Let's Debate : Holland America vs. Princess in Alaska
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
“ 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 Holland America?
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....
Line began sailing Alaska in 1967.
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 Alaskan waters.
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
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, while onboard.
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 Princess Cruises.
Both Holland America and Princess'
Alaska cruises, offer a number of round-trip seven-night
itineraries, that feature the most popular ports of call :
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
Princess Alaska Itineraries
Holland America Alaska Itineraries
Princess Cruises offer
on 10-night cruises that travel the
Inside Passage with port calls in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and
You will 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.
Shop Princess Cruises
Shop Holland America Cruises
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
Read our new Alaska Land & Sea Vacation Review from our trip to Alaska in
Shop Princess Land & Sea Vacations
Shop Holland America Land + Sea Vacations
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 travel with.
With 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 options.
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
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
Alaskan Native Presentation
Possible opportunity to see 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 land excursions
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 opportunities
Travels over Sable Pass to scenic Polychrome Overlook
Stony Hill Overlook provides opportunities to see Mt. McKinley (weather
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
Passengers with 2-night stays at Denali
Passengers who want a deep Denali Park experience
Passengers who enjoy motorcoach travel
Duration: Approximately 14 hours
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
Visit the Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake
Abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing
Possible opportunities to see Mt. Mckinley (weather permitting)
Limited space availability
Note: This tour does not operate when the park road is not fully accessible
due to weather.
Passengers with 2-night stays at Denali
Passengers who want to travel to the end of the park road
Passengers who enjoy motorcoach travel
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
Wheelchair accessible buses are available, and all stops are wheelchair
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
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
Holland America vs. Princess in Alaska
Historically, Holland America
appeals to an older demographic, with onboard activity and entertainment
appealing to these travelers. The line is best suited for 55+
seniors traveling with or without a group of
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
Did You Know: Grizzly bears have been a threatened
species since 1975 in the Lower 48 states? Alaska however has
over 32,000 grizzlies. Considering Alaska's population is only
670,000, that's 1 bear for every 21 people. Alaska is home to
magnificent glaciers, giant halibut, hardy outdoorsmen.... and
lots of moose. Alaska has 39 mountain ranges. Did you know? The
larger ranges include: Alaska Range, which includes 20,320 foot
Mt. McKinley, the continent's tallest peak , Aleutian Range, a
volcano-ridden range on the Alaska Peninsula, Brooks Range,
which is above the Arctic Circle; the Continental Divide runs
through it and Boundary Ranges, along the Canadian border of the