With cruising to Alaska in flux, Holland America and Princess turn to selling land tours

Mar 4, 2021

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Big-ship cruise lines such as Holland America and Princess Cruises might not be able to operate cruises to Alaska this summer due to Canada’s COVID-related cruise ship ban.

But, as of Thursday, that doesn’t mean you can’t travel to Alaska this summer with one the lines.

In an unusual move that points to just how much the coronavirus pandemic has turned the cruise world upsidedown, Holland America and Princess on Thursday jointly announced they would offer land-based tours to the 49th state for the summer that don’t have anything to do with cruise ships.

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The tours, which are new for the lines, will include stays at lodges and hotels that Holland America and Princess own in Alaska and draw on other land-based touring infrastructure that the companies own in the state, such as the bus-tour company Gray Line Alaska.

The two lines, which both are owned by the same parent company, normally use these assets to operate land tours of Alaska that are designed as add-ons to cruises. They are paired with Alaska cruises to create “cruisetours” that typically include seven days of Alaska cruising with anywhere from two to five days of overland touring around the state.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Princess Cruises owns five lodges in Alaska, including the 663-room Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Both Holland America and Princess already have announced that such tours won’t be happening this summer. Both the lines in late February canceled all their Alaska cruisetours for the year, citing Canada’s decision earlier in the month to extend an already existing, COVID-related cruise ship ban through early 2022.

The Canadian ban on cruise ships has made the trips unviable as all the Alaska cruisetours that the lines offer include a cruise that either begins or ends in the Canadian port city of Vancouver, B.C. Both lines in February canceled all such cruises for the rest of the year.

Related: The 6 coolest tours in Alaska

Both Holland America and Princess still have roundtrip Alaska sailings out of Seattle on their schedule for 2021. But those cruises, too, are likely to be canceled, as they cannot legally operate without including a call in Canada.

Both Holland America and Princess operate foreign-flagged ships, and by law, foreign-flagged ships cannot cruise between U.S. ports without stopping at least once per voyage at a foreign port. What this means for Alaska cruising, on a practical level, is that the ships operated by Holland America, Princess and most other big players in the region cannot cruise there unless their itineraries include at least one stop in Canada.

Only a waiver of the law would allow for continued Alaska cruises by most lines.

U.S.-flagged vessels, such as those operated by small-ship cruise operators UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions and American Cruise Lines, still will be able to operate in Alaska this year.

Related: The ultimate guide to Alaska cruises and cruise-related tours

Holland America and Princess said their new tours of Alaska would include two escorted tours and three unescorted tours.

The two escorted tours will be six and seven nights long, respectively, and include highlights as a full-day Tundra Wilderness Tour at Denali National Park — famous for its grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.

The escorted tours also will include a visit by tour boat to the Portage Glacier near Anchorage and a riverboat excursion in Fairbanks, Alaska. Add-on options will include flightseeing around Denali and river rafting.

Pricing for the escorted tours starts at $2,599 per person, not includes taxes.

The three unescorted tours will be five to six nights long and start at $1,699 per person, plus tax.

All the escorted and unescorted trips will include lodging, most meals, some sightseeing and rail travel on Alaska Railroad rail cars. But only the escorted tours will include a tour guide.

Related: The ultimate guide to Princess Cruises

The lines also will offer “Denali Rail Tours” of one- to six-nights that focus on Denali National Park. On these, tourgoers either can sign up to travel to Denali by rail only or by a combination of rail and motorcoach travel.

Itinerary choices for the Denali Rail Tours will include roundtrip outings from Anchorage to Denali National Park and also one-way itineraries between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

No meals or sightseeing are included on the Denali Rail Tours, but optional, extra-charge tours are available.

The lines also will sell hotel-only stays that include some sightseeing.

Lodging options include the Holland America-owned Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center, which is already open for the year.

Additional properties that will open in late May and be available for booking are Holland America’s McKinley Chalet Resort at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, which overlooks the Kenai River on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

Both Holland America and Princess are owned by Carnival Corp.

The tours can be booked through travel agents or through Gray Line Alaska at 800-544-2206.

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Featured image of courtesy of Travel Alaska

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