As someone who has written about cruises for the past eight years – and who has been sailing for twenty – I always get excited about the start of the Alaska cruise season. Very few things, in my opinion, match the sailaway experience from Vancouver’s Canada Place, or the majesty of visiting Alaska and sailing through the British Columbia coast. It’s a journey I’ve done over a dozen times now, and one I try to repeat each year. It is, simply put, one of the best cruise experiences on earth, and it’s right on our doorstep.
In a few weeks, the 2018 Alaska cruise season kicks off in a big way, with one of the best seasons in store in recent memory. Canada Place is at full capacity on many days, and the ship-watching opportunities will be amazing from the wraparound promenade.
Of course, it’s always better to be up on deck, holding a cocktail, looking down on Canada Place. This is one of the best cruise seasons in Vancouver in over a decade, and there are plenty of ways to get in on the fun.
The big players in Vancouver – Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are back, and they’ve brought some of their best ships with them. Holland America’s blue-and-white-hulled ships have the edge when it comes to those looking for roundtrip Vancouver sailings (the line offers plenty), while Princess primarily operates voyages that sail one-way between Vancouver and Whittier. The truth is, you can’t go wrong with either: both lines have been sailing to Alaska for decades, and both provide a solid product that is great fun for the whole family.
Speaking of family, Disney Cruise Line is back with its super-kid-friendly Disney Wonder, sailing roundtrips from Canada Place. Couples, don’t discount this great ship: Disney’s onboard product is so good that you certainly don’t need children to enjoy it. Go down to Canada Place on Mondays to hear its horn play “When You Wish Upon A Star” at departure.
This year, Norwegian Cruise Line swaps out the old(er) Norwegian Sun, instead placing the 2,376-guest Norwegian Jewel on its Alaska run, primarily North and Southbound voyages from Vancouver to Seward. On Sunday, September 30, you’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest addition to its fleet –the massive Norwegian Bliss – as it calls on the city for a single day.
Celebrity Cruises is back as well with two ships. Celebrity Infinity does weeklong roundtrips departing on Sundays, while Celebrity Millennium does one-way voyages departing on alternating Fridays. Parent company Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, sends Radiance of the Seas to Vancouver once again to operate the popular north and southbound weeklong cruises to Alaska. Radiance of the Seas has been sailing here for almost her entire career, and it’s hard to imagine a better ship for Alaska, with its sweeping panoramic walls of glass at almost every turn.
Upscale line Oceania Cruises is sending its nimble Regatta to Alaska again this year. This is a great choice for those who want a smaller ship without the sticker-shock that comes with a full-blown luxury cruise, but that still offers plenty of lavish amenities. Oceania distinguishes itself by offering a wide variety of itineraries from Vancouver this season; almost no two are alike.
Vancouver also has the distinct advantage of cornering the luxury cruise market. Every luxury line operating in Alaska sails out of Vancouver, with Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea all operating a full season of voyages. Like a walk-on guest star in a movie, Crystal Cruises sends the classy, 848-guest Crystal Symphony to Vancouver for a handful of appearances this summer.
Though they may seem small tied up at Canada Place when compared to their mainstream counterparts, these petite ships are big on service, amenities and space – and each line spares no expense in pampering its guests.
Regent, for example, brings the 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner back to Alaska for another season. Recently refitted from stem-to-stern with new dining venues, new suite designs and completely redone public areas, Seven Seas Mariner’s Alaskan voyages from Vancouver start in May and run through September.
Silversea sends the 396-guest Silver Shadow back to Canada Place, where she will operate weeklong sailings between Vancouver and Seward from May to September. (Get ready for next year, though, when Silversea brings its sleek new Silver Muse to Vancouver for the first time).
Seabourn returns for its second season in Alaska with the elegant, 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn, which sails alternating 11, 12 and 14-night voyages that operate either roundtrip Vancouver or between Vancouver and Seward. Seabourn is noteworthy for its hybrid luxury-expedition itineraries that include a huge focus on the BC coast. Stops are offered on some voyages in Prince Rupert, Klemtu and Alert Bay, along with plenty of scenic cruising opportunities in the Inside Passage. I sailed last year aboard Seabourn Sojourn and was so impressed with the Alaska experience that I decided to join the Seabourn team this year as part of their Ventures by Seabourn expedition staff. You can find me onboard the September 11 and September 25 sailings.
While many of the ships headed to Vancouver for this year’s Alaska cruise season are on repeat duty, there are some noteworthy first-time arrivals as well. Silversea’s 144-guest luxury expedition ship, Silver Explorer, makes her first visit to Canada Place on Sunday, May 13 as part of a handful of voyages along the Pacific Northwest before she heads up to Alaska and Russia’s Far East.
Another newcomer is Windstar Cruises, which returns to Alaska for the first time this year after a long absence. The petite Star Legend docks at Canada Place on Thursday, May 31, which will kick off her Alaskan season that runs through until September. With cruises and cruisetours that range from 11 to 20 days in length, these are a great choice if you’re looking for a more in-depth experience in Alaska and British Columbia.
The last ship of the 2018 season to dock in Vancouver will be Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess, which ties up on Friday, October 19. While most of the ships here will sail to Alaska, some in the spring and fall will be bound for the Pacific Coast, the Panama Canal, and even Hawaii and Japan. And an even bigger season is in-store for next year, with Cunard Line and Viking Cruises headed our way.
Until then, bon voyage!
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