Holland America vs. Princess in Alaska
Raye & Marty Trencher
Editors & Publishers
Let's debate which cruise
line is the best choice for your Alaska cruise or land and sea vacation.
Cruise Traveler Magazine compares the real difference
between Holland America vs. Princess Alaska Cruises. Learn about the onboard
experience, itineraries, ports-of-call. Compare cruises, or land and sea
vacation [cruisetours] prices, current promotional offers, bonus extra's and
wilderness lodges and rail adventures.
“What's the real difference between a Holland America and a Princess
Cruise or Cruisetour of Alaska?”
Q. "My husband and I are considering taking an 11 or 12 day 'Denali National
Park' cruise tour with either Holland America or Princess Cruises. Both cruise
lines itinerary are very similar - 7 night cruise including visiting Glacier
Bay, a Tundra Wilderness tour of Denali National Park, a night in Fairbanks, and
2 nights in Denali. However the cruise lines brand their rail travel, expressing
that they are "exclusive", the McKinley Explorer, for Holland and the Denali
Express for Princess. Is there an advantage to doing the rail by Princess over
We also noticed that, for what looks like a similar cruise vacation, prices
vary between Holland America and Princess. My husband wants to get a balcony,
but isn't sure which is the better deal.
What do we need to know before we choose which cruise line to see Alaska? Could
you explain why there is such a difference between Princess Cruises and Holland
America, not only on price but amenities as well?"
A. OK, here's what you need to know before you go....
Holland America Line began sailing
Alaska in 1967. Princess Cruises in 1969. Both cruise lines added land-and-sea
vacations a few years later. So, both companies have years of hands on
experience to rely on.
Both Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are the market leaders in Alaska.
Both have their own motorcoach and rail services. Princess owns their own
Wilderness Lodge accommodations in Denali, Fairbanks, Kenai and Cooper River.
Combined they have the most ships of any of the name brand cruise lines sailing
Cruising in Alaska is a summertime adventure with an ocean-inspired cruise and
an exhilarating land tour of Alaska. Alaska...where summertime memories last
forever. Alaska offers a range of enriching options to see the Great Land's
glaciers, frontier towns, native culture, wildlife and national parks from the
perspective of spectacular ships, exclusive rail service and wilderness lodges.
Both Holland America and Princess' onboard enrichment programs introduce Alaska
for a personalized perspective of America's last frontier. On Holland America
and Princess cruises, ships feature a naturalist with informative lectures, and
a national park ranger during Glacier Bay sailings.
Princess, however, offers their
exclusive "North to Alaska" program. Onboard are Alaska Iditarod winner and
renowned dog musher Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the grueling
1,100-mile Iditarod sled dog race. She comes aboard in Juneau to share tales of
her historic triumph, answer questions and even sign autographs. You won’t want
to miss this special Princess exclusive. Plus, on some sailings meet people from
Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" TV show. In partnership with the Discovery
Networks, Alaska cruises feature content from the Discovery Channel and Animal
Planet on the wildlife, terrain, history, and adventures from Alaska. Discovery
Networks shows such as "Gold Rush!" and "Panning for Gold", along with episodes
of "The Deadliest Catch" and "The Klondike" mini-series are featured.
In Skagway, Alaskan storyteller and musician Steve Hites comes on board to
perform his “North to Alaska” show. This tribute to the Klondike days brings the
region’s folklore, history and poetry of the era to life with plenty of
Then there is The Klondike Festival and Midnight Sun Party. Princess guests
experience the thrill and excitement of a real Klondike Festival, hearkening
back to the good ol’, bad ol’ days of gold rush fever with authentic Alaska
entertainment. Fun for the whole family, the festival includes performances
depicting the heyday of the gold rush, Alaska icon & sled racing presentations,
penny whistle classes, Tlingit art projects and more.
Princess is providing a variety of authentic Alaska cuisine options onboard
including King Crab, King Salmon and fresh Halibut. There is a dedicated Alaska
cuisine themed night in the main dining rooms, and a special Alaska Cuisine menu
in the Crown Grill and Bayou Cafe on select evenings.
For kids and teens, they can explore their adventurous side with activities such
as our Jr. Ranger Program, Panning for Gold, the Deadliest Catch Crab Sorting
Game, and amazing "What would Survivorman do?"
The Cruise Ships That Sail Alaska
Each cruise line's ships that sail Alaska have a "personality" of their own and
you should review the amenities, onboard programs, entertainment and dining
options to decide which cruise ship best fits your lifestyle. Holland America
tends to attract a more "senior" traveler, while Princess tends to attract
travelers of all ages, especially middle age couples and families.
When it comes to choosing a cruise ship to sail Alaska, the difference between
seeing Alaska and understanding Alaska is what the cruise line brings to life,
As an example, Princess cruises brings aboard speakers to share their Alaska
adventures, such as the grueling 1,100-mile Iditarod sled dog race. In Skagway,
you'll enjoy the entertainment of an Alaskan storyteller. And in Ketchikan, a
U.S. Forest Service naturalist will present a program about the largest forest
in the country, Tongass National Forest. Alaska's intriguing flora, fauna and
geology come to life by the full-time onboard naturalists who sails with you the
entire length of the cruise.
While in Glacier Bay National Park, rangers from the National Park Service will
board the cruise ship to serve as tour guides and answer questions about this
national treasure. Rangers also lead our Junior Ranger and Teen Explorer
programs in Glacier Bay, which teach kids about the wildlife and scenery in a
fun and entertaining way.
Dining onboard spotlights local specialties like fresh Alaskan Seafood. You will
also like the Taste of Alaska Buffet, a festive on-deck Fish Barbeque and a
Reindeer Chili and Rockfish Chowder Cook-Off. The Chef's Alaskan Dinner and
Glacier Bay Gala Buffet are highlights of your Alaska cruise. Or indulge in a
romantic Glacier Bay Champagne Breakfast served on your own balcony onboard
Both Holland America and Princess'
Alaska cruises, offer a number of round-trip seven-night itineraries, that
feature the most popular ports of call :
- Cruises departing from
- Breathtaking Scenery of
- Cruises departing from
- The Beauty of Sitka
- Inside Passage Itineraries
- Cruises longer than 7 Days
- Visit magnificent Hubbard
- Visit Skagway - Home to the
White Pass & Yukon Railway
- Juneau - The Alaska State
Capital & Mendenhall Glacier
- Ketchikan - Visit Totem Pole
Park, Creek Street & Misty Fjords
For information on these cruise
Both cruise lines call on Juneau
and Ketchikan. Itineraries sail through Glacier Bay, or Tracy Arm. Most sailings
visit Skagway. Holland America's Seattle cruises go to Sitka. Some Seattle
sailings call on Victoria, BC Canada.
Princess Cruises offer sailings from
San Francisco on 10-night cruises that travel the Inside Passage with port calls
in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria.
ALASKA CRUISE PRICES
find in general, pricing for round-trip seven-night cruises competitive between
Holland America and Princess for inside, ocean view and balcony cabins. Inside
cabins for sailings during the early part of May or beginning of September start
for less than $800.00 per person, Balcony cabins (known as Verandahs on Holland
America) will cost you considerably more.
For north or southbound sailings, we found inside and ocean view cabins less
expensive with Princess, at the start ( early May ) and end ( early September )
of the Alaska cruise season.
Alaska Land and Sea Vacations [ Cruisetours
Holland America's land and sea vacations include stops in Canada. Visiting
Dawson City and Whitehorse, the Yukon. Both cruise line land tours visit Denali
National Park. In addition to Denali, Princess can take you to the Kenai
Wilderness Lodge, in the Kenai Peninsula and/or the Copper River Wilderness
Lodge, to visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Princess' northbound or southbound sailings from Vancouver, begin or end in
Whittier, Alaska which is closer to Anchorage then Seward, where Holland
America's cruises begin or end. Princess gets the upper hand here, as it has
"Direct to the Wilderness" rail service for guests by going straight up north to
Denali (or vice versa, going directly from Denali to their cruise ship). Hours
of transportation by train or motorcoach are saved by this service.
Holland America accommodations are in Westmark-branded hotels. in Alaska and
Canada's cities and towns. For visits to Denali National Park, Holland America
guests stay at the McKinley Chalet Resort, which is less than three miles from
the entrance to the park.
Princess' accommodations (except in Anchorage, where they use the Captain Cook
hotel and others ) are in " Wilderness " lodges. Guest can stay at the Mt.
McKinley Wilderness Lodge in Trapper Creek, near Talkeetna, the Kenai Princess
Wilderness Lodge, or the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge the Copper River
Princess Wilderness Lodge, and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge ( less than
a mile from the entrance to Denali National Park). Which accommodation(s) you
stay at depends upon your itinerary.
The Rail Services
Now when you disembark the ship, the
difference between Princess and Holland America become more clear.
First, Princess Cruises docks in Whittier, Holland America in Seward. Whittier
is much closer to Anchorage, when most northbound cruise tours begin. So, travel
time is significantly reduced. If you are headed direct to Denali and will not
be visiting Anchorage, Princess offers a real exclusive:
"Direct-to-the-Wilderness® Alaska Rail Service".
Princess Cruises exclusive Direct-to-the-Wilderness service allows you to step
off your cruise ship in Whittier onto the Princess rail service cars and arrive
at their Princess Wilderness Lodge that same afternoon. Or, on southbound
itineraries, guests leave the Denali area and board the train for a direct link
to your awaiting cruise ship in Whittier. Because fewer transfers and less time
waiting makes for a more relaxing and hassle-free trip, Princess exclusive
cruise ship-rail-lodge connection takes you straight to Denali National Park.
While others like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland America are still in
transit, you'll be enjoying more time at one of Princess' two Denali area
lodges. The connection is seamless. You step directly from your ship onto your
waiting railcar. Sit back, read, chat, dine and marvel at the panoramic vistas
from their domed observation lounge. You arrive at Denali that same day ready to
experience the wonders you've traveled so far to see.
If reaching your destination nearly a full day earlier than with any other
cruise tour company is important to you. Then consider Princess Cruises. It
could mean more time to sit by the fire, linger over grilled salmon and soak up
the comfort and luxury of Princess Cruises, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and
the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.
A word about the train. If the rail portion of your cruise tour departs from
Anchorage, you will notice that Holland America's rail cars, marketed as the
"McKinley Explorer" and Princess Cruises railcars marketed as "McKinley Express"
actually travel together on the same train.
The train's engine is operated by the Alaska Railroad, which "pulls" the private
rail cars of Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. So, for
everyone the view out the window or on the observation decks is the same. There
are some differences on the rail cars themselves, but each cruise line offers
glass dome views, onboard dining options, expert guide service and commentary
along the way.
Denali National Park
Sightseeing inside Denali National Park is operated by the National Park
Service, so the tours in the park are identical no matter what cruise line you
Princess, you can choose your own park tour! Most Princess Alaska land and sea
vacations include a tour through the park, plus Princess offers the flexibility
to choose your preferred experience from three unique tour options. Park tour
options include: Denali Natural History Tour, Tundra Wilderness Tour and
Kantishna Experience. Your itinerary and time constraints may limit your
Denali Natural History Tour
Duration: Approximately 6 1/2 hours
- Fully narrated tour that
focuses on the rich history of Denali National Park
- Travels to Primrose Ridge
(Mile 17) for scenic and wildlife viewing opportunities
- Includes a screening of
“Across Time and Tundra”, a film that depicts development of the park road
and early visitor experiences
- Stop at Savage Cabin to visit
a rustic, back-country shelter used by rangers for decades
- Alaskan Native Presentation
- Possible opportunity to see
Denali ( formally called Mt. McKinley ) (weather permitting)
- Passengers who are interested
in Denali’s history, culture and nature
- Passengers who have limited
time in Denali and want to more thoroughly experience their lodge and/or
- Passengers who prefer to have
more free time in Denali
Tundra Wilderness Tour
Duration: Approximately 9 hours
- Comprehensive, fully narrated
tour that travels deep into Denali National Park (Mile 53)
- In-depth information about
the history of the park with plentiful wildlife and photography
- Travels over Sable Pass to
scenic Polychrome Overlook
- Stony Hill Overlook provides
opportunities to see Denali (weather permitting)
- Note: The Teklanika Tundra
Wilderness Tour is seasonally offered in place of the Tundra Wilderness Tour
when the park road is not fully accessible due to weather.
- Passengers with 2-night stays
- Passengers who want a deep
Denali Park experience
- Passengers who enjoy
Duration: Approximately 14 hours
Note: This tour does not operate when
the park road is not fully accessible due to weather.
- All day tour that travels to
the end of the park road (Mile 91)
- This tour is guided by a
National Park Service Interpretive Ranger
- Explore the old gold mining
town of Kantishna and learn about its history
- Stop at the restored home of
Fannie Quigley and learn about the early settlers
- Visit the Eielson Visitor
Center and Wonder Lake
- Abundant opportunities for
- Possible opportunities to see
Mt. Mckinley (weather permitting)
- Limited space availability
- Passengers with 2-night stays
- Passengers who want to travel
to the end of the park road
- Passengers who enjoy
Other Helpful Information
- Don’t wait; availability is
limited. Space is assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Not all
requests can be accommodated.
- A snack and hot beverage is
provided on the Natural History Tour.
- Box lunches and beverages are
provided on the Tundra Wilderness Tour and the Kantishna Experience.
- Wheelchair accessible buses
are available, and all stops are wheelchair accessible.
- Children under 4 years and/or
40 pounds are required to be in a child safety device (car seat) to ride on
buses. Passengers must bring their own child safety device.
- Tour buses are school buses
and are not equipped with restrooms. Buses will stop approximately every 90
minutes for restroom breaks.
- Park road is not paved and
travels through beautiful Alaskan wilderness – wildlife is not guaranteed.
- Privately owned vehicles are
not permitted into the National Park.
- Suggested items to bring
include warm clothes, rainwear, insect repellant, camera, binoculars, and
personal medications as necessary
Where you stay in Alaska may matter to you. Both Holland America and Princess
offer lodges and hotels in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali. Princess also
offers accommodations at Cooper River and Kenai. There are differences between
the two cruise lines. First, Princess owns their own lodges. ( visit
www.princesslodges.com ) So, the
hotel/lodge staff are employees of Princess. This is important, for seamless
continuity of service. Holland America and the other cruise lines, contract out
hotel space for their guests.
Getting around Alaska, with the exception of the rail services provided, is by
motorcoach. Grayline of Alaska provides the bus transportation for Holland
America. Princess provides its own transportation. Both offer driver/guide
commentary along the way.
For more information and to compare Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean
or Celebrity cruise tours of Alaska, visit Alaska Cruises Direct.
WHO WON THE DEBATE?
Holland America vs. Princess in
Historically, Holland America appeals to an older demographic, with onboard
activity and entertainment appealing to these travelers. The line is best suited
for 55+ and seniors traveling with or without a group of friends.
Princess Cruises is better suited
for active couples from 35 -50. Best for those looking for land and sea
vacations [cruisetours] and families with young children. Guests should find the
onboard experience with Princess Cruises "North to Alaska" appealing.
CruiseReport.com would like to
thank Raye and Marty Trencher for this excellent comparison between Holland
America and Princess in Alaska
#end of story
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