New for 2013, Norwegian Cruise Line has deployed the Norwegian Sun, to what we believe is the best cruise itinerary that can be offered in Alaska – a 7-day Gulf of Alaska cruise. The Norwegian Sun’s northbound and southbound cruises do not travel to all of the same ports. The Northbound cruises from Vancouver travel to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Hubbard Glacier before arriving in Whittier. The southbound cruises from Whittier travel to Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Ketchikan before arriving in Vancouver, BC.
The primary difference is that the northbound Norwegian Sun cruise includes a visit to Glacier Bay National Park whereas the southbound cruises include Icy Strait Point. Icy Strait Point is located on Chichagof Island, about 1.5 miles away from the town of Hoonah. Icy Strait showcases the local native Tinglet culture in addition to the many of the typical shore excursions found in other Alaska ports such as saltwater fishing and whale watching excursions. It’s hard to imagine beating a trip into Glacier Bay National Park on a cruise ship, but Icy Strait Point has an excellent reputation so both cruise itineraries are bound to be well received by cruisers.
Norwegian Cruise Line could have chosen either Seward or Whittier as its northern port for embarkation and debarkation. Their choice of Whittier provides for convenient access to the Anchorage International Airport, about 60 miles away. Whittier is located on scenic Passage Canal in northwestern Prince William Sound, but the town of Whittier itself does not have much to offer in terms of a destination in itself. Instead, the draw to Whittier for visitors is the access it provides to Prince William Sound. Prince William Sound is one of nature’s wonders – it includes Chugach National Forest, many tidewater glaciers, and narrow fjords that provide for a memorable experience for those who explore it.
One option for southbound cruisers who won’t visit Glacier Bay is to arrive in Anchorage the night before your cruise departs and then to take a day cruise out of Whittier to Surprise Glacier in Prince William Sound before embarking the Norwegian Sun. Major Marine Tours, the operator of the day cruise, is conveniently located next to the Whittier cruise terminal and you can take the Alaska Railroad to Whittier in the morning in time to take the day cruise before embarking your cruise ship.
For Norwegian Sun passengers that plan to spend time in South-central and Interior Alaska, Whittier is centrally located but there is not any direct transportation between Whittier and Seward, a popular destination due to it being on the border of Kenai Fjords National Park. Most independent cruisers that come into Whittier on a cruise but then travel further on their own travel to Anchorage before heading north to Talkeetna or Denali, or south to Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park either via the Alaska Railroad or the Park Connection Motorcoach. Another popular destination on the Kenai Peninsula is Homer, but you can only reach Homer by renting a car. You can rent a car in Whittier, but the one way fees are expensive so we usually recommend taking a bus transfer from Whittier and picking up your car in Anchorage (or vice-verse if going on a southbound cruise). The good news is that it is possible to travel between Whittier and Denali National Park via the Park Connection Motorcoach, a scheduled service that Alaska Tour & Travel offers throughout the summer season. You can then return to Anchorage from Denali by the Alaska Railroad.
The Norwegian Sun is a welcome addition to the fleet of cruise ships sailing across the Gulf of Alaska. Its itinerary includes excellent port of calls and its cross-gulf itinerary provides for many opportunities to extend your trip to spectacular destinations such as Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park.