Why Take An Alaska Cruise?
Alaska is a diverse destination with thousands of miles of scenic coastline that is a natural draw for cruise ships. Each port offers a different perspective on life in Alaska. You will enjoy the history and the ambiance of the 49th state, but the wildlife and scenery are the main attractions. You’ll find majestic mountains, massive glaciers, tranquil waterways, acres of rain forest and Arctic tundra. Lots of wildlife to include whales, eagles, bears, moose, seals and seabirds may be seen from your ship, in port or on a shore tour. Need to know what to pack for your Alaskan Vacation? << Click Here >>
The main concern with an Alaska cruise is the weather. You are likely to be trading in a week of warmer weather at home for a good possibility of gray or rainy days, and chilly temperatures. Helicopter and float plane tours are canceled frequently for imperfect conditions, and no tour can guarantee wildlife viewings. But, I can tell you that a visit to Alaska will not disappoint you. If you’re considering a an Alaskan Cruise, whether for the first time or not, here are some reasons why you should book an Alaskan cruise:
You Can Take Your Pick of Cruise Line
This is one of the most popular cruise destinations, and the cruising season only lasts from mid-May to mid-September. There is high demand for this cruise, and plenty of ships to fill to capacity during those four summer months. Almost every cruise line serves Alaska, so there’s more than a dozen lines to choose from. If you want to get the best Alaska Cruise Itinerary, then you have to book early. Which cruise line is best? I’ll get into that later in this post.
It’s the Most Multi Generational Destination
For many, an Alaskan Cruise is a bucket list destination, but don’t wait too long to experience such a spectacular place. Kids are fascinated by the grandiosity of watching a glacier calve or a whale breach. Some shore excursions (great for kids) are dog sledding and whale watching. Alaska has various activity levels and points of interest for all ages. If you’re looking for your next family trip with the kids and grand kids, you should start planning now.
Unparalleled Access to Ice and Wildlife
If you can reach out and touch an iceberg or come within feet of a brown bear fishing for salmon, that is pretty close and personal. In Alaska, there’s an abundance of glaciers and wild animals. You can see this all from the comfort of your cruise ship. Encountering a moose on a hike, or an otter by kayak is thrilling, but you can also view the wildlife from the deck of your ship. Most, if not all Alaska itineraries include scenic cruising days where your sole intention is to take out the binoculars, and search the horizon for a whale tail or bald eagle’s white head. On Glacier Bay cruises, a national park ranger is required to board in the protected waters, and provide an informative commentary about what you’re looking at and what to look out for. Glaciers are receding at a rapid rate, so visit before the landscape is forever changed.
Perfect Excuse for a Pre- or Post-Cruise Land Tour
Alaska can’t be fully experienced in a week at sea. You will want a few extra days with sights like Denali National Park or the Kenai River Valley, which aren’t accessible by cruise ship. A trip out to the largest U.S. state is something you will want to do.
When is the Best Time for an Alaska Cruise?
The Alaska cruise season runs from late April to September, with high season typically June through August. However, the best time to go is really hard to say. June, July and August are the warmest months (with average temperatures in the 60s), but July and August, can be quite rainy. The later in the summer you go, the better your chances of seeing wildlife are. This is also your best bet if you want to have a variety of fish to reel in on a shore excursion.
May and September are the best months for a cheaper cruise fare, and fewer crowds. But, because of the unpredictable weather, shore excursions have a bigger, especially boat and helicopter tours. May is one of the driest cruising months in the Inside Passage region, but you will probably find snow on the ground. May is great for scenic photos, but less ideal for hiking.
Cruising in September offers the best possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, as well as finding great shopping deals for souvenirs. You will find though, that the Gulf of Alaska is the choppiest in September, and not recommended for travelers who get seasick. Also, access to Denali National Park has been known to close in September due to snow.
What Should I Pack for an Alaska Cruise?
You’ll likely need a warm winter jacket for cool evenings. Bring bug spray, long shirts and pants, and polarized sunglasses for the many hours of sun reflecting off glaciers. Pants that zip into shorts might seem lame but could come in handy on all-day excursions. Bring rollable windbreakers or jackets that will fit into a day bag if you start breaking a sweat. Plenty of rain gear (August – September) including waterproof shoes and wool socks (wool dries much better than cotton). In September, bring heavy layers that will keep you warm but also stay dry. << Click Here >> for your Alaska Cruise “What to Pack” list.
Best Alaska Cruise Itinerary
These are typically eight day cruises that usually from Seattle or Vancouver. The Inside Passage is a sheltered waterway between Pacific Coast islands where you will have calm, scenic cruising. The main ports of call are Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Ketchikan. Some ships stop in Icy Strait, Haines, Wrangell or Petersburg. Sailings from Seattle must call on a Canadian port, usually Victoria or Vancouver.
The Gulf of Alaska
The Gulf itinerary is usually an eight day cruise between Seattle/Vancouver and Seward/Whittier, the gateway ports for Anchorage. Itineraries here reach farther north and have better access to Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city. In Anchorage you will find many land-based tours. This cruise will also stop at Kenai Peninsula ports, and regional glaciers. You can also have the opportunity to visit the Inside Passage ports with this cruise. A typical Gulf of Alaska cruise will probably include stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as Sitka.
A few cruise lines offer 10- to 14-night Alaska cruises, often round trip or one-way from San Francisco. Holland America offers a two-week trip, running round trip from Seattle, that actually docks in Anchorage, with options for long day trips into the Alaskan interior.
You can opt for a trip on the smaller expedition vessels of lines like UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions. These cruises will focus more on nature and wildlife, rather than the big-name ports. The advantage of these small ships is that they can go places that the larger cruises cannot. Places like the Alaska Native village of Kake, Wrangell Narrows, and thru tiny inlets. They can follow aquatic wildlife when spotted, and have zodiac rafts and kayaks to bring you closer to glaciers and wildlife.
Alaska Cruise Ports
You don’t have to go looking for breathtaking scenery in Anchorage; it is everywhere, and will surprise you at every turn. The horizon is glorious, and the mountains and ocean create magnificent backdrops. While Anchorage may be rather built up, and sections of it are somewhat commercial, you do not have to go far to find yourself deep in the Alaskan wilderness. In fact, a tour on a float plane will take you into regions that are remarkably remote, where the only life you will see is a bear hunting the Alaskan waters for a fresh salmon dinner. See the best Anchorage Shore Excursions here.
Creek Street is the main attraction in Ketchikan. Built on pilings over the water, it once was the city’s red light district and is now lined with funky stores and restaurants overlooking canoeists and leaping salmon. Ketchikan is the gateway port for scenic tours of the Tongass National Forest and Misty Fjords, as well as fishing trips. Be prepared: It’s one of the rainiest cities in the U.S. See the best Ketchikan Shore Excursions here.
In Juneau, Alaska’s capital; you can kayak, canoe or hike close to Mendenhall Glacier. In town, the Mount Roberts Tramway takes riders 1,800 feet up for gorgeous views and hiking trails. Or you can enjoy honky-tonk music and wholesome grub at the raucous Red Dog Saloon, which should not be missed. There are some breweries here as well. See the best Juneau Shore Excursions here.
Skagway came into being in the last part of the 19th century as the nearest port of entry for gold rushers making their way into the Klondike in search of gold. Today, a train ride along the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is a must for cruise passengers. The tracks follow the route the gold-seekers took. In town, take a Gold Rush history tour, or spend your own at the various shops. See the best Skagway Shore Excursions here.
Sitka offers a unique cultural experience both Alaska Native and Russian-descent populations. Many remnants of Alaska’s Russian and Tlingit heritage are found there. Another highlight is the Alaska Raptor Center, a facility dedicated to healing injured birds of prey, primarily American eagles. See the best Sitka Shore Excursions here.
Best Alaska Cruises
The Celebrity Solstice, sailing from Seattle, is definitely one of the best Alaskan cruises for 2018. On Celebrity Solstice, you can enjoy a picnic or some bocce ball at the Lawn Club, or take in a Hot Glass Show. You can enjoy a drink and the amazing views at the Sky Observation Lounge or some late-night comedy at Celebrity Central. Be sure to grab a cocktail at the Crush Martini Bar, which is complete with a frosted bar top. Besides the great ship’s amenities, you will love the traditional Alaskan cruise itinerary. The cruise itinerary ports include Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Victoria, BC, and a sail through Tracy Arm Fjord and the Inside Passage.
Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas offers one-way itineraries leaving from either Vancouver, British Columbia or Seward, Alaska, This itinerary visits ports of call including Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Icy Strait Point. It also cruises through the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier. On Radiance of the Seas, you might not even need a balcony, as this ship offers some of the greatest views of Alaska from the nine-story central atrium and outward facing elevators. While you cruise Alaska, you can also enjoy over a dozen bars like the signature Schooner Bar, and a variety of dining including Chop’s Grill and the newly added Park Cafe.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest ship, Norwegian Bliss is the largest cruise ship in the region. It cruises the classic Alaska itinerary from Seattle with ports of call in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Victoria, BC. It offers amenities that you won’t find on any other ship sailing in the region. With a racetrack, a BBQ joint, and laser tag, it is perfect for families. In addition, there’s a Starbucks, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and the Broadway hit Jersey Boys. Norwegian Bliss is an easy choice for an Alaskan Cruise vacation.
The Ruby Princess sails round trip from Seattle, and includes a scenic cruise through Glacier Bay National Park. This ship is a foodie’s delight featuring the SHARE specialty restaurant from celebrity chef Curtis Stone. Of course, there are plenty of additional dining options including the Crab Shack and the Salty Dog Gastropub. You can also enjoy entertainment and drinks in the grand multi-deck Piazza complete with street performers, or head outdoors to cuddle up for Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck complete with complimentary blankets and popcorn. Princess Cruises also offers a 10-day round trip cruise from San Francisco on the Grand Princess.
If you are looking for an adventure like no other, then Linbald Expeditions newest ship, the National Geographic Quest is perfect for you. This expedition ship accommodates only 100 guests. It can navigate the inner channels to provide an up-close and personal experience with the landscapes and wildlife. The ship does not skimp on accommodations, providing spacious cabins, an open bow and observation deck. A cruise to Alaska on board the National Geographic Quest will be an unforgettable experience. Hop on board the expedition landing crafts or kayaks for daytime adventures. Then spend the evenings relaxing in the lounge while sipping drinks and recapping your day. These voyages are one way trips from Juneau to Sitka, or Sitka to Juneau.