Queen Elizabeth: North To Alaska – Other Cruise News: Neo-Panamax Cruise Ships – Saguenay Season
by Kevin Griffin
In May 2019, after crossing the Pacific from Japan, Cunard Line’s 2,101-berth Queen Elizabeth will offer a spring season of four cruises from Vancouver to Alaska. This will also be the first time a ship called Queen Elizabeth has visited British Columbia since 1942. Meanwhile, the Panama Canal Authority marked the passage of the first super-sized Neo-Panamax cruise ship to use the expanded waterway, when the 3,114-berth Caribbean Princess did so last Thursday. And back up north, the Canadian port of Saguenay closed out another successful cruise season.
THIS WEEK’S STORY
Queen Elizabeth: North To Alaska
Cunard Line’s 2,101-berth Queen Elizabeth will be offering a spring Alaska season in 2019, with 10-night voyages leaving Vancouver on May 21 and 31 and June 10 and 20 for Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, as well as Tracy Arm or Endicott Arm, Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier and Victoria, capital of British Columbia.
As well the Queen Elizabeth will offer a selection of one-way voyages from Vancouver to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Two departing on June 20 will include the full Alaska cruise and finish in San Francisco after thirteen nights or Los Angeles after fifteen. Two more pure coastal voyages will be offered from Vancouver on June 30, sailing to San Francisco in three nights or Los Angeles in five.
On her way to Alaska, the Queen Elizabeth will offer a 17-night sailing from Yokohama on May 5, bound for Vancouver via Aomori and Sapporo, Japan, before crossing the Pacific. In Alaska she will call at Kodiak, Seward and Juneau.
The Pacific crossing will also be offered as a 35-night cruise from Sydney, departing on April 1. This will follow an extensive series of fourteen cruises from Australian ports.
The last time a Queen Elizabeth visited Victoria was February 1942, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, and the ship’s visit was kept a secret.
The original ship spent two weeks at the Esquimalt dry dock in Victoria, from February 18 to March 10, refitting as a troopship with 3,000 extra bunks.
From Victoria, the original Queen Elizabeth proceeded to San Francisco, from where she sailed with 8,000 troops for the 7,700-mile voyage to Sydney.
Today’s Queen Elizabeth will also berth together with the original Queen Mary when she calls at Long Beach, where the latter ship has been preserved since 1967. Queen Mary 2 made her first visit to Long Beach in 2006 and Queen Victoria in 2011 while the Queen Elizabeth herself made her first call in 2013.
The 2019 Alaska cruises will be the first to be offered by Cunard since the 950-berth Cunard Princess in the 1980s, the 589-berth Sagafjord in the 1990s and 820-berth Crown Dynasty offered the last Cunard Alaska cruises in 1997.
OTHER CRUISE NEWS
Neo-Panamax Cruise Ships
Until now, only Neo-Panamax container ships have made use of the new and larger Panama Canal to make the transit between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
But on Thursday, October 26, the canal’s first Neo-Panamax cruise ship, the Caribbean Princess, made her first transit, with 3,086 passengers on board.
The Caribbean Princess had sailed from Fort Lauderdale and entered the waterway from the Atlantic side for a partial canal transit before continuing her voyage around the Caribbean and back to Fort Lauderdale.
It is expected that 235 cruise ships will transit the enlarged canal this winter. The biggest cruise ship to traverse the waterway will be the 4,200-berth Norwegian Bliss, currently under construction and planned for the Alaska trade in 2018.
The expanded canal was inaugurated in June 2016 to accommodate today’s larger vessels, called Neo-Panamax.
In addition to the existing locks, cruise lines now have the option of including the expanded canal as part of their itineraries, thus opening up additional opportunities for their larger vessels
Disney Cruise Line’s 1,750-berth Disney Wonder, a ship of the original Panamax size, became the first cruise ship to transit the newly expanded waterway this April.
She will transit again this winter along with the Caribbean Princess, the 2,974-berth Carnival Freedom and Carnival Splendor and the Norwegian Bliss. Together, the five ships will make a total of twenty canal transits.
Eleven new cruise ships will transit either the Canal’s Panamax or Neo-Panamax Locks for the first time from the following lines: Carnival, Lindblad, Norwegian, Princess, Silversea and Viking Cruises, with each ship making multiple transits.
The most obvious sign of the expanded canal’s impact on the cruise market will be Norwegian Bliss, when she makes her first positioning voyage through the new canal en route to Seattle to begin her Alaska season. The ship, with dimensions of 1.069 by 136 feet, far exceeds Queen Elizabeth 2, at 963 by 105 feet, and will become the largest cruise ship ever to transit the Canal when she does so in May.
The Panama Canal’s 2017-2018 cruise season began on October 2, 2017, with a partial transit of Princess’s 1,974-berth Island Princess on a round voyage to and from Los Angeles with stops along the West Coast of North and Central America.
A call by the 3,114-ton Crown Princess concluded the Saguenay cruise season last Friday, October 27. This call was the 55th and final cruise ship visit of a record season.
Particularly of note, nineteen ships docked in the twelve days between September 29 and October 12, peak foliage season.
On October 5, Saguenay saw another visit by three ships the 450-berth Seabourn Quest, 708-berth Seven Seas Mariner and Phoenix Reisen’s 1,176-berth Artania.
Another highlight this year was the length of the average call increasing to more than fifteen hours, compared to just eight hours in 2016.
Sixty calls are forecast for 2018, including the Queen Mary 2, which made her first Saguenay call in 2016, and a first ever call by the 1,750-berth Disney Magic. The Canadian port has had a dedicated cruise pier since 2006.
Saguenay counted a dozen cruise lines in 2017, with Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Pearl Seas, Phoenix, Princess, Regent, Seabourn, Silversea and Viking.
The Saguenay River has been a tourist attraction since Cunard’s 50-berth 648-ton Unicorn departed Quebec for the Saguenay on August 24, 1840, at a special fare of £6.
This was in Cunard’s very first year of operation but did not become a staple Cunard offering as the Unicorn’s real task was to maintain a weekly feeder service between Quebec and Pictou, Nova Scotia, that connected by stage coach with Cunard’s Transatlantic ships at Halifax.
This first 1840 cruise of the Unicorn was nevertheless recorded for posterity in “Fisher’s Colonial Maagazine” for July 1843 and in advertisements that appeared in contemporary publications in the summer of 1840.
The most important name in the Saguenay cruise trade for many decades was Canada Steamship Lines of Montreal. In 1921, that company’s 200-berth Cape Eternity introduced the first dedicated weekly cruise service from Montreal to the Saguenay.
The Cape Eternity was followed in 1938 by a larger ship, the 416-berth Richelieu, which maintained the weekly cruise service throughout the Second World War and right up until the close of the service in 1965.
The Richelieu was in fact a historic cruise ship as she featured fifty verandah cabins in her passenger accommodation. Almost a quarter of her guests thus had a private balcony.
(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)