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Alaskan Cruises: the Ultimate Guide


Skagway, Alaska – Alaskan Cruises

When is the Season for Alaskan Cruises?

Cruise lines most consistently visit Alaska between the months of late April to mid-September. This means that it can be difficult to narrow down your choices as many cruise lines have dozens of itineraries operating a month in season.

With so many must-see spots in Alaska, the most popular months are July and August. This is when the temperatures are the highest and most enjoyable with sunnier days. If you were hoping to see the northern lights, try to book an Alaskan cruise later in the season around late September. While this spectacle may be seen from multiple ports of call, watch out for deals through the cruise lines offering Aurora Borealis viewing experiences.

How is the Weather on Alaskan Cruises?

While spring, summer, and early fall on an Alaskan cruise can be fabulous, you should always come prepared.

This means you should definitely dress in layers. Mornings and nights can be quite chilly (in the 40s and 50s), however, mid-day when the sun is at its best can bring the high 70s and low 80s.

It also rains a lot in Alaska, so make sure to bring your best rain jacket and umbrella. When I went on my Alaskan cruise, I forgot my umbrella and instantly regretted it as while my body was protected, my face and shoes became soaked. Thus, also pack some waterproof shoes whether hiking shoes or rain boots.

Juneau, Alaska – Alaskan Cruises

How Do I Plan an Alaskan Cruise?

If you have never been on a cruise before, you may have some questions about the logistics and how to plan your cruise.

First, you will want to get an idea of what your must-see attractions are. Most Alaskan cruises follow the popular itineraries of the Inside Passage, Gulf of Alaska, or even longer sailings from the west coast. After you determine the itinerary you would like, then you need to focus on a specific cruise line. Each cruise line offers a unique experience for every type of cruiser. Then, you can select a date with that perfect cruise line and itinerary to book and mark in your calendar!

I highly recommend booking a balcony or higher stateroom on your cruise ship as you will not regret waking up to the breathtaking Alaskan landscape from your own private balcony. Also, make sure to avoid the loudest staterooms onboard to completely relax on your Alaskan cruise.

Once booked, you will receive access to more booking options like onboard packages, shore excursions, and stateroom upgrades. I highly suggest taking advantage of these pre-travel opportunities to have your vacation planned out before you leave!

What are the Different Alaskan Itineraries?

My first cruise to Alaska started in Seattle and went up the western Canadian coast, eventually bringing me through the inside passage. I was traveling with a group of over 20 people, so it made sense financially to start in the continental United States.

Our cruise was through the Norwegian Cruise Line and was 7 nights. For us, that was perfect, however, others may be looking for a shorter or longer experience spending more time in the Last Frontier. While that particular cruise was through a popular cruise line, there are ships running throughout the season sailing a variety of itineraries.

Inside Passage and San Juan Islands – Alaskan Cruises

Inside Passage

By far the most popular itinerary for Alaskan cruises in the inside passage. Itineraries typically leave out of either Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia. If you are looking to start your Alaskan cruise in Alaska, there are some inside passage cruises leaving from Juneau.

The history behind this unique water passage is quite interesting. Glacial ice carved the inside passage a long time ago, and today, cruise ships and other fishing boats zig-zag through the islets and channels to witness some of the most fascinating natural sights in the world.

Reasons to Cruise the Inside Passage

Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, and those who would just love to relax will fall in love with this itinerary. They all head out on Alaskan cruises for fishing charters, bird and bear-watching trips, seas kayaking expeditions, glacier hiking, and much more!

Book a stateroom overlooking Alaska’s magnificent mountains (often snow-capped even in the summer), waterfalls, lush forests, fjords, and calving glaciers. If you are looking for marine wildlife, you are in luck. On my shorter, 7-night cruise, I saw an abundance of whales, porpoises, sea lions, dolphins, and harbor seals. When in port, you can spot bears, Dall sheep, eagles, puffins, and countless other seabird species.

Shore excursions and onboard lectures are a must-do as they will overview the rich history of Alaska. You will want to learn about the cultures of the indigenous people of Alaska on your Alaskan cruise and about more recent inhabitants. This includes the Russian community in Sitka and the gold-seekers who moved to Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s.

Inside Passage Ports

The most popular inside passage ports are Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, Petersburg, and Skagway. Most Alaskan cruises also pass by the famous sights of Glacier Bay National Park, Dawes Glacier, and Endicott Arm.

A perk of Alaskan cruises traversing the inside passage is calm waters. If you are prone to seasickness, this may be the itinerary for you, versus one that transits over open, rougher waters.

This Princess Cruises itinerary visits the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska.

Gulf of Alaska

If you are looking for a little more than just exploring the Inside Passage, I highly suggest booking a Gulf of Alaska cruise. This way, you will enjoy parts of the Inside Passage and its ports while hitting other, less-visited cruise destinations to the north.

In general, these one-way itineraries depart from Anchorage (Seward) or Anchorage (Whittier) and end in Vancouver (or vice versa). Many of these sailings are seven nights, however, it should not be difficult to find ones longer.

Reasons to Cruise the Gulf of Alaska

You will have up to two days at sea perfect for scenic cruising as you enjoy the views of the landscape passing by. This may sound boring at first, however, these days at sea are completely different from others, as you will see some incredible sites. These include Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.

The Gulf of Alaska sailings can experience rough waters in the Gulf of Alaska section of the voyage. This is especially prevalent in late August and September, so that may be something to keep in mind if you are prone to seasickness.

Longer Alaskan Cruises from the West Coast

Finally, if you are looking for a longer cruise, there are some cruises leaving out of San Francisco. Usually 10 nights long, these round-trip itineraries are best suited for cruises who love days at sea.

You will typically have four days at sea (two from San Francisco to Juneau) with another day of scenic cruising when in Alaska. The waters before entering the Inside Passage can be rough or calm, it really depends on when you go.

The ports of these longer cruises are typically Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia.

Land and Sea Cruise-tours

On an Alaskan cruise, you can expect to journey along the state’s southeastern coast aboard your cruise ship. However, if you are looking to spend more time exploring inland, you may want to consider extending your vacation with a Cruisetours.

Many cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line offer these itineraries. These options were created by popular demand as you can combine a simple 7-night Alaskan cruise with an exhilirating land tour. These are typically booked through the cruise line where you can stay in authentic lodges and travel remote roads in motor coach.

Most of these Land and Sea Cruise-tours are guided by locals. This means you will get to know the land and culture with deep connections to the local communities.

Alaskan cruises in port

Types of Alaskan Cruises

No matter what cruising experience you are looking for, I guarantee you will find it in Alaska. Nearly every cruise line has voyages heading up to Alaska, from 3-day weekend trips to 180-day world cruises.

Mainstream and Family Cruise Lines for Alaskan Cruises

Just about all the main cruise lines offer sailings to Alaska’s scenic shores.

  1. Royal Caribbean International — Royal Caribbean offers spectacular itineraries up to the Last Frontier at extraordinarily low prices. With prices as low as $500 for a 7-night Alaskan cruise, this cruise line offers amenities for all types of cruisers– from toddlers to bingo enthusiasts.
  2. Norwegian Cruise Line — Norwegian (NCL) offers unique itineraries visiting the icy fjords and frozen wilderness. If you are looking to spend more time on land, check out their Alaskan Cruisetours! NCL prioritizes Alaskan cruises sending their two popular ships – Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore – out every summer!
  3. Disney Cruise Line — Disney Cruise Line offers outdoor adventures and picturesque scenery on their Alaskan cruises. This is the perfect cruise line to choose if you are traveling with little ones! They will fall in love with the Last Frontier with an immersive Disney experience.
  4. Celebrity Cruises — Celebrity Cruises offer their passengers a slightly more luxurious experience tailored to each guests’ dream Alaskan cruise. This cruise line is popular for their Alaska Cruisetours as well, spanning from 9 to 13 nights. Three award-winning ships will take you to Alaska: Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Millennium, and Celebrity Solstice.
  5. Carnival Cruise Line — Carnival offers affordable Alaskan cruises for the average cruise enthusiast. Their popular cruise ports include Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. They offer some longer West Coast cruises from San Francisco as well.

Small Cruise Lines and Expedition Sailings to Alaska

Active travelers may be searching for expedition-style voyages or cruises on a smaller ship to enjoy more time in port.

  1. Uncruise Adventures — Uncruise Adventures operates smaller ship expeditions to Alaska focusing on culture, wildlife, and active participation. Their fleet of small ships varies from 22-passengers to 84-passengers. Excursions are also included in the fair.
  2. Silversea — Silversea offers stylish yet intimate Alaskan cruises. You will fall in love with their new Silver Muse ship offering a spot for 596 guests in suites with butler services. These itineraries range from 7 to 11 days with extensive exploration opportunities.
  3. Seabourn — Seabourn combines personalized Alaskan cruises with ultra-luxury, perfect for navigating the pristine waterways. The best part of Seabourn is the marine biologist, geologist, photographer, and other experts on board ready to assist or answer any questions you may have.
  4. Regent Seven Seas — Seven Seas Mariner returns for Alaskan cruises every summer. This cruise line is world-renowned for its combination of comfortable suite living and excellent dining services. They offer a perfect 7-day itinerary with personalized day-trips into port.
  5. Holland America — Holland prides itself on its 75-year history of Alaskan cruises. They consistently rank as the best Alaska cruise because of their superior experience and knowledge of the best itineraries. Holland cruises by artic-blue glaciers and marine wildlife hitting those must-see attractions in Alaska.
Dark blue ocean waters approaching a glacier — Alaskan Cruises

Top Ports for Alaskan Cruises

No matter which cruise line and itinerary you ultimately decide on, you will likely visit a mix of these popular ports. Like Caribbean cruise ports, these ports cater to the cruise market. If you are looking for more than touristy attractions and activities, make sure to get out of the main port area and explore.

Ketchikan Alaska — Salmon Capital of the World

Ketchikan, Alaska

This port is known as the “salmon capital of the world”. You may have also heard of this authentic Alaskan town popular for Native Alaskan totem poles and the Misty Fjords National Monument. In fact, Ketchikan is home to more standing totem poles than anywhere else in the state.

What to do in Ketchikan:

The main draws include excursions to Saxman Native Village and learn about the totem poles in the area or enjoy The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. The show is staged within walking distance of the cruise port and it’s the place to see athletes wielding axes and saws in traditional lumbering activities.

Kayak or cruise tours of Misty Fjords are incredibly popular in Ketchikan as well. You can also sightsee by floatplane or city trolley, bear-watch, fish (think: salmon and halibut), hike through a rainforest, and try active adventures like a canoe safari, Zodiac expedition, zip-lining. You can even snorkel in the cool waters at Mountain Point, or take it easy with a pub crawl downtown to enjoy the tasty local brews and socialize with locals.

Skagway, Alaska – Alaskan Cruises

Skagway, Alaska

This is a great stop on Alaskan cruises to learn about the state’s rich Gold Rush history. Located around 90 miles northwest of Juneau, this port has a lot of excursions and activities for cruisers to enjoy. Skagway is known as the gateway to the Dawson and Klondike mining district in Canada’s Yukon Territory. This port can be quite crowded during the busy summer months when several ships are docked during the same day.

What to do in Skagway:

You can easily walk from the cruise port into town and explore on your own or book a guided shore excursion. Tours include panning for gold, a snowshoeing expedition, and rides on the White Pass Rail.

You can also visit a waterfall, hike the Chilkoot Trail, explore Glacier Point by ATV, helicopter flight-see the area’s glaciers, or rock climb and rappel. If you didn’t get to enjoy a dogsled experience yet, do it in Skagway. And if you just want to see the city sights, take the Skagway Street Car city tour.

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska – Alaskan Cruises

Juneau, Alaska

As Alaska’s capital city, Juneau is unique in that it has no roads leading from the rest of the state into the city. Located at the base of Mount Juneau, this cruise port can only be accessed via the water. Talking with locals, you will quickly realize that everything, including their cars, has to be brought in via ferry. This port is home to the famous Mendenhall Glacier, a popular spot for a unique shore excursion.

What to do in Juneau:

Look for kayak and bike adventures, a ride in the sky on the Mount Roberts Tramway (the pickup point is right at the cruise port), and wildlife-viewing trips (whale, bears, and more) while in Juneau.

Fishing outings and glacier visits (Mendenhall, Taku, and Tracy Arm Fjord) are also popular in Juneau. Even fun culinary trips such as an Alaska salmon bake or a craft beer tasting are popular in this port. You can go to a dogsled camp, pan for gold, or take a helicopter and land on Mendenhall Glacier as well.

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