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Thoroughly updated every year (unlike the rest of the competition), Frommer’s Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call is a compact guide that’s on top of all the latest developments and offerings in the rapidly changing cruise industry. Our author, a leading cruise ...
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Thoroughly updated every year (unlike the rest of the competition), Frommer’s Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call is a compact guide that’s on top of all the latest developments and offerings in the rapidly changing cruise industry. Our author, a leading cruise journalists with years of experience, has compiled candid, first-hand reviews of each cruise line and each ship. The easy-to-use ratings, detailed drawings of each ship, and honest evaluations make it easy for you to find the cruise that suits your budget and your personal style, whether you want a luxury liner with fine dining or a small-ship cruise led by serious naturalists.
You’ll also find a nature guide that helps you understand what you’re seeing, complete with illustrations of glaciers and the various types of whales. We’ll show you how to get the best deals and how to maximize your time in the ports of call—all in one concise, pocket-sized volume.
What’s New in Alaska Cruising in 2004.
1. The Best of Alaska Cruising.
2. Choosing Your Ideal Cruise.
3. Booking Your Cruise & Getting the Best Price.
4. The Cruise Experience.
5. The Cruise Lines, Part 1: The Big Ships.
6. The Cruise Lines, Part 2: The Small Ships.
7. The Ports of Embarkation.
8. Ports & Wilderness Areas Along the Inside Passage.
9. Ports & Wilderness Areas Along the Gulf Route.
10. Cruisetour Destinations.
Appendix: Alaska in Depth (Charles Wohlforth).
Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations in the world, and when you're sailing through the calm waters of the Inside Passage or across the Gulf of Alaska, it's easy to see why. The scenery is simply breathtaking.
Much of the coastline is wilderness, with snowcapped mountain peaks, immense glaciers that create a thunderous noise as they calve into the sea, emerald rainforests, fjords, icebergs, soaring eagles, lumbering bears, and majestic whales all easily visible from the comfort of your ship.
Visit the towns and you'll find people who retain the spirit of frontier independence that brought them here in the first place. Add Alaska's colorful history and heritage, with its European influences, its spirit of discovery, and its rich Native cultures, and you have a destination that is utterly and endlessly fascinating.
The fact that approximately 700,000 cruise passengers-give or take a few-arrive annually in this last great frontier has had its impact, of course. In the summer some towns turn into tourist malls populated by seasonal vendors and imported souvenirs. However, the port towns you'll visit-from Juneau, the most remote state capital in the country, to Sitka, with its proud reminders of Native and Russian culture-retain much of their rustic charm and historical allure. Sure, you may have to jostlefor a seat in Juneau's popular Red Dog Saloon (a must-do beer stop) or ask other visitors to step out of the way as you try to snap a picture of Skagway's historic gold-rush buildings, but these are minor hassles for cruise-ship passengers. And if you want to get away from the crowds by taking a small-ship cruise or an organized shore excursion, or touring on your own, there's opportunity for that, too. In addition, by signing up for the cruise lines' pre- or post-cruise land-tour packages (known as "cruisetours"), you can also visit such inland destinations as Denali National Park, Fairbanks, the Yukon Territory, or the Canadian Rockies.
Even before you cruise, we can predict you'll want to visit again. Jerry first visited almost 30 years ago and claims he's never been the same-the place put such a spell on him that he's gone back every year since, sometimes two or three times. Fran's first visit to the state wasn't quite that long ago, but she also noticed that her view of the world was forever changed, and she quickly put the state at the top of her list of cruise destinations. Alaska is like that. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won't let you go.
Whether you're looking for pampering and resort amenities or a you-and-the-sea adventure experience, you'll find it offered by cruise ships in Alaska. Here are some of our favorites, along with our picks of the best ports, shore excursions, and sights.
1 The Best of Alaska's Ships
The Best Ships for Luxury: Crystal Cruises' 940-passenger Crystal Harmony is the big luxury ship in the Alaska market. We're talking superb cuisine, elegant service, lovely surroundings, great cabins, and sparkling entertainment. It also has what we consider to be the prettiest public room afloat-the Palm Court. If you want a more casual kind of luxury (a really nice ship with a no-tie-required policy), Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner offers just that, with plush all-suite cabins (most with private balconies) and excellent cuisine (plus, you get complimentary wine with dinner). And for the ultimate Alaska small-ship experience, check out the yachts of American Safari Cruises, where soft adventure comes with luxury accoutrements.
The Best of the Mainstream Ships: Every line's most recent ships are beautiful, but Celebrity's Infinity is a true stunner, as is sister ship Summit. These modern vessels, with their extensive art collections, cushy public rooms, and expanded spa areas, give Celebrity a formidable presence in Alaska in 2004.
The Best of the Small Ships: Clipper Cruise Line's newest vessel, the Clipper Odyssey, is a really gorgeous little ship, offering a higher level of comfort than most of the other small ships in this category. The most adventurous small-ship itineraries in Alaska are offered by Glacier Bay Cruiseline, whose Wilderness Adventurer and Wilderness Explorer both concentrate on kayaking, hiking, and wildlife, hardly visiting any ports at all over the course of their itineraries.
The Best Ships for Families: All the major lines have well-established kids' programs. Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line win points in Alaska for their special shore excursions for kids and teens, and Carnival gets a nod for offering special shore excursions for teens.
The Best Ships for Pampering: It's a tossup: Celebrity's Infinity and Summit offer wonderful AquaSpas complete with thalassotherapy pools and a wealth of soothing and beautifying treatments, while Crystal Harmony pampers all around, and the solariums on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas, Legend of the Seas, and new Radiance of the Seas offer relaxing indoor-pool retreats.
The Best Shipboard Cuisine: Radisson and Crystal (in that order) are tops. Of the mainstream lines, Celebrity is the best, with its cuisine overseen by renowned French chef Michel Roux. And there are signs of a new and rather surprising challenger for the cuisine award: Carnival. Although the line had not hitherto been especially noted for its food, it has upgraded both its main dining room and buffet offerings. And the line's new Carnival Spirit, which debuted in Alaska last year, has raised the company's standards considerably. Its intimate Nouveau Supper Club (which you can visit for a $25 fee) serves about as elegant a meal as you're likely to find anywhere.
The Best Ships for Onboard Activities: The ships operated by Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer a very full roster of onboard activities that range from the sublime (such as lectures) to the ridiculous (such as contests designed to get passengers to do or say outrageous things).
The Best Ships for Entertainment: Look to the big ships here. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are tops when it comes to an overall package of show productions, nightclub acts, lounge performances, and audience-participation entertainment. And Princess offers particularly well-done stage shows.
The Best Ships for Whale-Watching: If they come close enough, you can see whales from all the ships in Alaska. Smaller ships, though-such as those operated by Glacier Bay Cruises and Cruise West-might actually change course to follow a whale. Get your cameras ready!
The Best Ships for Cruisetours: Princess and Holland America are the entrenched market leaders in getting you into the Interior, either before or after your cruise. They own their own hotels, deluxe motor coaches, and rail cars; and after many years in the business, they both really know what they're doing. Some of the other lines actually buy their cruisetour products from Princess or Holland. Holland America's cruisetour strengths are its 3- and 4-night cruises combined with an Alaska/ Yukon land package. In addition, the company's exclusive entry into the Yukon's Kluane National Park last year proved extremely popular. Princess is arguably stronger in 7-day Gulf of Alaska cruises in conjunction with Denali/Fairbanks or Kenai Peninsula land arrangements. In 2002 Princess also introduced its fifth wilderness lodge-the Copper River Lodge, by the entry to hitherto difficult-to-access Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Its addition gave Princess an attractive new cruisetour component, which will be even more popular this year with growing public awareness.
2 The Best Ports
Juneau and Skagway are our favorites. Juneau is one of the most visually pleasing small cities anywhere and certainly the prettiest capital city in America. It's fronted by the Gastineau Channel and backed by Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts, offers the very accessible Mendenhall Glacier, and is otherwise surrounded by wilderness-and it's a really fun city to visit, too. As for Skagway, no town in Alaska is more historically significant, and the old buildings are so perfect you might think you stepped into a Disney version of what a gold-rush town should look like. If, that is, you can get over the decidedly turn-of-the-millennium Starbucks coffee vendor in the Mercantile Center, the pizza parlor at the bottom of Broadway, and all the upscale jewelry shops that have followed cruise passengers from the Caribbean. For a more low-key Alaska experience, take the ferry from Skag-way to Haines, which reminds us of the low-key Alaska depicted on the TV show Northern Exposure, and is a great place to spot eagles and other wildlife. Some ships also stop at Haines as a port of call.
3 The Best Shore Excursions
Flightseeing and helicopter trips in Alaska are absolutely unforgettable ways to check out the scenery if you can afford them (they're pretty pricey). A helicopter trip to a dog-sled camp at the top of a glacier (usually the priciest of the offerings) affords both incredibly pretty views and a chance to try your hand at the truly Alaskan sport of dog sledding (and earn great bragging rights with the folks back home). For a less extravagant excursion, nothing beats a ride on a clear day on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway out of Skagway. And we also like to get active with kayak and mountain-biking excursions offered by most lines at most ports; in addition to affording a chance to work off those shipboard calories, these excursions typically provide optimum opportunities for spotting eagles, bears, seals, and other wildlife.
by Jerry Brown
One of the great delights of Alaska is that you're never quite certain what to expect. It constantly surprises you. Just when you think you've seen it all-there's more! Never was that point more vividly illustrated than on a recent trip to the 49th state. Both during the cruise portion, on Celebrity's magnificent Infinity, and on land, during a Denali Park rail ride on Royal Celebrity's plush domed cars, one wonder followed another.
You should know upfront that I have cruised in Alaskan waters at least once a year since the early 1970s and have done the Denali trip umpteen times-often by rail, sometimes by coach. Yet on this particular trip I saw things I had never seen before.
I was with a small group of people, some of whom were visiting Alaska for the first time. My wife, Margaret, was with me, and although she's most decidedly not new to Alaska cruising, she had somehow missed out on Denali all these years. A few in the group regretted that Infinity's itinerary did not include Glacier Bay but featured, instead, Hubbard Glacier. I offered the opinion that I'd rather visit Hubbard any day of the week. I'm not sure many of them believed me, but it's true. The approaches to the mouth of Yakutat Bay and Hubbard, I told them, are scenically spectacular, with the St. Elias Mountain Range stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. And I added that, in my experience, Hubbard was more active in calving huge chunks off its ice wall than other glaciers I had seen.
"Be on deck early and don't forget your cameras" was my sage advice.
Fortune smiled on us on the day of our visit. The air was chilly, but the sun was bright, and the peaks-Mount Vancouver, Mount Logan, Mount Hubbard, Mount St. Elias, and the other snowcapped sentinels by the bay-stood out in sharp relief against a clear blue sky. It was a dream day to be in such a place. When we got into Enchantment Bay, at the top of Yakutat, in which Hubbard is located, the glacier was every bit as active as I had predicted. In fact, I had to admit that its calving-both in the size of the falls and the accompanying thunderous sounds-was even more impressive than I had seen in the past.
At dinner that night, my advice to the group was validated by their reactions to what they had seen. There was so much activity on the ice wall, one of my companions complained, that he wore himself out running from one side of the deck to the other trying to capture the perfect picture. His wife, a sun lover, admitted that she didn't expect to stay on deck for long once she realized how cold it was. "But I didn't dare leave," she said. "There was so much going on." Hubbard Glacier had been, in every respect, a success.
And then came the whales!
In my 3 decades of savoring Alaska, I had seen whales-hundreds of them. But until a few years ago, I had never seen one breaching. When a whale breaches, it hurls itself clear out of the water and drops in again on its back with a mighty crash and a mountainous splash. Scientists aren't sure exactly why whales do it. According to one theory, it could be a form of communication. Another theory proposes that the creatures are trying to dislodge barnacles and parasites clinging to their bellies. Or it might be that they're just playing. Or warning off their enemies. I had seen pictures of this activity but never experienced it firsthand. Until this voyage!
On a wildlife cruise (a shore excursion) out of Juneau, we watched not one but two whales breach in rapid succession. Each must have been 6 feet clear of the water. It seemed almost orchestrated-like something from a Samuel Goldwyn extravaganza. I sort of expected Esther Williams to put in an appearance. It was, in every way, an awesome sight, made all the more awesome by the fact that it was my first personal experience of the phenomenon.
But it was left to Denali Park to put on the biggest show of all. I eyed that segment of the cruisetour with some trepidation. Margaret had never been there before and was so excited at the prospect that I worried that perhaps the weather would disappoint her.
Excerpted from Frommer's Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call 2004 by Jerry Brown Fran Wenograd Golden Excerpted by permission.
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