July 24, 2024

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About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.

Juneau Hits the Pause Button

Passengers stroll along Juneau boardwalk.

The city of Juneau has introduced measures to reduce the number of cruise passengers arriving annually at this popular Alaskan port.

Juneau’s harbor fills with ships during busy summer months.

Like other tourist destinations that fell quiet during the pandemic, the ports of Alaska experienced a resurgence of visitors when travel rebounded.

The number of cruise passengers visiting Juneau in 2023 was a record-breaking 1.7 million, up nearly 30% from pre-pandemic numbers. Local business owners and tour operators were overwhelmed at times by the sheer volume of visitors.

At the end of the 2023 season, community leaders held discussions with representatives of the cruise lines and an agreement was struck to cap the number of ships that call on Juneau in 2024 at five per day.

Further restrictions will come into effect in 2026, when no more than 16,000 lower-berth passengers per day will visit Juneau, except on Saturdays, when the limit drops to 12,000. “The goal and the message here is that Juneau is hitting pause on growth,” said Alexandra Pierce, the city’s tourism manager.

Some Juneau residents want the restrictions to go further and are calling for a referendum to ban cruise ships on Saturdays. They cite the noise and congestion from the tour buses and flightseeing helicopters and whalewatching boats that operate in high numbers from May through September. To this end they have launched a petition, but a counter-campaign is already urging locals not to sign it.

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The Alaska Cruise Experience

Boardwalks in Alaskan ports lead to some of the town’s major attractions, such as Creek Street in Ketchikan.

The scenery is non-stop in Alaska, where snowcapped mountains and glacier-carved fjords provide a moving panorama for ships cruising the winding channels. Yet, for many passengers, the ports of call offer the quintessential Alaska experience.

Sitka’s tender dock is located beside the fishing boat harbor.

When you step off a cruise ship at an Alaskan port, you can engage in any activity that’s your idea of a northern adventure. This might include dogsledding on a glacier or viewing humpback whales from a catamaran. But there is much to be said for just strolling the streets and soaking up a bit of local atmosphere. However you decide to spend your time in port, it can be an opportunity to meet the people who live and work in Alaska.

Numerous trailheads are close to the cruise docks in Skagway.

The ports of Southeast Alaska (also known as the Alaska Panhandle) are dramatically situated at the base of coastal mountains and are connected not by road but by the state ferry system, appropriately named the Alaska Marine Highway. Surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, these pockets of human habitation bustle with cruise visitors during the summer months. When several cruise ships are in port for the day, tour buses line up beside the piers and passengers clog the nearby shopping streets. But nature is never far away and it’s easy to escape the crowds, either on an excursion or simply setting off on foot to a nearby trailhead for a walk in the woods.

Floatplanes depart Juneau harbor on flightseeing excursions.

Visitor information booths are conveniently located near the main pier at each port. If a ship anchors in a port, passengers are tendered ashore to a central location on the waterfront.

A hooded waterproof jacket is a must in Alaska.

Shore excursions offered by the cruise lines are run by local guides and licenced operators at each port of call. These companies provide their services to all of the cruise lines and a passenger booking a ship’s tour will be paying a fair price. Plus, there’s no need to worry about returning to the ship on time – the shore excursion staff will make sure everyone’s back on board before the ship leaves port.

Shore excursions can be reserved beforehand on your online account and can also be booked during the cruise. Some sell out more quickly than others, so it makes sense to book in advance. Should you change your mind, most cruise lines offer a full refund for cancellations up to 24 hours before the ship pulls into port.

Be prepared for a mix of sun and clouds on a cruise to Southeast Alaska, where the weather quickly changes and is often overcast. May, June and July tend to be the driest months, but rain is always a possibility. August usually brings more frequent showers, which increase in intensity in September. Wet weather can spoil many a vacation, but not a cruise to Alaska. Everyone takes it in their stride – and brings a raincoat.

Windstar Returning to Alaska

The new Star Seeker will be in Alaska in 2026.

Small ship cruise line Windstar Cruises revealed today it’s planning to send its newest ship, Star Seeker, cruising to Alaska and Japan when it joins the fleet in 2026. Windstar last sailed in Alaska and Japan in 2023 before it redeployed Star Breeze to be the year-round ship in Tahiti.

“We are really happy to be able to bring back Alaska and Japan for our guests,” said Windstar’s President Christopher Prelog. “We know these are popular destinations, and we have many people asking us to return there. We can’t keep this secret any longer.”

Star Seeker will sail in Alaska from May through August on 7-, 10-, and 11-day cruises between Juneau, or Seward, Alaska and Vancouver, B.C. Pre- and post-cruise land tours to Denali will be available as well. After departing Alaska in late August, Star Seeker will sail to Japan to begin the line’s popular 10-day Grand Japan cruises sailing between Tokyo and Osaka. The ship remains in Japan through November.

Windstar plans to have Star Seeker’s new deployment details, including Alaska and Japan, online and bookable in early August 2024.

In Alaska, Windstar will employ expedition leaders on board to lead its Signature Expeditions as it did on previous Alaska deployments. To explore remote wilderness areas such as Misty Fjords, guests can book hiking, kayaking and skiff expeditions through the ship to enjoy up-close adventures in small groups led by an expert guide to provide context during the journey. Expedition leaders will also give presentations on board the ship bringing Alaska’s rich history, culture, flora and fauna to life.

“These immersive, small group expeditions are a key part of our Alaska program and bring our guests closer to the beauty of Alaska,” said Prelog. “Being on the water and seeing the topography from that viewpoint brings the grandeur of Alaska into perspective. It’s also quiet and meditative to be out in these wild places. You never know what wildlife you might see.”

In April Windstar announced the addition of two new ships – Star Seeker and Star Explorer – to its fleet of boutique yachts. Each will have 112 suites for a guest capacity of 224 and will be similar to the line’s current Star Class motor yachts. Star Seeker will be delivered to Windstar in December 2025 and Star Explorer in December 2026.

Celebrating Alaska

The teak promenade deck on Zaandam was never crowded.

Holland America Line recently celebrated a milestone anniversary of 150 years in service and 50 years of cruising to Alaska. Founded in the Netherlands and now headquartered in Seattle, the company operated transatlantic service between Rotterdam and New York long before their fleet of blue-hulled ships became a dominant presence in Alaska.

Our ship follows Grand Princess through Blackney Passage.

I too am celebrating an anniversary of sorts. My guidebook to Alaska was first launched 30 years ago and is currently in its 10th edition. To celebrate the book’s enduring success, I decided to take a somewhat nostalgic cruise to Alaska aboard the Zaandam. Entering service in May of 2000, this is a spacious, mid-sized ship carrying 1,400 passengers. Like all HAL ships, which are run by Dutch officers, the Zaandam boasts a wrap-around promenade deck, its teak surface perfect for walking and pausing at the rail to enjoy the sea views.

Zaandam docked in Skagway at the head of a beautiful fjord.

In keeping with my first cruise to Alaska, when verandah staterooms were just starting to be a standard feature on ships, my husband and I opted for an ocean view stateroom on the ship’s main deck. As much as I’ve become used to having a private verandah onto which I can step to view the scenery and breathe in the fresh air, there were advantages to enjoying the voyage from a window positioned closer to the water. We kept the curtains open and, without getting out of bed, could look outside at the sea and sky any time of day or night. In the evening the northern twilight would cast a pastel glow onto the clouds outside our window and the easy motion of the ship was accompanied by the soothing sound of water brushing against the hull.

A passenger gazes at Marjerie Glacier from one of Zaandam‘s viewing decks.

The familiar fjords and snow-clad mountains of the Inside Passage are always a welcome sight as the ship travels the narrow channels and open straits of the British Columbia and Alaska coasts. The ports of call have expanded their infrastructure over the years to accommodate the steady increase in number and size of ships docking at their doorsteps, but familiar landmarks remain the highlight amid the newer attractions.

In Juneau, the nearby Mendenhall Glacier draws visitors by the hundreds and the shuttle buses fill up quickly. We have hiked the trails near Mendenhall Glacier and landed by helicopter on the Juneau Icefield, so on our last visit we opted to simply go for a walk along the harbor’s bustling boardwalk, past kiosks, public art and the seadrome where floatplanes land and take off, taking passengers on flightseeing excursions to Taku Glacier Lodge.

Skagway is one of Alaska’s most scenic ports, situated at the head of a beautiful fjord. The train ride to White Pass is a must for first-time visitors to Skagway but we chose on this visit to set off on foot to the Yakutania Point trailhead and enjoy a forest hike with views overlooking the fjord’s turquoise water.

Cloudy skies greeted us in Glacier Bay as we motored to the head and lingered off the face of Marjerie Glacier. Its snout is slowly retreating but remains an impressive sight, its crystal blue ice rising several hundred feet above the water.

In Ketchikan, my sister and brother-in-law headed off to the popular Lumberjack Show while Bill and I strolled the town’s boardwalk streets, reminiscing about our previous visits to this lively port. We first pulled into Ketchikan in a sailboat in 1990, when the sight of a cruise ship in port was still a novelty. Today it’s not unusual for half a dozen large ships to be in port on any given day during the summer cruise season. Even so, the reasons for visiting Alaska by cruise ship remain as compelling as ever.

Sailing the Inside Passage

Fury Island anchorage is one of the most beautiful of Fitz Hugh Sound.

There are many scenic waterways in this world, but there is only one Inside Passage. Stretching northward from Puget Sound in Washington State to Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska, this vast and intricate coastline of winding channels, turquoise fjords and forested islands is a famous sea route travelled by vessels of all sizes. Cruise ships ply these waters, but the ultimate is to embark on a voyage of the Inside Passage in your own boat.

Of all the boating I’ve done along the Inside Passage, one of my favorite cruising areas is British Columbia’s central coast, just north of Cape Caution. This aptly named cape marks one of the few exposed legs of the Inside Passage. Here there is no avoiding Queen Charlotte Sound – an open stretch of water, best approached with ample preparation and a close eye on the weather.

Once past Cape Caution, boaters enter some of the best coastal cruising in the world: dozens of deserted islands, secluded anchorages, beautiful beaches and an abundance of wildlife, not to mention some of the best sport fishing anywhere.

Almost without exception, the first anchorage we pull into after rounding Cape Caution when northbound is Fury Island at the mouth of Rivers Inlet. This anchorage, part of Penrose Island Marine Park, is partially ringed with dazzling white beaches of crushed shell and sand. In sunny weather the setting is reminiscent of a South Seas atoll, especially at high water, when the water lapping ashore turns a brilliant turquoise as it shimmers over the crushed clamshells. The cove’s outer beaches can be visited by dinghy or kayak, and are a lovely place to have a picnic or a secluded swim.

Midden beaches ring the west side of Fury Island.

These stunning beaches are actually archeological sites – kitchen middens dating to pre-historic times when the Indigenous people living in villages along the shores of Rivers Inlet came to Fury Island each summer to harvest clams. The shells of these clams were tossed aside and the piles they formed were, over time, crushed and compressed into the shell beaches now enjoyed by boaters and kayakers. Visitors are welcome to laze on these beaches but not disturb them.

More beautiful beaches lie across Fitz Hugh Sound on the outer shores of Calvert Island. The main anchorage in this area is Pruth Bay, reached via Kwakshua Channel. Pacific white-sided dolphins frequently feed at the mouth of this bay and at its head is a former sportfishing lodge that has been transformed into a research facility for environmental science. Called Hakai Institute, it accommodates scientists and undergraduates who work here throughout the summer months. Boaters are asked to anchor well away from the institute’s docks, which are used by delivery vessels and seaplanes, but the rear fingers are kept free for dinghies to tie up. From here you can access the trails leading to the beaches on the other side of the island.

West Beach on Calvert Island is a quiet beach over half a mile long.

It’s an easy hike along a groomed trail to West Beach – a long crescent of soft sand with views of the surf pounding onto distant reefs. Smooth rock formations overlook parts of the beach, where ocean swells rumble onto shore and sandpipers skirt the edge of the surf as they flit across the wet sand. At the south end of the beach is Lookout Trail, which climbs to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean, then descends to a series of smaller, secluded beaches lying to the south. At the other end of West Beach is a signpost for the North Beach trailhead. This trail includes a sturdy boardwalk bridge straddling a wetland filled with native water lilies and leads to another beautiful sweep of ocean beach.

HAL opens 2025 Mexico and Pacific Coast cruises

The 2006 Noordam will be cruising to “bear country” in 2025.

Holland America Line opened its 2025-2026 Mexico and Pacific Coast seasons, including longer calls at unique ports like Mexico’s Loreto and Topolobampo, and a new seven-day Great Bear Rainforest itinerary — a rarely cruised route that reveals the beauty of British Columbia, Canada. Cruises run from August 2025 to May 2026 and range from one day up to a 29-day Collectors’ Voyage.

Holland America Line has long been known as a leader in cruising in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and a seven-day “Great Bear Rainforest” itinerary that hasn’t been offered in decades showcases a distinct take on cruising in this region. Departing Oct. 5, 2025, and April 19, 2026, aboard Noordam, travelers seeking a more intimate experience can become immersed in the culture, nature and rare wildlife of Ketchikan, Alaska, and Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and Victoria, British Columbia.

“This in-depth exploration of the PNW takes guests through the historic Inside Passage, sailing through some of the most confined waters our ships have ever sailed, said Paul Grigsby, vice president of deployment and revenue planning for Holland America Line. “This is the true Inside Passage, the storied route between Seattle and Alaska that ships have been sailing since as far back as the gold rush era. It is a first for our company to plan a sailing focused on this fjord-like waterway that maximizes a daylight transit to allow best opportunities for wildlife sightings,” added Grigsby.

The roundtrip from Seattle, Washington, “Great Bear Rainforest” itinerary calls at Ketchikan before heading south to thoroughly explore ports in British Columbia. The ship overnights in Prince Rupert before scenic cruising in Greenville Channel, past the first nation’s village of Bella Bella, Johnstone Strait and Seymour Narrows. While cruising, guests can view wildlife like whales, eagles and the rare Kermode bear — also known as the spirit bear. A maiden call at Nanaimo and visit to popular Victoria give guests the opportunity to deeply explore many different communities in British Columbia.

Ten additional itineraries along the Pacific Coast highlight the region’s stunning scenery and sail from San Diego, California, to Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Cruises call at popular ports like Astoria, Oregon; Santa Barbara, California; and Ensenada, Mexico; and select itineraries feature an overnight in San Francisco, California.

For those seeking some fun under the sun, Holland America Line’s Mexico season provides the perfect escape. Cruises are roundtrip from San Diego or between San Diego and Vancouver, taking travelers to Mexico’s iconic ports like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, while also granting access to even more of the Sea of Cortez with calls at Guaymas and Santa Rosalia, Mexico. Late-night calls on select itineraries allow guests to discover historic sites in Loreto and take in Topolobampo’s dramatic scenery.

“Our Mexico cruises are favorites among many guests due to the incredible weather and beautiful landscapes, with ports boasting on average 300 days of sunshine a year,” said Beth Bodensteiner, chief commercial officer for Holland America Line. “And there’s so much more to experience beyond the scenery. Guests can delve deep into the culinary delights of the region through shore excursions, while also enjoying local fresh fish like yellowfin tuna on board.”

HAL adds 55 ports to 2024 Asia cruise season

Holland America Line’s Westerdam will be visiting over 55 ports on various 2025 Asia itineraries.

Holland America Line’s Westerdam is heading to Asia, where it will explore 11 countries from September 2025 through April 2026. The itineraries have a strong focus on Japan with 24 different ports around the country, as well as visits to Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cruises in the Far East depart from Hong Kong, China; Yokohama (Tokyo), Japan; and Singapore to some of Asia’s most iconic cities — with up to 12 ports in a single cruise. Late departures and overnight stays allow extra time for guests to sample the nightlife, local cuisine and rich cultures of the region.

“For travelers looking to discover Asia, our 2025-2026 season provides an opportunity to explore the region in-depth via cruise,” said Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line. “We have diversified the number of ports to more than 50 across several itineraries. We want to ensure our guests have an authentic glimpse into the diverse cultures of each country, creating immersive moments and deeper connections to those destinations.”

Seabourn Fleet Now Equipped with Starlink

Seabourn Cruises, the highly rated luxury cruise brand, has updated their ships with Starlink for high-speed internet.

Seabourn has announced that its fleet of ultra-luxury ships has been equipped with next generation Wi-Fi connectivity with SpaceX’s Starlink, the leader in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology.

The upgraded technology provides Seabourn’s guests with faster service, greater connectivity and more reliable Wi-Fi wherever Starlink’s services are available.

“Following the positive feedback we received from our guests from the successful rollout of Starlink’s enhanced connectivity on our expedition ships, we are thrilled to share that both our ocean and expedition ships in our ultra-luxury fleet now feature Starlink. Our guests can now choose to connect or disconnect as they wish during their extraordinary journeys with Seabourn,” said Natalya Leahy, president of Seabourn.

Starlink is now available on Seabourn’s two new purpose-built ultra-luxury expedition ships, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit, as well as its ocean ships, Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation.

Seabourn’s fleet of ultra-luxury ships visits a perfect blend of iconic destinations and hidden gems, ensuring an indulgent and unforgettable voyage for luxury travelers. Guests can discover Antarctica, the Arctic, the South Pacific, the Kimberley region in Australia, and the legendary Northwest Passage aboard Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit. They may also explore marquee destinations and boutique ports in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Alaska and more on Seabourn’s ultra-luxury ocean ships.

Aboard Celebrity Solstice – Part 3

Celebrity Solstice accommodates over 2800 passengers.

In the week since my last blog we’ve stopped at three ports in French Polynesia as well as Auckland and Bay of Islands in New Zealand. The cruise has been good, although the ship has experienced several mild cases of Covid. Some passengers are wearing masks and coughing is often heard in the public areas. Guests are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and most are still enjoying their cruise.

The entertainment on the ship has been good. Our favourite act is a talented cover band called The Cardinals, which performs hits from the ’60s to early 2000s. As mentioned earlier, the food continues to stand out for Celebrity and the meals on this cruise, basically a transition voyage, have been better than expected. At the lido deck Oceanview Cafe there is a wide selection for breakfast and lunch.

One aspect of the ship I find needing attention is the public area’s background music which, for the crowd on this ship – mostly older couples – is a bit too frenetic, especially in the mornings. One fellow passenger suggested the music in the pool area should be much mellower for people relaxing or reading. But this is a small point for most cruisers I would guess. Alcohol drinks are expensive and when combined with the added gratuity add up to what you’d pay in a luxury hotel. A beer is about $7 USD and a bottle of basic red or white wine will be well over $40 USD. The wine steward at our table, Nelson, is very good however and knows his wines, offering excellent recommendations.

The cruise director has worked hard to engage passengers in various activities. Many of these are held in the grand foyer, where people can casually join in. Especially popular are the dancing classes, with couples brushing up on their ballroom dancing so they can take to the dance floor and enjoy the live band music in the evenings.

Venice Pulls the Plug on Cruise Ships

Large ships such as NCL’s Jade are no longer allowed inside Venice.

The fabled city of Venice, famous for its romantic canals and graceful gondolas, is facing several challenges. Situated on a cluster of islets within a lagoon in the Gulf Venice, the city that began as a medieval fishing village is slowly sinking. The islets upon which Venice is built consist of sand, silt and hard clay, which tend to compact over time. In winter, when high tides, heavy rain and strong winds all combine to bring exceptionally high water levels into the Venice Lagoon, the canals spill their banks and flood the pedestrian streets and plazas of Venice. Adding to these winter woes is the city’s summer inundation of tourists.

In recent decades, Venice has been struggling with over-tourism and, in an effort to cope with the situation, the city has introduced a fee-paying entry system for day-trippers (people who don’t stay overnight). In addition, new measures have been introduced to divert the majority of cruise ships away from the city centre to other terminals within the Venice Lagoon. Porto Marghera and Fusina Terminal are directly opposite Venice, while the small fishing port of Chioggia is located at the south end of the Venice Lagoon.

Before the ban, large cruise ships transited the Giudecca Canal.

Some cruise lines have chosen to bypass Venice and pull into other ports in the region, such as Trieste (located a two-hour train ride east of Venice on the Adriatic coast) or Porto Corsini near Ravenna (located a two-hour drive south of Venice).

Large and medium-sized ships no longer dock right in Venice (at the Marritima terminals) and instead dock on the mainland side of the Venice Lagoon, near the 4-km causeway that connects the mainland with Venice. However, many of the cruise lines still check in their passengers at a Marritima terminal and they are then taken by bus to their ship. Porto Marghera (part of the industrial port on the mainland) accommodates large ships. Fusina Terminal accommodates the small luxury ships. Train service connects Porto Marghera to Piazzale Roma at the western entrance to the Grand Canal. Passengers at Fusina Terminal are ferried across the lagoon to Venice. Small boutique ships (under 25,000 gross tons) and river vessels can still dock in Venice at the Marittima basin and at the San Basilio pier on the Giudecca Canal.

Venice can still be enjoyed from the water on a variety of water taxis and public water buses.

The thrill of arriving in Venice on a cruise ship, gliding past St. Mark’s Square and the entrance to the Grand Canal, is now a thing of the past. However, for those passengers planning a pre-cruise stay in Venice, a water taxi ride from the airport to your hotel will more than make up for it. This experience is described in a previous blog, posted September 29, 2016, called An Unforgettable Taxi Ride.