Making A Splash In Alaska Smaller ships are changing the game
by Vanessa Lee
Windstar, Star Legend
There has been a real surge of cruise lines announcing increased sailings to Alaska so I thought about the lure of the Great Land and why some brands are going back.
Some brands, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, are actually building ships that are designated for Alaska cruising.
One of the obvious reasons is to combat many people’s reluctance to cruise the Med and Europe regarding the turmoil in that region. Our American friends in particular are somewhat concerned about heading overseas, and therefore the cruise lines are betting on more Caribbean and Alaska itineraries this year and in 2018.
I have said, for over a year now, that Alaska would have a great year in 2017 mostly due to this factor. But it does makes sense for some brands to test those waters once again and for years to come.
Both Windstar and Seabourn have added ships to their fleets and, with that, there’s an opportunity to offer something different to their loyal clientele. Windstar with its 6 yachts, 3 sail and 3 motor vessels, is actively pursuing interesting new itineraries for their guests. And rightly so. If you are loyal to a brand then it makes sense that you would want to venture into “uncharted” territories with that company.
Seabourn just launched the stunning Seabourn Encore (love that name!) and soon the Seabourn Ovation will arrive. Ergo an opportunity to send their ships far and wide and a return to Alaskan waters is logical.
So the question is, will their guests, who are used to warm weather cruising and the sun itineraries these ships tend to offer around the globe, enjoy the change of pace that an Alaskan cruise can bring? And how do these two small ship brands, one upscale and one luxury, refine their onboard and shorex experiences to ensure their guests love these new sailings?
Alaska can be over-populated with large cruise ships and some of the ports, in my opinion, can be very touristy. How far off-the-beaten-path can these discerning, small-ship lovers (therefore smaller port lovers too) be taken and what experiences can they be offered to satisfy these mostly active and baby boomer types?
Well read on and let’s discover the answers!
Here’s the scoop on Windstar which now, under the direction of the terrific John Delaney, is really morphing into the brand it has wanted to be for a number of years. This is Windstar’s time and as a brand I have personally sold since 1992, I can attest that it is truly at the top of its game and ready for the really big leagues.
Windstar is slowing down the Alaska experience, and as of 2018 will offer, longer voyages of 11 to 14 days on the motor yacht, Star Legend (212 guests in all-suites) so ensuring ample time for the scenic cruising that, to me, is a signature of Alaska. Getting “up close and personal” with glaciers and wildlife is what an Alaskan experience should be and not slightly over-crowded ports that sell diamonds and too much salmon. Small ships can really get to places that the big ones can’t. On Windstar your guests will sail through Misty Fjords National Park, Kenai Fjords and Tracy Arm too – which is unusual.
Naturally, Windstar will have park rangers, glaciologists, geologists and other experts on board to educate the guests and offer insight into this remarkably beautiful land. And yes there will be kayak excursions and other bucket list moments to immerse and enjoy, including line zip-lining, flight-seeing and more. On these itineraries, there will be ports offered that many of us may not know which is an important factor in selling a different Alaska on Windstar.
Now to Seabourn, another of my most favourite brands and a company that is returning to Alaska after a 15-year absence. This year sailings start June 1st. The 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn that will ply these shores on a series of 11-, 12- and 14-day itineraries sailing from beautiful British Columbia and Vancouver as well as Seward for Anchorage. They too will look for the hidden gems of the Inside Passage, something akin to Windstar in the small ship realm. As Seabourn says “..guests will enjoy a privileged view of The Last Frontier that larger ships cannot access”. So true.
Part of the Seabourn difference, with their all-inclusive product and superb service ethic, is their successful Ventures by Seabourn ™ programme. The program offers hiking, kayaking and Zodiac excursions as well as workshops and lectures regarding wildlife, nature, photography, the sea life and more. Definitely an immersive experience into this vast and somewhat untamed land. And again there will be ports and shore excursions offered on these sailings that are definitely a change from the norm; Rudyerd Bay – Misty Fjords by seaplane and Burro Creek Lodge Waterfall Retreat in Haines as two examples.
Next time, I will explore more about the custom-built Norwegian Bliss coming in 2018 as well as other larger, contemporary and premium brands that are offering a new take on Alaska as this resurgence continues.