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5 THE MAIN RIVER CRUISE LINES

Fran Golden FrommerMedia ePub

5

THE MAIN RIVER CRUISE LINES

Seven dominant players got into the river cruise game early on in Europe and together carry the bulk of North American river cruise passengers along Europe’s inland waterways and beyond.

Some of these lines, such as Grand Circle, Viking and Uniworld, have been doing this since the 1980s and 1990s, while the remainder entered the market in the early 2000s, when river cruising started to boom. These cruise lines represent some of the most extensive and comprehensive river cruise fleets in the business. They are in this chapter because they’ve either built a shocking number of new ships in the last few years (Viking, we’re looking at you), because they are very popular despite not having built many new ships recently (Grand Circle comes to mind), or because they have been consistently expanding their fleets, introducing innovative new concepts on and off-board, and have established large and loyal followings among an increasingly avid river cruising public.

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2 WHY TAKE A RIVER CRUISE?

Fran Golden FrommerMedia ePub

2

Why Take a River Cruise?

These days, a lot more people have become familiar with the concept of river cruising, and that’s thanks in large part to Viking River Cruises having plastered our TV screens, and filled our mailboxes, with promos portraying a river cruise ship floating past picturesque European cities. But river cruising hasn’t always been on travelers’ radar. Compared to other vacation forms—ocean cruises, resort vacations, tours—river cruising (in its current form, as there was plenty rollin’ down the river happening in the 1800s) has only more recently become a popular travel style, having only really started to take off, especially with the American market, in the early 2000s.

There are currently some half million Americans who hop the pond each year to take a river cruise in Europe, more than double the number who were river cruising in 2007 and more than seven times the number of North American river cruisers who sailed through Europe in 2001. And that number continues to grow. Consequently, more players and ships enter the river cruise game each year in an effort to capitalize on the novelty and buzz surrounding the river cruising industry. In other words, river cruising is having a moment.

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Medium 9781628870961

6 The Cruise Lines: The Small Ships

Fran Golden FrommerMedia ePub

6

The Cruise Lines: The Small Ships

Big ships show you Alaska from a vibrant, resortlike atmosphere; small ships let you see it from the waterline, with no distraction from anything un-Alaskan—no glitzy interiors, no big shows or loud music, no casinos, no crowds. The largest of these ships (the American Spirit—more on that later) carries only 100 passengers. On the small ships, you’re immersed in the 49th State from the minute you wake up to the minute you fall asleep, and for the most part, you’re left alone to form your own opinions, although there invariably will be a naturalist, a historian, or some such expert along to provide a running commentary en route.

The vessels listed in this chapter allow you to visit more isolated parts of the coast. Thanks to their smaller size and shallow draft (the amount of hull below the waterline), they can go places larger ships can’t, and they have the flexibility to change their itineraries as opportunities arise—say, to go where whales have been sighted or to watch black bears on the shore. (Keep in mind, though, that ships are prohibited from “stalking” wildlife for too long: They must keep their distance and break off after a relatively short while.) Depending on the itinerary, small-ship ports of call might include popular stops such as Juneau, Sitka, or Ketchikan; lesser-visited areas such as Elfin Cove or Warm Springs Harbor; or a Tlingit Native village such as Kake. The one thing you can be confident of is that all itineraries will include glacier viewing and whale-watching. Most of the itineraries also have time built in for passengers to explore the wilder parts of Alaska and for ferrying passengers ashore for hikes in wilderness areas. In some cases, the ships also carry sea kayaks and Zodiac inflatable boats for passenger use—allowing a type of exploration not available on big ships in Alaska.

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9 THE CRUISE LINES: THE NICHE SHIPS

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

9

The Cruise Lines: The NICHE ships

These are the least like what you might think a cruise would be like. Each has its own personality, from the Alaska Marine Highway System which is a bare-bones ferry service that happens to have cabins you can sleep in (on some ships), all the way to Lindblad Expeditions, which focuses on its educational program more than any other line, and Un-Cruise Adventures, whose ships feel like oversized yachts. The niches can differ greatly—and that’s their charm.

Alaska Marine Highway System

www.ferryalaska.com.  800/642-0066 or 907/465-3941.

In Alaska, which has fewer paved roads than virtually any other state, getting around can be a problem. In fact, some cities—like Juneau, the state capital—are not even connected to the rest of the state by roads. There are local airlines, of course, and small private planes—lots and lots of small private planes. (There are more private planes per capita in Alaska than in any other state.) But given the weather conditions for large parts of the year, airplanes are not always the most reliable way of getting from Point A to Point B.

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9 Cruisetour Destinations

Fran Golden FrommerMedia ePub

9

Cruisetour Destinations

No matter how powerful your binoculars, you can’t see all of Alaska from a ship, and that’s why the cruise lines invented the cruisetour (or what Holland America Line now calls Land + Sea Journeys): vacations that include a week on a ship and several days touring on land. In this chapter, we give you information on the most popular cruisetour destinations. See “Cruisetours: The Best of Land & Sea,” in chapter 2, for a discussion of the various cruisetour packages offered.

Denali National Park & Preserve

This is one of Alaska’s most visited—environmentalists say overvisited—national park areas, with roughly 531,000 people a year coming to soak up the park’s scenic splendor. It used to be difficult to stay overnight anywhere in or near the park, but it’s become easier in recent years with the opening of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and the Princess McKinley Lodge—both with spectacular views of the Alaska Range and Mount McKinley (just be warned that both lodges are more than an hour’s drive from the park’s entrance). Other properties around the park include the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, The Grand Denali, Denali Bluffs and the Denali Park Village (formerly known as the McKinley Village Lodge), and the area now is home to more than 2,000 hotel rooms. There also are rooms in nearby Healy. There are, however, times when demand for rooms in the area outstrips supply, so book early.

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