Expert Advice On Choosing An Alaska Cruisetour

Selecting an Alaska cruisetour can be daunting for the uninitiated. With more that 50 cruisetours offered by the major players, how do you sift through the options to find an Alaska cruisetour that’s right for you? To find out, we sat down with Paul Allen, vice president of sales for Holland America Line.

HAL train

Q. Why should someone do a cruisetour in Alaska in the first place?

A. We do research all the time asking people what they want to see in Alaska. The two places that get mentioned the most are Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park. You can get to Glacier Bay on a cruise ship, but if you want to get to Denali, you have to get on a cruisetour.

Q. How does the cruisetour work? There’s a cruise and then there’s a tour. The cruise ends and what happens next?

A. You can do a cruisetour in one of two ways. You can travel on land and end up on a cruise, or you can travel on a cruise and end up on land. Some of the cruisetours have more cruise content than others. Some cruisetours are combined with seven-day cruises; others are combined with three- or four-day cruises.

Q. With so many cruisetours, isn’t choosing the right one a little daunting? Holland America Line alone offers close to 30 cruisetours, grouped under three types, and each of those are staged in different regions of Alaska. Some people, me included, don’t even have a good grasp on the geography of Alaska or the distances between destinations.

A. It is daunting, but it’s my mission to educate people about the distinctions and identify what’s important to people. Most want to see mountains, scenery, glaciers and wildlife. These are the most important motivators for most people. There are many opportunities to see these things all across the state.

eagleQ. How do you begin to choose a cruisetour from the ones offered?

A. It really depends on what you want. The avid cruisers may want to go with the seven-day cruise combined with four to six days on land where they either go to Denali National Park, Fairbanks and Anchorage, or get all the way up to the Arctic Ocean. Or maybe they want to go to the Kenai Peninsula or stay at Alyeska Resort, a beautiful chateau property. All of these are possibilities that can be combined with the seven-day cruise.

On the other hand, if you really want to get that comprehensive Great Land experience, fly to Anchorage, go up to Denali, spend a couple of days there, travel to Fairbanks, and then from Fairbanks, go into the Yukon. Then travel down the Yukon 100 miles on our Yukon Queen II to Dawson, which is a great little town.

From Dawson, we’ve just developed excursions to Tombstone Park, which is just beautiful subarctic tundra. This is a chance for a very personal wilderness experience. You could be standing in Tombstone National Park with a dozen people in a backwoods wilderness trail where you’re going to have that ‘I’m surrounded by spectacular scenery and beautiful wilderness experience.’ You don’t always find a way to get that on other itineraries. We’ve provided that at Tombstone, near Dawson, and also at Kluane National Park, near Whitehorse.

You then continue to Skagway, where you board the ship and get a beautiful cruise into Glacier Bay, cruise back down the Inside Passage and get off the ship in Vancouver. You’ve hit Denali, Tombstone, the Yukon River, Kluane, Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage that’s the whole kit and caboodle of Alaska.

whale breechingQ. What is your favorite cruisetour?

A. The one I just described. It is a great value, and at the same time, it has all those icons in it. It gives you the opportunity to really see the whole Great Land. If you’re the seven-day cruise type, then I recommend the tour all the way to the Arctic Ocean. I had a chance to get up to there last summer and come down the road between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks, and it was just spectacular.

Or alternatively, you might take Tour 17 or 18, and that’s when you get off the ship after seven days and spend the night in Seward, then get Kenai Fjords National Park, do a six day marine tour with an incredible amount of wildlife experience. You move from there to Anchorage, spend two days in Denali, and then to Fairbanks.

Q. Why does Holland America Line offer a Double Day in Denali?

A. You need two days. These are natural wonders you are coming to see. You can see the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower just by showing up at the appointed time. To see grizzly bears and spectacular mountain scenery, however, you need to give yourself more time in the right places to maximize your chances of a great view. Time in the right places becomes the most important aspect of your tour. That’s why we offer more time in Denali. That’s also why we take you to other great wilderness locations where we spend a lot of time. You have the chance to see more wildlife and more great scenery.

Q. The McKinley Explorer luxury domed railcars seem so much more appealing than the motorcoach. How many of the tours use motorcoach versus the railcar?

A. All of our tours that go to Denali, which is 28 of 29 of them, have two days of travel on the railcars. The ones that go into the Yukon also include motorcoach travel, and while the motorcoach doesn’t sound nearly as sexy, these are beautiful motorcoaches. And they’re also the only way that you’re going to get to that kind of remote wilderness and to get to a place like Dawson or Whitehorse. So if you’d like to go to Kluane National Park, home to five of the seven tallest mountains in North America, glaciers and spectacular wildlife, the only way you’re going to get there is in a luxury motorcoach.

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Join the Conversation

Roberto Prinselaar says:

I would strongly recommend going on a land tour first before boarding a cruise ship. I’m 82 and found the land tour very tiring since we walked a lot to see sights, and in general were very physically active. Then we had to fly back to the lower 48 from Alaska. If we would have taken the land tour first we would have had a week of relaxation aboard a ship before going home. If you want to really see Alaska, however, a land tour is a must.

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