Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alaska Cruises Hotter Than Ever

Ships - large, small and even tall - from 15 lines are heading to the waters off Alaska this summer

The year was 1883, the place was Glacier Bay, Alaska, and the vessel was the Idaho - the first of its breed to offer Alaska and Glacier Bay as a cruise experience.

Aboard the Idaho's maiden trip to Alaska was a 27-year-old writer, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore. Inspired by written reports from famed naturalist John Muir about Alaska's towering mountains, lush virgin forests, island-dotted waterways, massive glaciers, and the great bay that contained so many of them, Scidmore travelled north to see it for herself.

See it she did. And from her talented pen came a succession of articles in U.S. newspapers, magazines and a fascinating book describing her Alaska adventure. Cruising to Alaska was born.

Fast forward to 2008. No fewer than 15 cruise lines will dispatch their vessels to Alaska. Nearly a million passengers made the trip in 2007; more are expected this summer. Cruising patterns have remained largely unchanged from years past with four basic options:

1) Most traditional is an Inside Passage round trip in seven nights, eight days from Vancouver to southeast Alaska and back. Port calls usually include two to four of the principal communities of the region - Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway - plus day-long visits to Glacier Bay National Park and/or other glacier-viewing sites.

2) One-way "Gulf-and-Glaciers" sailing in seven nights/eight days takes in many of the same Inside Passage sights but adds glacier-rich Prince William Sound. A Gulf-and-Glaciers voyage ends (or begins) at Seward or Whittier in the north and Vancouver in the south.

3) Cruises entirely within Alaska can involve either round trips from a single city such as Ketchikan or Juneau or one-way trips between two communities. (Example: sailing one-way in seven nights/eight days through wilderness waters between Juneau and Sitka.)

4)Expedition-type voyages can extend well beyond traditional options to include Aleutian and other remote islands, sub-Arctic ports, and Russian lands across the Bering Sea.

By: Mike Miller
Canwest News Service; Vancouver Province; May 10, 2008