Cruise Sellers Hopeful Despite Another Big Alaska Capacity Jump In 2019

Cruise Week

Celebrity Solstice In Alaska.

Alaska has the biggest overall capacity increase of any destination for the North American market next summer: about 13% more than this year, based on various agent and company reports, coming on top of a hefty increase in 2018.

Among the roundtrip-Seattle additions, two big ships that have been in the China market this summer will be positioned in Alaska next summer -- RCI's 4,180-pax Ovation of the Seas and NCL's 3,850-passenger Norwegian Bliss.

Some on the retail side question if the growth can be met without resorting to some form of extensive discounting. On the other hand, based on 2018 results for Alaska, there's a fair degree of optimism, partially due to an increase in first-time cruise business.

Eric Maryanov, All-Travel, Los Angeles, points out that Alaska 2018 finished up very strong. He recently returned from an Alaska cruise aboard Celebrity Solstice, and his personal experience with booking and the cruise itself are somewhat telling.

"In all honesty, we were late in booking," says Maryanov. "We were searching in April, and this was about all we could find for August. The first weekend in August had been my goal, but it was sold out, so we literally got the last cabins on the sailing."

His was a family event, full of first-timers, and they weren't alone in that regard. He reports: "Every time I was in any large crowd attending an event or lecture, the person from the stage would ask, 'How many first-time cruisers are here?' In all cases, I would say close to 50% of the hands in the room went up as first-time cruisers."

He views the fact that there are so many new cruisers going to Alaska as a real positive. "Plus, [Celebrity] delivered a good product for first-timers," he notes.

One potential challenge several retailers Cruise Weekinterviewed see with the next round of Alaska growth is that the cruise lines could be constrained by resources on land. "Berth capacity on the cruise ships won't translate to capacity increases for everything else," notes Maryanov.

He is hopeful about certain aspects. For instance, in Skagway, says Maryanov, "One of the classic things to do there is the White Pass & Yukon train. Not only do they have it down to a science of being able to accommodate everyone, they even talked about how they will be adding more train cars next year. So they're expanding, which is positive."

Elsewhere, Maryanov is already seeing some choke points in cruise tour growth because of limited availability. "When you're doing a cruise tour with Denali, you run into space issues," he says. "Those cruise tours, at least in my experience, have pretty much sold out this year."

Indeed, a prime land attraction for Gulf of Alaska cruises is the lodges, which aren't increasing in capacity next year. Meanwhile, on the ocean side, Princess is making changes, one being essentially replacing the 2,600-pax Golden Princess, sailing in Alaska this summer, with the 3,560-pax Royal Princess in the Gulf of Alaska next year.

So to sum up, cruise ship capacity is up in Alaska next year, but not always matched with a corresponding increase in land tourism products. In the glass half full column, a flat supply of land accommodations with greater demand brought on by expanding cruise capacity and increased first-timers should make for strong pricing with cruise-tours. Advisors should urge interested clients to book early.

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