Twenty years ago, an Alaska cruise was considered a vacation for the over-50 set, old folks looking to see the northern frontier of the United States in comfort.
But with more newer, larger ships sailing those frigid waters, cruise lines are searching for younger couples to fill their staterooms -- and they are altering onboard activities and shore excursions to attract families and young adventurers.
Onboard enticements include expanded spas and new programs for kids. Onshore, the lines have created active excursions that go beyond the usual city tour or bus tour to a glacier, adding kayaking, snorkeling in glacial waters, helicopter-assisted hiking and rafting.
Today's Alaska cruise experience depends on the type of cruise ship you select. A large ship has glitz, action and comfort, and hundreds or thousands of passengers.
A smaller vessel has less cabin and public space, and fewer shipboard amenities and passengers, but it offers a closer view of scenery and wildlife.
For large ships there are two popular itineraries. The Inside Passage is most often a seven-day round-trip voyage from Vancouver, Canada, or Seattle, calling in Alaska at Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway and cruising through more sheltered seas.
The Gulf of Alaska itinerary usually is between Vancouver and Seward, Alaska, and reverse. A longer cruise out of San Francisco adds calls at Sitka, Alaska, and Victoria, Canada, and sails into College Fjord with its 16 glaciers.
You may find discounts on brochure rates. "With the uncertainty in today's world situation, travelers are reluctant to book far in advance, and the cruise lines are offering enticements for booking early," says Julie Benson, spokeswoman for Princess Cruises.
Prices quoted below are brochure cruise-only rates, per person, double occupancy. This year, 16 cruise lines will offer itineraries in Alaska. The following large-ship lines will be there:
Carnival Cruise Lines will send the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit on seven-day Glacier Route cruises between Vancouver and Seward, as well as on seven-day Inside Passage cruises round trip from Vancouver, for $217 to $524 per day. New shore excursions include heli-hikes, riding the White Pass Railway in Skagway, a snowshoe trek, helicopter sightseeing and a glacier walkabout in Juneau, along with biking and alpine lake snorkeling. For information: (800) CARNIVAL (227-6482), www.carnival.com.
Celebrity Cruises' 1,950-passenger Summit will sail seven-night itineraries between Vancouver and Seward for $274 to $1,750 per day. Land excursions include two nights at Denali National Park or a three-night package that includes a trip through Denali to the Kantishna Roadhouse on Moose Creek. Other packages go to Homer, Alaska, and Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, home of Kenai Fjords National Park.
The 1,850-passenger Infinity and the 1,870-passenger Mercury will make seven-night Inside Passage cruises round trip from Vancouver for $343 to $2,057 per day.
Both ships will offer land tours by bus and rail to the Columbia Glacier in Alaska and, in Canada, Banff and Yoho national parks, Lake Louise, Jasper and Calgary. For information: (800) 437-3111, www.celebritycruises.com.
Crystal Cruises will use San Francisco as the base for Alaska sailings on the 940-passenger Crystal Harmony with round-trip 12-day voyages combining Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska routes. Rates are $411 to $1,762 per day. Children 12 and younger sail free when sharing a stateroom with parents.
An enhanced Alaska junior activities program will keep youngsters occupied, entertained and informed. Adults will find enrichment activities, such as wine and food festivals (June 14 and Aug. 25), classical music (July 8) and opera (July 20). For information: (800) 820-6663, www.crystalcruises.com.
Holland America will have seven ships in Alaska and an array of land options. The 1,380-passenger Amsterdam will make seven-day round-trip Alaska cruises from Seattle. The Maasdam (with 1,266 passengers), Volendam (1,440 passengers) and Zaandam (1,440 passengers) will do seven-day round-trip Glacier Bay/Inside Passage sailings from Vancouver. The Ryndam, Veendam and Statendam (each with 1,266 passengers) will make Glacier Bay cruises from Vancouver to Seward. Daily rates: $268 to $1,071.
Among the land tours: the Yukon; a rail trip through Denali to Fairbanks, Alaska; the Kenai Peninsula; glacier cruising on a small boat; or flights to Nome and Kotzebue, Alaska. For information: (800) 426-0327, www.hollandamerica.com.
Norwegian Cruise Line will have two ships visiting different glaciers: The 1,748-passenger Norwegian Wind will sail seven-day round trips from Vancouver, and the Norwegian Sky (with 2,002 passengers) will sail round trip from Vancouver. On some sailings the ships will cruise Glacier Bay; on others, Sawyer Glacier. Daily rates: $173 to $740.