Last week, we reported the great debate between the two iconic lines offering Alaska cruises: Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. We covered their fleets, cruise itineraries and on board offerings.
This week, we look into what they offer on shore: land tour itineraries, rail experiences, shore excursions and their lodges.
The comparison is inspired by a video series titled ‘The Great Alaska Debate’ where the two cruise line presidents Orlando Ashford of Holland America Line and Jan Swartz of Princess Cruises have come up against each other for a presidential-style debate of who is the best line in Alaska for 2020.
The series was produced for travel agents but cruisers can also learn a thing or two on how Holland America Line and Princess Cruises set themselves apart from each other as well as other lines in Alaska.
We went through what the two lines are offering in their 2020 Alaska season and found that perhaps the real debate here should be ‘Who is the best for you?’.
Here is how they match up on their land offerings.
Alaska is all about exploring the destination and each line has partnered with different experts to create unique shore experiences for their guests. Shore excursions are such a big part of the Alaska experience that majority of HAL cruisers book one shore excursion for every port, says Tony Archbold, Director of sales at HAL. And at Princess, they have special child pricing of up to 50 per cent off available for children age 12 and younger.
Find out what each line offers below.
Holland America Line
The line has partnered with Food & Wine magazine to create culinary tours in Alaska. In Ketchikan, catch wild pacific salmon on an open-air skiff and bring it back to a shoreside wilderness camp where the chef will create a custom feast with your catch.
Also in Ketchikan, guests can also get on a coastal cruise that brings them to an oyster farm, or go on a ‘flightseeing’ tour of the George Inlet and conclude with a Dungeness crab feast.
They also offer everything from riding a White Pass and Yukon train to an alpine snowshoe hike or board a tour boat to see wildlife with an onboard naturalist.
If you’re on board the Maasdam, there are also exclusive zodiac excursions led by resident experts to explore remote sites and wildlife habitats in select ports.
The line also says that their shore excursions are designed for you to maximize the day in port. In Juneau, guest can ride a dog sled on top of the glacier in the day and head on to spend the evening whale watching.
Browse the line’s shore excursions by port here.
The line has partnered with three experts to create their excursions: Discovery, Animal planet and Bon Appetit. In Anchorage, Discovery recommended excursions include cruising the Prince William Sound or take a scenic train ride along the shoreline of Turnagain Arm to Spencer Lake before boarding a float to view icebergs and go down the Placer River. Another Discovery highlight is a visit to the Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan to see the totem park as well as enjoy native dance performances. In Juneau, there is an exclusive underground mine exploration and gold panning experience at the Gastineau Mill, as seen on the Discovery Channel.
Guests can join Animal Planet recommended excursions like the Black Bear Tour in Ketchikan, visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre on a Portage Glacier Cruise Tour, whale watching and dog sledding.
Meanwhile, Bon Appetit recommends the Juneau Foodie Walking Tour where guests head to downtown Juneau to sample dishes like king crab bisque, Alaska game, wild, Alaska seafood, hog wings, confections, along with beer and wine.
Browse the line’s shore excursions by port here.
One of the main ways to see Alaska is via the glass wrapped dome window railcars that offer 360-degree views of the scenery. HAL has the McKinley Explorer and Princess Cruises has Direct-to-the-Wilderness rail. They run through places like Anchorage, Skagway, Whitehorse, Talkeetna, Denali. And for Princess Cruises on select itineraries, their rail service takes guests between ship and dock directly, boarding the train right at the dock, just a short walk from the ship.
Staying at one of the line’s Alaskan lodges is part of the experience of joining cruise and land tour. Many of them are located near or within the Denali National Park, a highlight of the Alaska landscape and home to North America’s tallest peak Mt Denali. Guests can choose to stay at the lodge to soak in the scenery, enjoy the restaurants, entertainment and shops or head out to explore the wilderness while they are there.
The two lines have lodges in different locations and they each also work the different lodges into their itineraries in different ways.
Holland America Line
The line has five hotels in Alaska for their guests but the centrepiece is definitely their 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort. The resort is located right within the Denali National Park and guests can stay at the riverside property for up to three nights on the line’s ‘triple denali’ itineraries. They just completed a new Ridge View building last summer which offers the resort’s first suites. The suites overlook both Mt Healy and Denali National Park.
A highlight of HAL’s resort stay is the Tundra Wilderness tour that is featured in all two to three-night stays. The tour brings guests to view the big five animals of Alaska: grizzlies, caribou, dall sheep, wolves and moose.
Other onsite highlights includes the Karstens restaurant, presentations by Alaska experts, local artist in residence, shops with local crafts, musicals and the cosy campfire.
The line has five Alaskan lodges. Two in Denali, one overlooking the Kenai Fjords National Park, one along Copper River, neighbouring Wrangell St Elias National Park and another in Fairbanks. Multiple lodges are often featured in a single Princess cruisetour itinerary
The Denali Wilderness Lodge sits right at the edge of the national park while the Mt Mckinley Princess Wilderness Lodge is nestled within the state park. The Denali Wilderness Lodge includes highlights like the Tundra Wilderness Tour.
At the Mt Mckinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, catch views of Mt Denali from the outdoor terrace, fireside patio or from the balcony of the treehouse lodges designed by Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters”.
At the lodge, guests can join the mountain climbing or North to Alaska programme, hiking trails or enjoy the casual and fine dining options onsite like Fannie Q Saloon and King Salmon restaurants.
Meanwhile at the Copper River property, guests can maximise the waterfront location with salmon fishing, river rafting, jet boating and more. The Kenai lodge offers day cruises through Kenai Fjords National Park or guests can spend the day salmon fishing on the Kenai River or taking nature hikes. The Fairbanks property features a Sternwheeler Riverboat Cruise and gold dredging tour experience and tour.
Land and sea tour/Cruise tour
Holland America Line
The line boasts exclusive itineraries that goes beyond Denali to explore the Canadian Territory of Yukon where the Klondike Gold Rush all started. And in 2020, guests get to sail on their newest ship Koningsdam while exploring with this in-depth cruise, Denali and Yukon itinerary.
Cruise and Denali
The line’s cruise and Denali itineraries range from nine to 14-days and it combines their 7-day ‘Glacier Discovery Cruise’ and various land destination of choice. Guests get to choose to explore Denali for one, two or three days or choose to spend more time in other Alaskan cities like Anchorage, Fairbanks, Talkeetna and Alyeska.
While HAL does not have direct to lodge rail services like Princess Cruises, they also have ‘direct to denali’ itineraries that take guests straight to Denali within the same day, without an overnight in Anchorage.
Cruise, Denali and Yukon
For itineraries that head to the Yukon, they start from nine-days and go all the way up to 18-days. Guests can choose to combine their land tours with either the 7-day ‘Glacier Discovery Cruise’ or a shorter three to four-day ‘Inside Passage Cruise’. Select itineraries also offer an additional train journey that takes you through the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to enjoy the spectacular mountains between Whitehorse and Skagway.
All of Princess Cruises cruise tours feature their seven-night ‘Voyage of the Glaciers’ cruise. Their cruise tours range from 10-night and up to 17-nights. The itineraries feature stays in at least two and up to all five of the line’s lodges. Most of them are one or two-night stays and majority of them include the line’s lodges in Denali. If you are looking to stay at Princess’ lodges outside of Denali, they are offered on the line’s ‘off the beaten path’ 13 to 15-night itinerary and some of the ‘connoisseur’ itinerary selections also from 13-night onwards. To visit all of Princess Cruises’ lodges, join the ultimate 17-night itinerary which is offered on the Royal and Grand Princess.
The line also offers the option to explore the land portions independently with ‘on your own’ cruise tours and guests have the option of customising their free time, without any prescheduled activities arranged.
The line also offers a combination of their Alaska cruises and a land tour or the Canadian Rockies in a 14-day itinerary. It visits Canadian land destinations like Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Kamloops and Vancouver.
Who has the best value?
We put HAL and Princess shortest cruise tour itineraries side by side and see how the prices compare.
10-day ‘On Your Own’ cruise tour
The 10-day itinerary departs on the seven-day cruise on MedallionClass Grand Princess from Vancouver and concludes in Anchorage. Guests will also get to visit the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and the Mt Mckinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The May 9, 2020 departure has prices from $1,880pp.
10-day guided ‘Denali Explorer’
This similar 10-day itinerary also departing May 9, 2020 on MedallionClass Grand Princess from Vancouver. The guided itinerary has prices starting from $2,393pp for interior cabins.
Holland America Line
The nine-day itinerary departs Vancouver on the Noordam on May 10, 2020 for a seven-day cruise before arriving at the Mckinley Chalet Resort for a one-night stay before spending the last day exploring Fairbanks. Fares from $1,359pp.
11-day Triple Denali
The HAL exclusive triple Denali experience on a similar itinerary also departing May 10, 2020 on the Noordam allows guests to unpack for a three-night stay at the line’s Mckinley Resort before catching the rail to Anchorage for an overnight. Fares from $1,899pp.
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.