Jump in a Zodiac and see migrating humpback whales, plump puffins and noisy harbor seals on a new tour from Holland America Line that explores the remote Inian Islands, a rugged chain at the northern entrance to Alaska’s Inside Passage.
The lively Zodiac Shore Excursion ($170 per person) is among several new tours Alaska cruisers can choose from this spring and summer when 43 ships ply the waters of the 49th state, each trying to outdo the others by offering the most compelling and adventurous excursions. The tours make it easy for cruisers to sample the culture, activities, wildlife and foods of Alaska.
Voyages to Alaska have mushroomed in the last decade. In 2020, 606 cruise line sailings will carry about 1.41 million passengers. That’s a big change in the last 25 years: In 1995, 470,000 cruisers visited the state, according to statistics compiled by Cruise Lines International Assn., a trade group.
The 2020 contingent of cruisers will break records for the fifth straight year: Ten new ships and 29 additional port calls are expected. The top destinations are Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, all in southeastern Alaska.
Also growing in popularity is Icy Strait Point, an entertainment complex in the Glacier Bay area owned and operated by Native Alaskans. About a third of cruise ship tourists are expected to visit the complex on the outskirts of the small Tlingit community of Hoonah.
Icy Strait offers zip lines, ropes courses, bird watching and hands-on cooking demos as well as kayaking, whale watching and hiking. Holland America specializes in adding cultural experiences to its excursions. For instance, the Tlingit Canoe Experience is aboard a traditional, hand-carved dugout canoe where participants are taught songs, drumming and Tlingit language phrases by the crew ($90 per person).
Among the vessels exploring Alaskan waters this year will be new ships, including the world’s first hybrid cruise ship, the Roald Amundsen, owned by Hurtigruten, a Norwegian cruise line that’s sailing in Alaska for the first time. Hurtigruten will operate 10 expedition-style cruises of eight to 18 days between Vancouver, Canada, and Alaska.
Icy Strait stops are on Hurtigruten’s itinerary, along with several unusual excursions, including floating on a river raft through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines and Fort Seward ($174 per person). The preserve is said to have the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world.
Seabourn will add seven-day cruises to its lineup of 10-, 11- and 12-day Alaska voyages. Among the line’s distinctive shore excursions are “mindful living” experiences that integrate physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being. Or try Seabourn’s Quaint & Quirky tour with a local guide in Haines, Alaska, to an artists enclave and to the Hammer Museum where you’ll find out why the town extols the household tool ($69).
Tasting tours are popular with most lines visiting Alaska. But some cruises specialize in helping passengers learn how to prepare the state’s most popular dishes. Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice, for instance, will offer a week-long tour on its June 19 sailing called “Midgi’s Culinary Cruise: An Immersive Taste of Alaska.” The voyage will feature Juneau Food Tours maven Midgi Moore. (Rates start at $4,399 per person, double occupancy.)
Holland America has set up 13 new excursions in conjunction with Food & Wine Magazine featuring various aspects of the Alaskan food experience, including distillery tours, wilderness dining and city food tours. In Ketchikan, for instance, participants visit the Hump Island Oyster Co. beds, where they sample locally harvested oysters and kelp products. ($170 per person).
In Skagway, the Food & Wine Magazine tour takes passengers to the Burro Creek Waterfall Lodge, a scenic 120-acre rustic resort where the menu includes a Dungeness crab and shrimp boil with Andouille sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes served with oven-fired bread ($270 per person). The trip includes a spirited Zodiac ride through waters often used by humpback whales and other marine life.
If you’d like to sail to Alaska on a Queen, you might consider Cunard, which has more than doubled its Alaska program for 2020, spending a full season in the region with 10 voyages on Queen Elizabeth. The ship will visit stunning Glacier Bay National Park as part of its itinerary.
And there are new excursions for Cunard passengers to try.
At Icy Strait Point, they can combine helicopter flightseeing over the lush rainforest of Tongass National Forest with a zip-line trip that begins 1,300 feet above sea level and ends with a landing on the beach ($475 per person).
Two excursions are available in Seward: a wildlife cruise and lunch on Fox Island and a visit to Alyeska Resort and Wildlife Conservation Center.
The cruise explores the cliffs and coves of Resurrection Bay, a glacier-carved fiord ($150 per person).
At Alyeska Wiildlife Conservation Center, participants will see some of Alaska’s largest land mammals, including moose, bison, bears and musk ox, all injured, orphaned or displaced ($210 per person). They’ll also ride the Alyeska Aerial Tram and have lunch at the top.
If your traveling companion hates to fly, Princess Cruises can solve your problem. The line will help you whisk your companion to Alaska without getting near an airport.
Princess, with more than 50 years of experience in Alaska, is adding a full season of 14-day Inside Passage voyages that will sail round-trip from Los Angeles to Alaska. The voyages, aboard the Golden Princess, include a visit to Hubbard Glacier. (Rates from $1,269 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin.)
In Ketchikan, cruisers can choose a Black Bear, Wildlife & Nature Walk, in conjunction with Animal Planet, that takes the group to a private reserve to view black bears. (From $230 per person.) And in Skagway, cruisers can travel on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, considered one of Alaska’s top attractions, with a train historian. The route climbs more than 20 miles of steep grades on the way to scenic Bennett Lake. (From $275 per person.)