The Alaska cruise capacity is so far expected to grow by three to four percent in 2005, reaching up to 880,000 passengers, compared to some 851,500 this year, according to Cruise Industry News (CIN).

Alaska is the third most popular cruise destination in the world, with 6.6 percent of the cruise capacity.

In 2004, the cruise capacity is up seven percent over last year, which was up five percent over 2002, following record growth of 11 percent year-over-year in 2001 and 2000, respectively, and five percent in 1999.

Surveyed by CIN, the major Alaska operators said they all expect to maintain their present capacity in Alaska next year, while Norwegian Cruise Line has announced an additional ship for next year, going from three to four, boosting its capacity by more than 30,000 passengers and basically providing most of the capacity growth for next year.

Commented John Hansen president of the Northwest Cruiseship Association: "Now that the market is more mature, while the increases are not that dramatic, they are more consistent year-over-year."

Hansen also noted what he called a lot of interest in the B.C./Washington area. "Three- to four-day cruises prior to the Alaska season are almost like samples. They would bring business in earlier and give local residents easy access to short cruises," he explained.

"Royal Caribbean International did short cruises in April and October 2002, but did not continue," he added.

Both Holland America Line (HAL) and Princess Cruises are investing heavily in their infrastructure in Alaska. Princess recently spent $26 million to expand the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge along with the Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge. In addition, Princess is now offering a "Direct to Wilderness" train ride that will take passengers from the pier in Whittier to the lodges.

HAL has opened the newly expanded Westmark Fairbanks Hotel - after spending $34 million. Said HAL Chairman and CEO Kirk Lanterman in a prepared statement: "We have a commitment to Alaska that keeps growing."