Previewing The 2017 Alaska Cruise Season

It’s hard to believe, but this year’s Alaska cruise season will be drawing to a close in just a few short months. Odd as it may sound, this is actually the best time to start looking forward to the 2017 Alaska cruise season, for the simple reason that the itineraries are in place, most staterooms and suites are still wide-open, and every sailing date is on offer. If you’re looking for that suite (or two), or just a great deal on your favorite balcony stateroom, this is the time to book.

...as seen from the decks of the Star Princess. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Glacier Bay, Alaska as seen from the decks of Princess Cruises’ Star Princess. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So what can you look forward to up in the Great North next year? Here’s our rundown:

New Ships

...Billboard Onboard encourages guests passing through to linger and enjoy the show. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The recently-refurbished Eurodam (the new Billboard Onboard Lounge is shown here) will sail to Alaska from Vancouver in 2017. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Alaska is one of those destinations that’s like a comfortable old shoe: it’s reliable, and it doesn’t change very much. To that end, there aren’t a lot of brand-new ships sailing to this great state in 2017 – but there are a few noteworthy examples.

Holland America Line is sending its Eurodam to Alaska for the first time, where she will join Volendam and Nieuw Amsterdam in sailing roundtrip from Vancouver on the line’s classic Inside Passage voyages that call on Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Glacier Bay.

Also new for 2017 is Seabourn’s Seabourn Sojourn, which makes her Alaska debut for the very first time next year. Sailing between June and September, she’ll sail from both Vancouver and Seward.

While not exactly new to the region, it’s worth noting that Royal Caribbean will be bringing its massive Explorer of the Seas to Alaska for her second season in 2017. She’ll operate roundtrip out of Seattle on weeklong cruises that visit Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord and Victoria. She is the largest ship operating in Alaska again in 2017, besting Princess Cruises’ Grand Class ships by a wide margin.

Old Favorites Are Back

Princess Cruises' Crown Princess departs Ketchikan, Alaska on a moody afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Old favorites – like the majority of Princess Cruises’ Grand Class ships – return to Alaska once again in 2017. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Cruise lines rarely send their latest-and-greatest to Alaska. What they do, however, is send some of their best ships to Alaska. You know – the ones with the glass elevators and banks of floor-to-ceiling windows, the retractable covered pools, the panoramic forward observation lounges.

Royal Caribbean is once again sending the beautiful Radiance of the Seas to Alaska, where she will operate north and southbound voyages from Vancouver to Seward and reverse, as she has done for most of her service career.

Holland America, meanwhile, returns the venerable Volendam and Zaandam to Alaska again next year. However, it will be the first year in over two decades that an S-Class ship hasn’t sailed these waters. Indeed, Vancouver is the clear winner here, with the newer (and much larger) Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam returning once again.

Celebrity Cruises is bringing back its Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Millennium, while Princess Cruises returns with almost its entire Grand Class fleet, plus Coral Princess and Island Princess.

Families, rejoice: Disney Cruise Line is bringing Disney Wonder back to Alaska for another season next year, on weeklong sailings out of Vancouver.

Longer Itineraries From Different Ports

Prince Rupert, British Columbia is a beautiful little town, but the real star here is Mother Nature. Shown here is the Butze Rapids Park just ten minutes from town. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Longer itineraries allow ships to visit Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and the lush Butze Rainforest shown here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With a few exceptions, most cruises to Alaska – particularly ones on mainstream lines – tend to be weeklong sailings that operate either roundtrip from Vancouver or Seattle, or so-called “one way” sailings between Vancouver and Whittier or Seward (for Anchorage) that allow guests to participate in overland cruisetour journeys through the heart of Alaska.

In 2017, there are more options than ever for those who want to experience a longer voyage to this great state.

Holland America returns to offer its unique 14-day roundtrip Seattle Great Alaskan Explorer voyages next year. Sailing aboard the gorgeous Amsterdam, guests will sail right into Anchorage, Alaska (a rarity) before heading off to Homer, Kodiak, Hubbard Glacier, Sitka and Victoria, British Columbia. These sailings are offered between May and September of 2017.

Princess Cruises will offer 10-day sailings to Alaska that operate roundtrip from San Francisco aboard Grand Princess. Operating between May and September of 2017, these voyages include port calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia, with a day of scenic cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord. A handful of itineraries on select dates (May 8, 18; June 27; July 27, and September 5, 2017) swap out Tracy Arm for the more-impressive Glacier Bay National Park.

Norwegian Cruise Line has some longer voyages on offer for next year, though they’re mainly repositioning cruises. Norwegian Sun will sail a 14-night Ultimate Alaska cruise from San Francisco to Vancouver on May 15, 2017, with ports of call that include Astoria, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, and the British Columbian towns of Nanaimo and Prince Rupert.

On September 23, 2017, Norwegian Jewel will cruise to Alaska for 10 days, beginning in Seattle and ending in Vancouver. Ports on this voyage include Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point and Sitka.

Bigger Luxury Presence

Seabourn is sending the sleek Seabourn Sojourn to Alaska in 2017; the company's first sailings to the region in 15 years. Photo courtesy of Seabourn
Seabourn is sending the sleek Seabourn Sojourn to Alaska in 2017; the company’s first sailings to the region in 15 years. Photo courtesy of Seabourn

Luxury cruises have always had a minor presence in Alaska. In the past, choices have been limited to Regent Seven Seas and Silversea, both of which operate out of Vancouver. Next year, luxury aficionados have even more choice.

Click here to read our voyage report aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow in Alaska

Seabourn is returning to Alaska once again after a multi-year absence. Starting in June of 2017, Seabourn is sending the 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn on a series of 11, 12 and 14-day sailings that depart from the iconic Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia; or from Seward, the gateway to Anchorage, Alaska. For luxury cruise lovers and Seabourn’s loyal past passenger base, the return is a welcome one.

“Seabourn’s return to Alaska has been a long time coming and highly anticipated,” said John Delaney, Seabourn’s senior vice president, global marketing and sales. “We’re looking forward to sharing with our guests the highlights of Alaska, from the mountains and glaciers to the picturesque frontier towns and amazing wildlife. But they’ll also see an uncommon Alaska, a side that few visitors ever get to see. No other line can show them in such ultra-luxury Seabourn style.”

Crystal Cruises will also be sending one ship to Alaska next year for a full Alaska season that begins in June of 2017 and runs through August. Most of these voyages are operated roundtrip from Vancouver aboard the luxe Crystal Serenity. Crystal’s sailings will call at the big three ports of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, but they’ll also take time to visit more off-the-beaten-path ports like Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

The Streets of Skagway. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Streets of Skagway. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There’s a lot to like about Alaska in 2017. If you’ve never been before, now is as good a time as any to experience the Last Frontier for yourself. And if you’ve already been, 2017 is shaping up to be a great year to plan your return.

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