New Alaska Excursions Debut in 2008

January 23, 2008
When the message from Princess Cruises crossed our desks, we were intrigued. Touting 37 new shore excursions for the 2008 Alaska season, Princess seemed to have the edge on interesting and innovative Alaska offerings. Glass blowing? Crab fishing?

Certainly, with Tahitian Princess moving from the South Pacific into Alaska's waters for the summer season, its all new "connoisseur's" itinerary does offer some unique features. Still, we wondered how the other lines stacked up in terms of their Alaska shore excursions for the 2008 season.

Both Holland America Line and Princess have long had a huge presence in Alaska and are sending eight ships each to the region in 2008. For the most part, the routes fit into the same-old category: roundtrip Inside Passage cruises from Seattle or Vancouver or, conversely, one-way Alaska/British Columbia voyages between Anchorage and Seattle/Vancouver. The latter come with an optional add-on land tour program.

Tahitian Princess's 14-night "Connoisseur's Alaska" definitely introduces a new twist. That 30,200-ton, 660-passenger ship will visit several of the more popular ports such as Juneau and Ketchikan but also head to few barely trafficked destinations like Valdez and Kodiak. And that's a welcome development.

But Alaska cruising, as popular as it's become, has pretty much outgrown the destination. Ships end up stacked in Ketchikan and Juneau, waiting for dock space or put on a tender rotation several times a month. Newer (and smaller) port opportunities include Icy Strait Point, Wrangell and Haines, are still relatively untried.

So this was our driving question: Are there really 37 "new" excursions or are some of them just re-purposed with a new name? And are these new excursions unique to Princess?

And the good news is that most of the excursions that are called new are indeed "new." These include glass-blowing in Ketchikan, crab-fishing in the Bering Strait and ziplining at Bear Creek near Ketchikan (although Silversea offered a similar zipline excursion from its Silver Shadow sailings two years ago, this one can include children as young as five). A "Private Whale Watch and Custom Juneau Tour" might have newer elements, but it certainly isn't an altogether fresh concept.

Beyond staking claim to the season's newest tours, which lines offer the most tours in 2007? Princess says it offers 224 excursions for the season, but Holland America Line lays claim to over 250. Most of the new excursions that Princess is offering this year also show up on the Holland America list and some -- like the glassblowing experience, crab fishing and Alaska chef's table in a private club room of a Ketchikan restaurant -- are available on most of the lines with Alaska cruises this year. Holland America offers some unique tours as well, such as Alaska snorkeling in Sitka and Ketchikan, and a flightseeing tour and crab fest on a float plane to George Inlet Lodge.

And of course Holland America and Princess, despite a combined 16 ships between them, don't have Alaska all to themselves. Royal Caribbean has three ships in Alaska in 2008, as does Norwegian Cruise Line. Carnival has one, Silversea has one, Majestic America Line has two, and Crystal Cruises finishes its World Cruise with an Alaska voyage. In the small ship/explorer ship division, Majestic America Line has one ship, Lindblad has two and Cruise West has eight.

In the end, what we discovered is that the 37 new tours offered by Princess Cruises may not all be brand new, and are not unique to Princess, but they are certainly a welcome addition to a region that has so many options for visitors.

--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor