Calmer seas ahead for Alaskan cruises

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The Independent Travel

A major cruise line has announced that it is to begin tours of Alaska, suggesting that the lifting of the controversial entry fee on cruise ships could reinvigorate the region's cruise industry.

Oceania Cruises, an upmarket cruise line, will offer ten cruises to Alaska from 2011, the line confirmed last week.

The new itineraries will include several stops along Alaska's 1000-island "inside passage," a spectacular 800 kilometer route between the mainland and coastal islands. Major conurbations such as Sitka, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan will be on the routes, along with less-visited outposts such as Kodiak, Homer and Hoonah.

Earlier in April, Alaska's state legislature approved a bill that would reduce the $50 (€37) entry fee or "head tax" currently levied on passengers of large cruise ships.

The tax, originally introduced in 2006, drew condemnation from the cruise industry and led to several large lines such as Carnival, Norwegian and Princess cruises cutting their schedules or pulling out of the state altogether. It is estimated that visitation in 2010 will fall by some 14 percent (140,000 visitors) as a result of the tax.

While other economic factors were occasionally cited alongside the tax, the relief at its withdrawal is palpable from lines such as Oceania.

"Our guests are always seeking destinations rich in history, culture, adventure and stunning scenery. The great state of Alaska delivers all of these points of interest and more," said Oceania founder Frank Del Rio.

"We would also like to thank Alaska's Governor, Sean Parnell, and the Alaska Legislature for their efforts to rollback the head tax on cruise passengers which was an important consideration in evaluating our deployment alternatives."

With Oceania leading the way, residents in the Alaskan port towns that benefit from cruise tourism will be hoping that other lines soon follow suit. In a positive early sign, Holland America Line said that it was "looking carefully at its 2012 and beyond itineraries in light of this news."

Oceania's 10-day Alaska cruises starts at $3,499 (€2625) per guest based on double occupancy.

http://www.oceaniacruises.com/

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