July 26, 2021

All the New Ways to Explore Alaska this Summer

Large-ship cruising in Alaska may be on hold for another season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still visit the state this summer. Though traveling the waterways to get there remains tricky, a number of tourism companies are launching new experiences for travelers who want to see the Last Frontier in the next few months.

Canada extended the cruise ban put in place last March amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Alaska’s senators responded by introducing legislation that would alleviate restrictions for cruises. But while we wait to see where it goes, the state is working on welcoming tourists in other ways. First, it recently announced less restrictive measures for visitors. Last summer, travelers had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test on arrival or self-quarantine for 14 days, neither of which are required as of now.

Last year, the cruise ban had an enormous effect on the state and its economy, which is why residents want to encourage the return of safe tourism. And, they say, they’re hopeful that this summer can bring back a bit of what they lost last year.

Tracy LeBarge, owner of Tracy’s King Crab Shack, a popular restaurant in the port city of Juneau, said she lost 95 percent of her business last year, going from a couple hundred diners a day to less than 20. However, with the loosening of restrictions and the increasing number of vaccines, she’s optimistic that this year will be different. “Last year was dismal—we depend on tourism,” LeBarge says. “But I’m hopeful for this year. I think there will be more independent travelers and more smaller ships, so I think it’s going to be better than last year.”

Becky Janes, owner of Above & Beyond Alaska, a Juneau-based adventure tour operator that opted to hibernate for the 2020 season due to a crush of cancellations, said that website traffic has been building momentum in recent weeks. “There’s obviously an uptick in travel interest to Alaska,” Janes says. “We know it’s not going to be a normal year, but it looks promising.”

Statewide, outfitters are working to expand options for travelers, with the addition of more land-based tours as well as additional sailings on small-boat cruises. Here are several newly launched trips you can take to Alaska this summer that caught our eye.

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Holland America Line and Princess Cruises

In normal summers, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are two of the most dominant forces in Alaska’s waters, making up roughly half of the cruise market there. This year, they’re leaning into their dry land offerings instead, launching a series of tours that traverse the state via train, bus, and car, with stays at their own network of lodgings, the Princess Alaska Lodges, and Holland America Line Westmark Hotels.