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This unusual new Holland America itinerary is one you can’t miss

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These cruises are going to be rare ones, Holland America fans. So get ready to book before they fill up.

The Seattle-based line on Thursday announced an unusual new “Great Bear Rainforest” itinerary that’ll take in portions of the western coast of Canada that cruise ships almost never visit.

But here’s the catch: There only will be two departures of the new routing for now: One in 2025 and one in 2026.

The seven-night sailings, which will begin and end in Seattle, will be alternatives to a classic voyage to Alaska.

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The trips will only include one day in the Last Frontier state, in the port town of Ketchikan.. But instead of continuing on from Ketchikan to the Alaskan ports of Juneau and Skagway, as is typical for an Alaska cruise, the ship operating the sailings, the 1,972-passenger Noordam, will then head south into the immensely scenic narrow channels that cut through the western edge of British Columbia.

They are waterways that once formed the heart of what was known as the “Inside Passage” to Alaska but have been mostly bypassed by cruise vessels for decades.

Grenville Channel
The Inside Passage through British Columbia. ANDREW PEACOCK/GETTY IMAGES

“What we are doing with this sailing is we’re offering the old Inside Passage,” Paul Grigsby, Holland America’s vice president for revenue planning and analytics, told TPG in an exclusive interview in advance of the announcement.

“It’s an impossibly narrow area,” added Grigsby, who oversees Holland America’s itinerary planning team.

After tucking into Ketchikan for the day, Noordam will start the British Columbia experience with an overnight in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

It’ll then cruise through the super-narrow Grenville Channel (so narrow you feel like you can reach out and touch its sides as you cruise through it) as well as the Johnstone Strait and Seymour Narrows.

A maiden call at Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island and a visit to Victoria, British Columbia, will round out the trip.

The Great Bear Rainforest itinerary

Grigsby noted that the Grenville Channel and the other narrow waterways that Noordam will travel through formed the safe route to Alaska during the gold rush days of the 1800s when the passage was plied by steamboats. But it fell out of favor with Alaska-bound vessels over time as ships became bigger and willing to brave the open ocean to get to Alaska faster.

Cruise ships sailing to Alaska in recent decades have almost always bypassed this old Inside Passage area so they could get to Alaska more quickly and spend more time there.

“Many of the earlier cruise ships would also go the same [narrow] route, but with changing times, with the need to get up to Alaska faster, they skipped this,” Grigsby noted.

For the most part, the only time cruise vessels have entered these old Inside Passage channels in recent decades has been when there have been storms riling up the seas in the open ocean outside of the passage.

“Nowadays, it’s more by chance [that a ship goes into the channels],” Grigsby said. “That’s why I thought, let’s actually do it [in a planned way]. So that it’s something that we can line up and have everybody ready for the experience.”

The Great Bear Rainforest itinerary will include a sail past British Columbia’s Newcastle Island. RYAN DJAKOVIC/GETTY IMAGES

The new trips are named after the Great Bear Rainforest, which covers a large chunk of the area through which the ship will travel. It’s a region known for such wildlife as whales, eagles and the rare Kermode bear — also known as the spirit bear.

“This rainforest makes up one of the largest temperate rainforests on the planet, and we’re kind of driving right into the heart of it with this cruise,” Grigsby said. “We expect that there’ll be a lot of opportunity for wildlife sightings, and it’ll be up close.”

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Grigsby said the line was likely to bring interpreters on the ship from the First Nations people who live in the region.

The call at Victoria will be unusual in that it’ll be a full-day call instead of the sort of short, four-hour visit that is more typical on Alaska cruises. It’ll allow passengers to really explore the city, which is lovely, Grigsby said.

For now, there will only be two departures of the new Great Bear Rainforest itinerary on Holland America’s schedule: one starting Oct. 5, 2025, and one starting April 19, 2026. But if they’re a hit, there could be more, Grigsby hinted.

Fares for the voyages start at $679 per person, based on double occupancy and not including taxes, fees and port charges.

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