April 30, 2001
Experience Alaska in style on the Wilderness Express
by Deborah Stone
Alaska, land of the great wild wilderness, conjures up images of majestic mountains, abundant wildlife, ancient glaciers and towns filled with the spirit of the frontier.
It is a vast place of unforgettable memories, just waiting to be explored. There are many ways to discover the heart and soul of Alaska. One can make the lengthy drive into the state via Canada on the Alcan (Alaska/Canada Highway), take an Alaskan ferry or private cruise ship up through the Inside Passage or fly into one of the state's major airports. Visitors can venture off independently or join an organized tour, but due to its vastness, Alaska can be overwhelming in its scope of offerings.
It takes much time to explore all the nooks and crannies of this amazing destination and visitors usually combine various means of transportation to make their way around the various sights. With an unlimited time schedule, Alaska presents few problems for travelers; however, for those on a more restricted time schedule, a cruisetour offers one of the best options. A cruisetour combines an Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska cruise with a tour into the heart of the Alaskan Interior.
Passengers travel by rail and/or motorcoach to selected destinations, either before or upon conclusion of their seven-day cruise, exploring such places as Denali National Park, one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world; Fairbanks, known for its colorful gold-rush history; Alyeska, a quaint resort community; Talkeetna, the staging center for Mt. McKinley climbers and a mecca for fishermen; and Anchorage, a city of cultural offerings set against a dramatic scenic background. They stay overnight in a variety of wilderness lodges and have the opportunity to participate in activities ranging from horseback riding and whitewater rafting to hiking, canoeing and sightseeing.
Several companies have been offering cruisetours in the Alaska market for a few years now, including Princess Cruises and Holland America Westours.
New for the 2001 season is Royal Celebrity Tours, a new tour company created by Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises.
All three companies allow guests the flexibility to experience Alaska on land and at sea, with a variety of packages that range from nine days to two weeks. They also offer experiences on deluxe railcars, traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks, with stops in between.
Recently, Royal Celebrity Tours brought its two custom-built railcars to Seattle on a whistle-stop tour to launch its new product. The new cars, each called Wilderness Express, are the most accessible domed rail cars in the world, built by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, the Denver-based builder of custom rail cars. They are the industry's largest railcars, boasting the most dome glass of any double-decker railcars in the world.
With an eye-catching logo of a bear amidst mountains and stars in the shape of Alaska's flag (the Big Dipper) set against a white background, these cars are striking in their appearance. The handsome granite and wood interior enhances the buttery leather seats and speaks of luxury and comfort. The chairs each rotate in pairs, making it possible for a group of four to easily converse together, and each seat has a set of personal headphones with a five-channel music selection. Full bar and espresso service are offered on the dome level and there is full dining service on the lower level.
A small giftshop offers a selection of unique Alaskan gifts on the lower level and there is also an outside platform area for additional viewing. These cars are elegant, both in their exterior and interior appearance, and it's obvious that much care was taken in their design.
All passengers will be seated on the dome level, with accommodations for 80 people. There is a wheelchair lift from the ground level to the lower level and another lift from the lower level to the dome level, with seating for two wheelchairs on the dome level and one on the lower level in the dining room.
A bartender, host and tour director will staff the dome level, while on the lower level there will be two food servers and two chefs, operating out of a full kitchen, with a 36-seat dining room.
An array of gourmet meals will be offered, specializing in Northwest and Alaskan dishes. "We are thrilled to offer vacationers the opportunity to explore some of Alaska's most stunning and remote areas," said Bob Stone, vice president, operations for Royal Celebrity Tours. "We are confident that our guests will enjoy our varied itineraries and the 30-degree view offered by the most spectacular train cars in the world."
These cars, as with those of other companies, will be pulled by the Alaska Railroad. Royal Celebrity Tours is positioning their cars in the middle of the train to insure a smooth ride, ample wildlife viewing opportunities and better depot positioning. The cars are headed to Alaska to begin the season in mid May.
For more information about Royal Celebrity Tours and its packages, call 1-888-307-8401.