This week a new ship joined the cold rush to Alaska: Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Quest set sail for the first time on an eight-day cruise through the Inside Passage.
The Quest is one of an increasing number of ships exploring the 49th state. Most accommodate more than 1,000 passengers, but some travelers say smaller ships such as the Quest, which holds only 100 passengers, give them access to areas of Alaska that are off-limits for large cruise ships.
The new ship’s itinerary this week includes visits to the Alaskan cities of Juneau, Petersburg and Sitka plus Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and several southeastern Alaska islands, bays and fjords. (Prices from $5,890 per person, double occupancy.)
It is to continue to sail Alaskan waters until early September and then sail a series of voyages between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, with stops in the San Juan Islands and Victoria, Canada.
The Quest has plenty of competition on the Alaska route. Thirty-three ships will make 488 port calls this year in Alaska, according to Cruise Lines International Assn., an industry trade organization.
The trend is to larger ships with more passenger capacity. Earlier this year, in fact, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that its new ship, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, will sail to Alaska from Seattle in 2018.
It will rank among the 10 largest cruise ships in the world and will be much larger than most ships sailing in Alaska. Large ships offer passengers more amenities and onboard recreation such as shopping, stage shows, casinos and multiple restaurants.
But smaller ships, while charging higher fares, may allow passengers to see more remote areas and wildlife. They also often include excursions in their pricing, something rarely done with larger ships.
Among the best known small-ship companies sailing in southeastern Alaska waters are:
UnCruise Adventures, which offers seven-to 21-day voyages;
Alaskan Dream Cruises, which is Alaska Native-owned and sails seven- to 10-day trips;
Lindblad Expeditions, which has two other vessels, in addition to Quest.