Don't expect Alaskan cruise prices to drop

12/27/2009 12:00 AM

12/28/2009 6:11 AM

A cruel blow was struck several weeks ago when the two pioneers in mass-volume Alaskan cruising — Holland America and Princess Cruises — announced that they were withdrawing another two ships from the once-popular summertime (May through Septem-ber) season for exploring a dramatic maritime wilderness — the ocean shores of Alaska.

No fewer than six cruise lines have now dramatically decreased the number of ships they will be sending to Alaska, partly in retaliation for a $50-a-head tax that the Alaska legislature imposed on passengers making the trip. It is now expected that in the 2010 season for Alaskan sailing, which starts just five months from now, there will be at least 100,000 fewer berths made available for Alaska cruises.

The result has got to be a strengthening of cruise prices there and a decline in the number and depth of discounts offered. If you have been considering an Alaska cruise for your forthcoming summer vacation, it might be wise to make your bookings now instead of waiting for a lowering of prices later on; rates, in my opinion, won't be lowered this year.

A recent caller to my Sunday radio program asked whether it was smart to pay an additional $400 for a balcony cabin on the ship he was considering for a cruise of Alaskan waters in June. I responded that this was an unnecessary extra expenditure. I pointed out that on a cruise of Alaska, almost all passengers spend most of their daytime hours on deck, enjoying the full, expansive panoramas of the Alaskan coast, which are far more accessible from an open deck than from your cabin's balcony. Then, too, on most Alaskan cruises, rangers of the U.S. National Parks Service often come on board to deliver a lectured commentary (via loudspeaker) on the natural sights and phenomena — especially of glaciers "calving" (falling) into the seas. Those lectures, in my experience, are far better heard outdoors on deck than from the balcony of your cabin.

The experience of Alaska from the top open decks of your cruise ship is so compelling that on one or two days of the cruise, Holland America actually sets up outdoor stoves upon those decks and serves a picnic-style lunch of barbecued Alaskan salmon to the passengers, who spend the entire day upon that deck, enjoying the awesome views of Alaskan coastal life: the bears coming to the shore to snatch fish, the whales swimming close to shore and periodically erupting through the surface of the sea, the eagles flying overhead.

Alaska is an important travel experience. If you go to the Web sites of the various cruise discounters (like www.vacationstogo.com), you will find summer 2010 cruises of Alaska priced at $799 and $899 per person for inside cabins on one- week sailings from Seattle, Vancouver and Anchorage, Alaska (not including airfare to those cities). I very much doubt the prices will go lower than that, and urge you to make your bookings now.

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