If you're thinking about visiting Alaska this year, you're not alone. More than 1.8 million people toured the nation's largest state (by area) last year, and with changes taking place in the cruise industry this year, that number may grow.
The number of visitors set a record in 2016, according to the Alaska Tourism Industry Assn. A large portion of that can be attributed to an increase in air traffic to the state, which went up by 6%, but cruise ship passengers still made up the majority of Alaska's visitors, totaling 1,025,900 last summer.
Larger ships are to traverse Alaskan waters this summer, and additional cruise companies plan to send ships to the destination, according to Cruise Lines International Assn. Alaska.
To keep up with the demand, changes are taking place at Alaskan ports.
In May, two new cruise ship berths opened along Juneau's downtown harbor. The $54.2-million docks can accommodate a 1,000-foot ship and a 1,100-foot ship. Prior to the project, the largest ship that could dock in the harbor was 965 feet.
Among the new cruise lines sailing to Alaska this summer is luxury small-ship line Seabourn, which hasn't visited Alaska for 15 years. It plans to sail a series of 11-,12- and 14-day cruises from Vancouver, Canada, and Anchorage.
Another new cruise itinerary is being launched by Lindblad Expeditions, which plans to sail its 100-passenger National Geographic Quest on eight-day and 13-day expeditions to explore Alaska's coastal wilderness and Inside Passage.
Cruise ship volume is expected to continue to grow in 2018, when Princess Cruises, a heavyweight in the Alaska cruise market, increases its capacity.
Seven Princess ships are scheduled to sail Alaska waters on 130 cruise departures, with more than 75% of all voyages sailing to Glacier Bay National Park. The line is also set to add its first round-trip sailings from Los Angeles to Alaska in 2018.
And next year, the 4,004-passenger Norwegian Bliss is to sail weeklong trips to the destination when it debuts. Bliss, one of the 10 largest cruise vessels in the world, will be significantly larger than the ships currently sailing Alaskan waters.