FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Alaskan Cruises

Dec 19, 2014
2015 / January 2015

While the Caribbean and the Mediterranean top the list of the world’s most popular cruise destinations, Alaska reigns supreme in the North. With larger-than-life geologic and zoological attractions — from colossal glaciers to prodigious pods of whales — Alaska lures nearly a million cruise passengers each summer, primarily from the ports of Seattle and Vancouver. Its location shortens the cruise season to a matter of weeks, from May to September at best, but the days, stretched out by the midnight sun, are bright and long, and the reasons to visit Alaska by sea are plentiful.

So are the options. Large ships serve as floating luxury hotels while small ships offer the feel of private yachts. Major cruise lines call on Alaska’s legendary ports, and boutique cruise operators visit remote villages. Perhaps the most important decision facing passengers is whether to sail big or sail small.

Two giants — Princess Cruises and Holland America Line — serve the Alaskan cruise industry. Sailing their fleets (with a combined quarter of a million passengers) out of Seattle and Vancouver, both lines deliver a fine full-cruise experience. Princess, the single largest cruise operator in Alaskan waters, leads the way with its 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess, upgraded in 2012. The Sapphire Princess comes with all the big-ship amenities, from an adults-only sun deck and poolside jumbotron to a sports bar, casino and pizzeria. An onboard naturalist and guest lecturers furnish an insider’s view of Alaskan sights and culture, and other regional touches include Alaskan beers at the bar and an Alaskan buffet with fresh-grilled salmon and crab served during a stop in Glacier Bay National Park.

Princess Cruises runs weekly seven-day Inside Passage voyages throughout the 2015 season on convenient roundtrips from Seattle that include Glacier Bay as well as ports of call in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan in Alaska and Victoria in British Columbia. The line’s 2,624-passenger Golden Princess covers the same ground in a 10-day cruise to and from San Francisco, with six departures from May 12 to Sept. 9.

Holland America Line, with ships slightly more elegant than those of Princess, its chief rival, also uses Seattle as its home base for Alaskan cruises. The 1,916-passenger ms Westerdam’s seven-day roundtrip from Seattle calls on Glacier Bay, Ketchikan and Victoria, too, but extends its itinerary to the Russian-influenced port of Sitka. Still, it is Glacier Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve, that epitomizes what passengers on a big-ship coastal cruise come to Alaska to see: a spectacular cathedral of primeval ice. When we first saw this colossal remnant of the Ice Age for ourselves from the ship’s deck, we knew why we’d sailed to Alaska. Nowhere else in the world will you find this many massive tidewater glaciers continuously calving into the sea.

Not all big ships stop at Glacier Bay, and indeed there are some superb alternatives. Holland America’s 1,380-passenger ms Amsterdam, for example, covers Puget Sound, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Victoria during its seven-day Seattle roundtrip to Alaska but makes its signature glacier stop at Tracy Arm, an alternative show of ice featuring spectacular twin glaciers at the end of a 30-mile, iceberg-infested fjord.

Many passengers widen their Alaska cruise experience by booking a land tour that extends or is integrated with a cruise. Both Holland America and Princess own tour bus lines and hotels across Alaska dedicated to this end. In fact, Holland America Line Westours is Alaska’s largest private employer. Cruise passengers can select land tours that include domed railway cars to Denali National Park, bus trips along the Iditarod Trail and excursions through Canada’s Yukon Territory. Our cruisetour with Holland America was particularly memorable, affording us our first view of America’s tallest peak, Mt. McKinley, an overnight in Anchorage and a river trip down the Yukon.

Holland America and Princess are not the only big cruise lines visiting Alaska’s shores and picturesque ports. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Disney (a popular choice for families) and Celebrity also operate larger-sized vessels here. So do some small-ship premium cruise lines, including Oceania and Silversea, which deliver far more luxurious cruising than Holland America and Princess. Itineraries, however, are quite similar. The 388-passenger, all-suite Silver Shadow, for example, sails a seven-day Inside Passage cruise on alternating Vancouver-to-Seward and Seward-to-Vancouver routes all season with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and the Hubbard Glacier.

Finally, there’s the option of exploring Alaskan waters on truly small ships carrying fewer than a hundred passengers. Such cruises focus more on nature and culture than on epic scenery and shopping ports. The small luxury vessels can penetrate inlets and visit villages where bigger ships fear to tie up. Life aboard is different, too, devoid of most resort-style amenities, elaborate dining options and entertainment, gaming and shopping venues.

One such expedition operator, Un-Cruise Adventures, makes precious few port calls at all but offers heaps of outdoor activities. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boats and inflatable skiffs are always at hand. The Un-Cruise fleet in Alaska consists of six vessels carrying from 22 to 84 guests. The hallmark of most of the seven- to 21-day itineraries is an extended two-day stay in the waters of Glacier Bay, where passengers, accompanied by a park ranger and naturalist guide, sail close to immense walls of ice, paddle kayaks among icebergs and hike the shoreline (hiking poles provided). Typical port calls are at Wrangell (location of the Chief Shakes Tribal House) or Kasaan (site of a native Haida village). Un-Cruise passengers can add a five-day land package to Denali National Park for hiking and to Fairbanks and Anchorage for gold-panning and fly-fishing.

Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic cruises, by contrast, focus on the wildlife and culture of the Alaskan coast, with an emphasis on educational enrichment. Lindblad’s two 62-passenger vessels, the National Geographic Sea Bird and Sea Lion, carry five naturalists, including an undersea expert; a wellness specialist (for yoga and spa treatments); and a National Geographic-certified photo instructor. The 15-day Seattle-to- Sitka cruises set for early May and early September include visits not only to Glacier Bay but also to Misty Fjords; Petersburg (“Alaska’s Little Norway”); Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier; and Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, where ancient tribal totems are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Every cruise gives a different spin to the Alaskan experience. After sailing the Alaskan coast on a variety of cruise lines, what’s our advice? See Alaska’s highlights on a big ship first, then follow up with a smaller cruise to discover what you’ve missed. Big ship or small, each delivers its own slice of Alaska, with the bigger vessels mining a mother lode of attractions and the smaller cruises prospecting for nuggets of gold.

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

#globility

Insta Feed
Daily
Sep 22, 2021

La Concha Hotel Puerto Rico Review

Arriving early afternoon in Puerto Rico, we jumped in an Uber and took a short, 15-minute drive from the airport to La Concha.  As it was Tuesday, the streets were not too busy and the hotel lobby was calm. During the weekend, the scene likely would have been more bustling. We were greeted by a staff member who requested proof of vaccination and government-issued ID, and were given a wristband to indicate we were fully vaccinated. All guests are required to be vaccinated and wear masks at all times while moving around the hotel. Hand sanitizer stations were placed around the lobby, in elevators and in each common area.

The Future of Hamad International Airport

Without a doubt, the pandemic changed the role of airports in the travel industry. Hamad International Airport’s role evolved in many ways since the pandemic hit. Now, more than ever, airports are responsible for creating a secure passenger experience. As the gateway to Qatar and the world, the safety and wellbeing of staff and passengers has always been at the core of Hamad International Airport’s strategy.

September 2021
Sep 21, 2021

Retreat into Luxurious Stillness at The Rittenhouse Spa & Club

The Rittenhouse has long stood out as one of Philadelphia’s finest hotels, centrally located in one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods. Needless to say, I knew I was in for an afternoon of luxurious pampering when I hopped in my car and headed down I-95 from my suburban home to the heart of the City of Brotherly Love. As I drove through the seemingly endless roadwork on the highway, I realized just how long it had been since I’d driven this once-familiar route into the city as a result of the pandemic. Of course I was eager for the relaxation and bliss that was in my future, but it was also a welcome feeling to head back into Philadelphia for a moment of normalcy.

Daily
Sep 21, 2021

7 Reasons to Put Nice, France, on Your Travel List

It’s time to start dreaming of your next trip. Here’s some destination inspiration for you. Take a visual journey through Nice, France, with us.

Greece: Destination Luxury

Since its prestige for attracting the world elite grew in the 1960s, Greece remains the go-to destination for glittering holidays. Each step of the journey is enrobed in luxury, from culinary traditions with the highest standard of execution and name-brand, high-end shopping to first-rate wellness locales and elite accommodations, like 5-star hotels, private villas and yachts.

Daily
Sep 21, 2021

Fall and Winter Offerings in New Orleans

New Orleans draws visitors with exciting events this fall and winter.

Daily
Sep 16, 2021

Rosewood San Francisco to Open in 2026

Set to open in 2026, Rosewood San Francisco will be the last skyscraper developed in the downtown region for the foreseeable future. The projected 800-foot-tall property will host a hotel, residences, office and rental spaces. The brand’s third property in California will join Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, and Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito.

Experiencing GBTA Convention 2021
Safely and Responsibly

GBTA’s Convention 2021 will bring the business travel industry together for the first time in a long time. Once again, you’ll learn and connect with experts and each other, along with discussions with leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and change makers addressing the issues that matter most.

September 2021
Sep 15, 2021

Slow Down and Unwind in Easy-Going Phuket

It’s not even 9a.m. in the sleepy fishing village of Rawai on Thailand’s famous Phuket Island, but already the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea swarm with local fishermen casting their lines and releasing their nets from the bows of rustic long-tail boats. The scents of lemongrass, incense and sweet pandan leaves season the air as the villagers slowly rise from their beachside bungalows to start their day. In just a few more hours, the fishermen will return with their catches, filling the stalls of the iconic Rawai Seafood Market with buckets of shellfish and displays of fresh filets. Visitors line up each afternoon for the catch of the day, selecting their fish with care before hauling their purchases across the well-worn road to the restaurants opposite the market to have the fish cooked for 100 Thai baht per kilo.