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Grand Princess to sail Alaska in 2013

Posted: March 29, 2012 - 12:08am  |  Updated: March 29, 2012 - 8:53am

Inside passage, glacier and Denali land tour packages are all part of the itinerary for passengers aboard Princess Cruises’ remodeled Grand Princess Alaska, the cruise line announced recently.

On its first-ever season in Alaska, the Grand Princess embarks from San Francisco on 10-day round-trip cruises featuring Glacier Bay National Park, or Tracy Arm. Juneau and Ketchikan will play host to the Grand Princess while in Alaska. Occasional sailings will port in Haines, Skagway or Hoonah. The Grand Princess has 13 trips scheduled between May and September 2013.

The Grand Princess replaces a smaller ship on this sailing.

The Grand Princess follows another “Grand Class” ship scheduled to start one-way cruises to Whittier for interior excursions, John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, said during an email interview. The nearly 50,000 passengers expected on this route in 2012 also stop in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway.

The Grand Princess was the first of Princess Cruise’s grand class ships, launched in 1998. The 950-foot ship carries 2,590 passengers and an additional 1,200 crew. The grand class is the largest class of ships in the cruise line’s fleet. The 11 ships in the grand class and its subclasses have unique features such as the panoramic “Skywalkers” nightclub. At 107,500 tons, the Grand Princess is a bit smaller than other grand class ships — the 141,000-ton Royal Princess is slated for launch in 2013 and Princess’s smallest ship weighs in at slightly more than 30,000 tons.

Alaska’s cruise market isn’t waiting for 2013 to start recovering.

The Star Princess will be operating in Alaska this season, Mike Tibbles, spokesperson for the Alaska Cruise Association said. This grand-class ship operates on a Southeast Alaska round trip itinerary. Another grand class ship, the Sapphire Princess, is scheduled to sail a Whittier itinerary in 2012.

“The net increase will be one additional cross gulf ship,” Tibbles said.

Norwegian Cruise Lines will redeploy an additional ship on the Whittier route for an additional 40,000 passengers in 2013.

“Those passengers add much more economic impact to the state than those that just do a seven day round trip from Seattle up through Southeast and back to Seattle to disembark the same passengers,” Binkley said.

With these additional ships and passengers, Alaska’s cruise industry will start to approach its peak 2008 levels.

“We will just hit 1 million passengers. This is still slightly below the high mark of (1.04 million) cruise passengers in 2008,” Binkley said. “After 2013 we hope to see continued growth to get us back to the 2008 level and then beyond maybe by 2015.”

Binkley said the economic recession had less of an effect on declining cruise passenger numbers than changes to Alaska’s cruise tax and regulation at the time.

“The cruise industry worldwide has continued to grow,” Binkley said. “That means we have lost a lot of our market share.”

Alaska has the cruise infrastructure to handle passenger numbers during re-growth. However, projects like the proposed state of Alaska and National Park Service South Denali visitor center in Southcentral provide expanded venues. This long-planned tourism center can relieve pressure at the entrance to Denali National Park, Binkley said.

With the Grand Princess, Princess Cruises will sail a fleet of seven ships in Alaska. In total, the cruise company has plans for 124 cruise departures in 2013.

Princess is part of Carnival Corp.

Princess also offers sailings that depart Seattle and Vancouver with destinations throughout the inside passage and interior Alaska. Independent travelers can opt for an “On Your Own” excursion.

“These tours … do not include any pre-planned excursions, giving travelers time to create their own experience,” according to a Princess press release.

Tibbles said Holland America Lines plans to expand capacity in 2012. Oceania has added its flagship Regatta to the Alaska market for the 2013 season. That same season Celebrity Cruise Lines plans to replace a smaller ship with a larger capacity ship.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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