By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt
“The more I see as I sit here among the rocks, the more I wonder about what I am not seeing.”
-Richard Proennek, naturalist, conservationist, writer, and wildlife photographer
This is the mystery of Alaska. It is a place of wonder, with whole worlds in and beyond the glaciers you see right before you, the mountains that loom in the distance, the wild behind the horizon.
Last month, cruising Alaska also meant a return to Canadian waters after an absence of two to three years due to the pandemic. The first two cruise lines to arrive in Canada were Holland America and Princess Cruises, both among a number of cruise lines offering different ways to explore Alaska, from small ship active adventure expeditions to larger ship voyages offering a classic cruise experience.
CLASSIC CRUISE EXPERIENCE, AMBIENCE
Holland America Line (HAL) celebrates seventy-five years in Alaska in 2022, bringing all that experience plus an elegant fleet of six ships to themed cruises and cruisetours that last from seven to 18 days. It also offers more cruises to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve for viewing the magnificent tidewater glaciers than any other cruise line. Enhancing the epic splendor of these journeys are rangers from the National Parks Service who come aboard to narrate the geology, history and ecology of Glacier Bay, calling out wildlife sightings and answering questions along the way.
Onboard, dining options range from poolside burgers to fine dining with a gourmet flourish, with tastes and atmospheres moving from authentic Italian to classic French to Asian traditions. The cruise line is known for consistently outstanding cuisine, paired perfectly with the pours available in the wine cellar, all selected by internationally acclaimed wine critique James Suckling. Throughout, HAL retains that touch of old-world cruising aesthetic blended with twenty-first century amenities and refined shipboard atmosphere.
Entertainment blends enrichment, with the Lincoln Center Stage bringing chamber music concerts and afternoon recitals; BBC Earth Concerts immersing guests in the wonders of the world through its natural habitats and wildlife; and deep dives into the destination through the talks, shore excursions, food demos and more are offered through its EXP programming – Explorations Central Discovery Center.
For the 2022 season, HAL resumed cruises to Alaska from the port Vancouver, Canada, and between Vancouver and Whittier. (Zuiderdam was first to Alaska, arriving in Vancouver on April 28, followed two days later by Koningsdam on April 30.) Three different seven-day itineraries are offered, including Alaska Inside Passage.
UNEXPECTED, UNCROWDED, UNFETTERED ADVENTURE
Expeditions to see humpback whales, sealions and other wildlife; hiking to outback country in Glacier Bay National Park; an evening kayaking to a shoreside campfire; biking an island teeming with bears. UnCruise Adventures’ ethos eco-focused and sustainable travel that is culture- and community-centric. Its seven-, 12- and 14-night small ship sailings are all about active fun, discovery and exploration.
Enhancing the experience, both aboard and ashore, is the number of guests – less than 90 on most ships and as few as 22 on one – sharing in the adventures. Life onboard is casual and relaxed. Meals and pastries highlight local ingredients. Gear for snorkeling, paddle boarding and kayaking is available. Features like entry fees to national parks, UnCruise-only activities and shore visits and wine, beer and liquor (including daily signature cocktails) are included. Adding a personal touch to each sailing are the expedition guides and guest experts.
Joining the list of themed Alaska adventures this season is the new seven-night “Wild, Woolly and Wow” itinerary, featuring Chichagof Island. (UnCruise Adventures has the only permit to visit this minimally populated island, one of Alaska’s ABC islands and fifth largest island in the United States.)
CASUAL FUN TIMES
The emphasis is firmly on round-the-clock, come-as-you-are fun aboard Carnival ships – especially in 2022, Carnival’s fiftieth anniversary. Lip sync battles, deck parties, karaoke, mini golf, top deck waterpark, a piano bar that rocks out with all the old familiars, jars and jars of colorful candy at Cherry on Top, Punchliner Comedy Club and Suess at Sea for the little ones (which includes a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast featuring special appearances by Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2) and so much more.
The watering holes are equally fun, with an island-inspired pub; a mystical, magical cocktail “pharmacy;” beer station; and a martini tasting that is all about the showmanship and kicky flavor combinations, like spicy chipotle pineapple. Dining is also lively, with outdoor venues Big Chicken (the restaurant of Carnival’s CFO – Chief Fun Officer – Shaquille O’Neal) and Guy’s (as in Fieri) Burger Joint and indoor Streets Eats and Steakhouse.
Carnival has several ships sailing Alaska, including Spirit, Splendor and Miracle, with each offering a full menu of shore tour options, everything from dog sledding in Juneau and catching a lumberjack show in Ketchikan to gold panning in Skagway and wildlife spotting in Sitka.
Princess has been bringing adventurers to Alaska for over fifty years and knows how to show its guests a thoroughly magnificent time, both on land and at sea. Appealing to active cruisers with a zest for discovery, the line offers 12 unique itineraries and more than 20 cruisetour options, operating five upscale, custom-built wilderness lodges for its cruisetour passengers.
As one of the six Princess ships cruising the Great Land in 2022, Discovery Princess marks her inaugural season as the youngest ship in Alaska. The 3,660-passenger Medallion Class ship brings next-level technology via a wearable device, Ocean Medallion, which expedites service and personalizes attention to each individual guest; enormous, made-to-entertain suite balconies – the largest at sea; Broadway-style productions in the state-of-the-art Princess Theater; and puppies, lots and lots of puppies.
Part of the line’s signature and award-winning North to Alaska program, Puppies in the Piazza give guests a chance to meet sled dogs and the handlers who train them for a life of dog mushing. New to the program this season are unique wine and seafood pairings, featuring entrées like fresh salmon with premium wines available only in Alaska; hot beverages headlined by “spiked” hot chocolate recipes; and Alaska beer and spirits experiences, including tasting flights, locally brewery tours and cocktails like Glacial Ice Chilled Martinis.
Princess had the distinction of having the first ship arrive in Canada this season since April of 2019, when Caribbean Princess called at Victoria, capital city of British Columbia. The four-day Pacific Coastal voyage arrived on April 6 before heading onward to Vancouver.
COUNTRY CLUB CASUAL
The line known for small ship luxury brings even more of its trademark welcoming elegance to Alaska in 2022. Oceania Cruises’ 684-guest Regatta underwent a redesign so transformative with new rich, warming color palette, shimming chandelier lighting, marble bathrooms and new and thought-provoking art that it is being called a re-inspiration.
Suites and staterooms are sumptuous. Dining is gourmet with a plant-based focus. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a classical string quartet. The spa is designed with a holistic approach to wellbeing. Shows are inspired by the locale. Live piano music invites guests to gather or cocktails and conversation. An English-inspired library delights with thousands of books, including mysteries, classic literature and guidebooks. The overall onboard ambience is relaxed and casual amidst sleek splendor – jacket and tie not required.
The Regatta’s medium ship size means it can slip into ports larger ships cannot, like Alaska’s Wrangell Island, a former Tlingit Indian stronghold and Russian outpost, home to the Wrangell Museum and ancient petroglyphs. Onboard enrichment opportunities enhance the cruises – not just to Alaska, but to all Oceania destinations – with historians, naturalists and other experts offering lively programs.
About Kathy Witt
Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.