If you've ever wanted to cruise to Alaska, this may be the summer to sail away. The weak economy, and an abundance of ships sailing from Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., on Alaskan cruises, are keeping prices down.

If you’ve ever wanted to cruise to Alaska, this may be the summer to sail away. The weak economy, and an abundance of ships sailing from Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., on Alaskan cruises, are keeping prices down.

How low? Celebrity Cruises is offering a seven-night round-trip Seattle-to-Southeast Alaska cruise starting at $549 per person on some sailings of its ship Infinity. Four other major cruise lines sailing out of Seattle — Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines — also are offering deals, with fares starting around $650-$700 per person for a weeklong cruise, even in the July-August high season. Such prices are significantly lower that past years, sometimes saving passengers hundreds of dollars.

“This is the most aggressive pricing we’ve seen in many years,” said Rick Meadows, the executive vice president of marketing for Seattle-based Holland America Line. It will base three ships here this summer, including the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam that was to be the first to dock when Seattle’s new Smith Cove Cruise Terminal opened Friday.

Prices are low for cruises worldwide this year as Americans, by far the bulk of worldwide cruise passengers, economize on everything and cut back on travel. That’s forced cruise lines to offer all sorts of discounts, from early-booking specials and onboard credit to two-for-one deals and last-minute discounts, to fill up their ships.

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Next year, however, Seattle-to-Alaska cruises could be costlier as several ships will be shifted out of the Alaska market and additional (and more expensive) 14-day cruises will be offered. However, Carnival Cruise Lines will sail out of Seattle for the first time in 2010 with midweek Alaska cruises.

Many sailings, many choices

Seattle kicked off its five-month Alaska cruise season Friday when the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal opened at Pier 91 near Magnolia. It replaces Terminal 30, at the south edge of downtown, which has reverted to cargo; the city’s downtown Bell Street Cruise Pier Terminal (at Pier 66) continues to host cruise lines.

Eleven ships will sail out of Seattle this season, with 211 ship calls and an estimated 801,000 passengers, according to the Port of Seattle, down from last year’s record 886,039. The ships will glide in and out of Seattle mostly on weekends; the gleaming white floating mini-cities include the 2,600-passenger Star Princess.

Most Seattle sailings will be weeklong roundtrips to Southeast Alaska, with stops in ports such as Ketchikan and Juneau, plus Victoria, B.C. But several lines, including Holland America and Celebrity, also offer three- or four-night Pacific Northwest cruises at the beginning and end of the season.

For would-be cruisers, all those sailings mean a big choice in style and price, from an apartmentlike penthouse suite, with a private veranda, to an inside stateroom. There are, of course, downsides to getting the cheapest stateroom on a ship. You’ll get a small inside cabin — no porthole, no window — possibly on the lowest deck. And then there’s the fine print: The lowest fares are available only on certain sailings; are based on double occupancy; and taxes and fees are additional. (For the $549 fare available as of midweek on the May 22 sailing on the Celebrity Infinity, taxes and fees add about $128 per person).

Yet even if you’re sleeping in the modern-ship equivalent of steerage, you still get an all-inclusive trip — accommodation, transport, meals and entertainment are covered in the price.

Besides, even if your cabin doesn’t have a view, all the ships have many public rooms and decks. Whether you’re economizing or splurging on a cruise, you’ll enjoy the same scenery of the Washington, British Columbia and Alaska coasts, from seaside cities to a wilderness of fjords, peaks and glaciers.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271.