Alaska’s cruise season starts in May and this year promises to be the busiest the region has experienced. More cruise lines are heading there and the major players – Princess and Holland America Line – are sending a record number of ships.
CLIA Alaska estimates 1,165,500 passengers will cruise the Last Frontier in 2018, up from just over a million last year. CLIA Australasia says it’s an increasingly popular destination for Australian cruisers and numbers increased by 25 per cent in 2016.
If that conjures up images of cruise-ship traffic jams in the scenic Inside Passage, it’s worth remembering that more than a million passengers cruised Alaska in 2008. Although ports become crowded when several ships arrive at once – Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway are the most visited – there are dozens of exciting excursions on offer that get you away from the towns. And the increasing choice of cruise lines operating in Alaska means there are more itineraries calling at different ports.
Princess will have seven ships sailing in Alaska in 2018, offering 130 departures – and that doesn’t include its 22 cruise-tour options that combine cruises with stays in wilderness lodges. Holland America Line, which has been operating in Alaska for 70 years, has seven ships there this year (nearly half its fleet); Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam have capacity for 2100 passengers each. Like Princess, HAL offers cruise-tour combos in Denali National Park and the Yukon that include thrilling train trips.
Celebrity is also beefing up its presence in Alaska, deploying three ships there; sister line Royal Caribbean also cruises Alaska. Other mainstream lines include Disney and Carnival, with one and two ships respectively. Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, the 4000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, will be by far the biggest in the region when it starts sailing in June, joining Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Jewel.
At the smaller end of the scale, Windstar’s Star Legend kicks off the line’s Signature Expeditions in Alaska in May; Silversea is operating 36 cruises on Silver Shadow, Silver Explorer and Silver Muse; Seabourn Sojourn offers 14 cruises ranging from 11 to 21 days; Oceania Regatta and Crystal Symphony also offer 14 cruises; three Ponant ships will sail seven Alaska itineraries; four Lindblad ships will sail six- to 15-day itineraries; and Un-Cruise Adventures will have seven ships exploring off the beaten track.
Last but not least, Regent Seven Seas Mariner, fresh from an expensive makeover, will be in Alaska for the season – and I’ll be one of the first passengers to check out its glamorous new look. Watch this space.
There’s movement at the Carnival Australia station. Pacific Eden ships out of the P&O Cruises’ fleet in April 2019. Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess joins P&O in 2020. And Princess’ newest ship, Majestic Princess, arrives in Australia for a five-month season in September this year, becoming the line’s biggest ship to sail in local waters. Pacific Eden moved from Holland America Line (another Carnival Australia brand) to P&O at the end of 2015 and has been bought by Cruise Maritime Voyages (CMV). The ship’s new name will be Vasco da Gama and, after a spell in dry dock, during which the kids’ clubs will be replaced by a library and card room, it will sail from Germany from May to October, and from Fremantle and Adelaide from December 2019 to March 2020. See cmvaustralia.com
Multimedia musical adventure
Following the success of the highly acclaimed Frozen Planet in Concert, produced in partnership with BBC Earth, Holland America Line is launching Planet Earth II in Concert on most of its ships this month. Combining music played by a live orchestra that synchronises perfectly with a backdrop of breathtaking footage from the new, award-winning BBC Earth television series Planet Earth II, the exclusive show immerses guests in the most spectacular landscapes and wildlife habitats on Earth. Additional 45 to 60-minute Inside Earth films go behind the scenes and explore how BBC Earth’s incredible footage is captured, in destinations that range from Namibian deserts to the jungles of Madagascar. HAL’s Alaska-bound ships will screen Alaska in Concert, focusing on Alaskan wildlife, during the 2018 season. See hollandamerica.com.au
WHO GOES THERE
Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Crystal, Disney, Hapag Lloyd, HAL, MSC, NCL, Oceania, P&O UK, Ponant, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Sea Cloud, Seadream Yacht Club, Silversea, Star Clippers, Viking, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome, a busy terminal about an hour by road or 60 to 80 minutes by train from the Eternal City. If you’ve visited Rome before or don’t want to squash it in during a one-day stopover, it’s well worth spending your time exploring Civitavecchia (“ancient town”). It was an Etruscan settlement before the Romans took over, has been Rome’s seaport since about 100AD and its historic monuments include the 16th century Fort Michelangelo that towers over the old port. It’s an attractive, unpretentious seaside town that offers a slice of not so touristy Italian life.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE?
Free shuttle buses run from the docking piers to the information centre at Largo della Pace (also known as Porta di Città), which is about a kilometre from the railway station and a short walk from Piazza Leandra and the medieval town centre. About four kilometres north of the city you can bathe in thermal springs at La Ficoncella; the easiest way to get there is by taxi. It’s worth taking a tour to Tarquinia, a walled city famed for its Etruscan tombs and frescoes, about 19 kilometres from Civitavecchia.
The National Archeological Museum, housed in an 18th-century building, features three floors of Roman artefacts; San Lorenzo Market; Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Freshly caught seafood is the basis of most menus in Civitavecchia but cucina romana (Roman cuisine) is also popular. There are dozens of reasonably priced restaurants, bars and pizzerias along the main street Viale Garibaldi as well as in the old Ghetto and Piazza Leandra.
NEED TO KNOW
If you are using public transport, make sure you validate bus and train tickets at the machines on buses or train platforms – inspectors will fine you if you forget.