Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are two of the biggest lines in Alaska, both with a long history of bringing cruisers to see and explore Alaska. But who is the best?

While both lines are sister brands under Carnival Corporation, each has a distinct flair and identity, which in turn have dedicated cruisers that routinely sail with the lines. And with these two powerhouses sailing in Alaska, we put them head-to-head, comparing ships, shore excursions, food and itineraries.

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 video series titled ‘The Great Alaska Debate” covers everything from their ships, cruise itineraries and what they offer on shore like land tours, lodges and shore excursions.

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?’.

Alaska is the second most popular cruising destination abroad for Australians and with the Alaskan cruise season coming up in May, we break it down in a two-part series where we compare what the lines are offering and a bonus – we also show you who has the best value.

We answer who has itineraries with the most glacier viewing? How do their land and rail tours compare? Who has the best lodges? Who is the best for families?

In the first part, we cover their fleet, cruise itineraries, on board offerings. And next week, we look into what they offer on shore: land tour itineraries, rail experiences, shore excursions and their lodges.


Holland America Line

The line has been cruising in the region for 73 years, longer than Alaska has been state. In 2020, they have a fleet of seven ships sailing to Alaska, including the line’s newest Pinnacle-class ship Koningsdam making her Alaskan debut.

She will be the line’s largest ship in Alaska carrying 2,650 guests and she will be making Vancouver roundtrips with the line’s smaller vessels, 1,258-guest Maasdam and 1,432-guest Volendam.

The other four ships in the fleet carry about 2,000 guests each, with the Noordam and Westerdam sailing from Vancouver of Seward and the Eurodam and Oosterdam sailing Seattle roundtrip itineraries.

Princess Cruises

The line has just celebrated their 50 years of cruising Alaska last year and they bring more guests to Alaska than any other line. This season, they have eight ships in Alaska, four of them equipped with the Princess Medallion.

This includes their Royal class flagship the 3,560-guest Royal Princess which has up to 40 per cent balcony cabins on board.

They also have Medallion equipped 3,080-guest Ruby and Emerald Princess (Princess Medallion coming in August) and the 2,600-guest Grand Princess. Grand’s sister-ships Star and Golden Princess will also be sailing this season along with smaller ships like the 2,000-guest Coral Princess and 670-guest Pacific Princess.

Life Onboard

HAL describes their ‘perfectly sized ships’ that are nearly half the size of others to be ‘uncrowded’. And while Princess’ ships are generally larger, it also brings guests the unique Medallion Class experience.

Entertainment and Enrichment

Holland America Line

Enjoy the ‘best live music at sea’ at HAL’s Music Walk which features the Lincoln Center Stage, B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Billboard Onboard music bar created in partnership with the people who brought you the Billboard charts. Watch two pianists play chart topping hits at Billboard Onboard or head to the Rolling Stone Rock Room where a live band kicks out iconic rock hits.

Other programming highlights on board include EXC Talks by the line’s Explorations Central program. Meet members of the Huna Totem tribe and National Park Service rangers, bush pilots and other local experts and learn about Alaska through an immersive TED Talk style presentation that is led by vivid imagery brought to life by LED screens. Topics include Alaskan women challenging themselves in traditionally male-dominated fields, Alaskan native reclaiming their language and insight into the whales of the northwest.

Princess Cruises

The line offers their award-winning North to Alaska program brings aboard lumberjacks, National Park Service rangers, cuddly sled dogs with Puppies in the Piazza and storytellers that include an Iditarod champion.

Guests can also enjoy three original productions ‘Magic to Do’, ‘Born to Dance’ and ‘The Secret Silk’ that is created in partnership with Award-winning Broadway legend and composer of Wicked, Stephen Schwartz. Alternatively, grab a blanket and complimentary popcorn and catch a movie under the stars, a hit activity on Princess.


Both lines promise that guests will be able to sample plenty of fresh Alaskan seafood and Princess Cruises has even managed to bring on board crab cakes from Juneau’s iconic Tracy’s King Crab Shack.

Each line also features different specialty restaurants on board. The Ruby and Emerald Princess boasts SHARE by Curtis Stone and the Salty Dog Gastropub. While other ships have Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. The larger ships also have the line’s guest favourite the Crown Grill as well as the Crab Shack.

On HAL ships, all of their food on board is guided by a Culinary council of seven world-reknowned chefs. They have a variety of specialty restaurants on board, including guest favourite Pinnacle Grill, Canaletto for Italian cuisine, Rudi’s Sel de Mer which serves a modern twist on classic French dishes, Tamarin for Asia’s flavours as well as Nami Sushi.

Cruise itineraries

Both HAL and Princess Cruises have seven to 14-day cruise itineraries sailing Alaska. The seven-day itineraries are popular with families and the 14-day voyages offer the most in-depth cruising of Alaska. If you’re looking for a sweet middle length, Princess Cruises also has a 10-night Inside Passage cruise.

HAL and Princess Cruise both have three seven-day cruise itineraries to offer. The top pick for fans of glacier viewing would be Princess Cruises’ ‘Voyage of the Glaciers’ which has two glacier-viewing experiences on every sailing. This voyage also takes guests further north than other Princess itineraries, visiting Anchorage.

Princess’ other itineraries feature the Inside Passage. They have a seven, 10 and 14-day option and each of them have late night departures at popular towns like Juneau Icy Strait Point and Victoria.

Meanwhile HAL holds the most permits to visit the Glacier Bay National Park throughout the season. Pick one of their seven-day ‘Glacier Discovery’ and ‘Alaskan Inside Passage’ itineraries if visiting the Glacier Bay is something you need to check off your bucket list. Meanwhile their seven-day ‘Alaskan Explorer’ visits unique Alaskan ports like Sitka and Victoria.

For guests who wish to enjoy two glacier viewing opportunities on HAL, pick the 14-day ‘Great Alaskan Explorer’ which also has an exclusive scenic cruising of the Misty Fjords.

Who has the best value?

We put a seven and 14-day HAL and Princess itinerary side by side and see how the prices compare.

Seven-day itineraries

HAL’s seven-day ‘Glacier Discovery’ itinerary from Vancouver to Anchorage, departing July 5 on the 1,972-guest Noordam has prices from $1,638pp.

Meanwhile Princess’ seven-day ‘Voyage of the Glaciers’ from Vancouver to Anchorage, departing July 4 on the 2,600-guest Grand Princess has prices from $1,358pp. The intimate 670-guest Pacific Princess is offering the same itinerary departing July 8 from $1,688.

14-day itineraries

HAL’s 14-day ‘Great Alaskan Explorer’ itinerary is sailed on the smallest ship in their Alaskan fleet, the 1,258-guest Maasdam. For a June 1 departure, the Vancouver roundtrip sailing starts from $2,929pp.

On Princess Cruises, they sail their 14-day ‘Voyage of the Glaciers Grand Adventure’ itinerary has departures on their largest and newest ship in Alaska, the 3,560-guest Royal Princess, as well as one of their smallest ships the 2,000-guest Coral Princess.

Depart June 13 on the Royal Princess from $2,703 and depart June 3 on the Coral Princess from $2,768.