, right inside the room, at your next stop.

Coaches are comfortable, and swift, steered by experienced drivers. Train rides are a standard feature. And perhaps the best part—book a Connoisseur Tour, and a guide will accompany you all the way through. They provide a stress-free experience all around, including expert commentary, a letter in the evening outlining the next day’s plan and highlights, and answers to all your questions.

Updated September 12, 2022

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