Why Take An Alaska Cruise?
The Best Alaska Cruise Guide – 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. You can learn The Best Cruise Vacation Tips here, or visit us on Pinterest.
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 Itineraries
The Inside Passage is the most popular Alaska cruise route. Weeklong itineraries generally embark in either Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia — though there are some itineraries originating in Juneau. 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.
Longer Cruises From the West Coast
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. These cruises are best suited to travelers who love days at sea.
Not all of Alaska’s best sights lie along the coast. Denali National Park and the city of Fairbanks are well inland. And some coastal highlights, like the Kenai Peninsula, aren’t typically visited on a seven-night cruise. So the cruise lines created “cruisetours”, vacations that combine a week long cruise with a two- to seven-night bus tour.
On a cruisetour, you’ll sail a one-way Gulf of Alaska cruise, so your cruise starts or ends in Alaska. Depending on the tour itinerary you choose, you might visit Seward and the Kenai Peninsula, Alyeska, Talkeetna, Anchorage and Fairbanks — as well as spend one to three nights in Denali National Park.
Some lines also offer Alaska cruisetours that venture into Canada’s Yukon, including a few Holland America tours that combine half a cruise with a cruisetour that starts or ends in Skagway.
Your tour may include a ride on the scenic Alaska Railroad. Some activities are included in the cost of the cruisetour; other outings can be booked like shore excursions depending on your interest and budget. If you’re hoping to see the northern lights, booking a cruisetour in September might be your best bet to see the aurora on a cruise vacation.
Best Alaska Cruise Ports
Haines doesn’t have a lot of cruise ships that call in its port, but it does have some. You can also visit Haines by taking a shore excursion when your ship calls in nearby Skagway. However you get there, it is worth a visit for plenty of reasons. In addition to the scenery that every Alaska town has on offer, it also has the best weather in Southeast Alaska, making it ideal for outdoor activities like kayaking! In any part of Southeast Alaska you need to be ready for rain, any day, all year, but Haines gives you a better chance of a dry day than most. See the best Anchorage Shore Excursions here.
Ketchikan is relatively easy to get around on your own and has a bus system that takes you to most places. Ketchikan also has excellent shore excursions, particularly to Misty Fjords National Monument, and it’s a great place for fishing trips. This is the best Alaska cruise port for shopping, with delightful Creek Street and the streets surrounding it offering up more local art and gifts than many other ports. Make sure to visit Crazy Wolf Studio, which is Alaska Native owned and features Native art from across the northwest coast. In addition, I highly recommend the Captain’s Lady, with lots of locally made items as well as Ray Troll‘s studio. See the best Ketchikan Shore Excursions here.
Juneau has the most options for literally every traveler and this is why I put it right at the top of the list. In addition to the stunning natural beauty that every Alaska cruise port has on offer, Juneau has options for exploring around town on your own, many wonderful shore excursions including whale watching and fishing, a fascinating excursion to Mendenhall Glacier and fantastic hiking and other outdoor activities. In addition to shore excursions organized by your ship, you can also easily explore Juneau on your own by going for a hike or shopping around town. See the best Juneau Shore Excursions here.
Skagway is a tiny town with a very busy cruise port! This is as far north as cruise ships go in the Inside Passage. Skagway was put on the map by the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and has a colorful history. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was built during the Gold Rush and remains today as a tour for visitors and I will tell you that in my opinion (many agree with me!) this is the best shore excursion available in Southeast Alaska! There are several options for the train. See the best Skagway Shore Excursions here.
If you like to explore on your own, Sitka is the port for you! It has far fewer ships than many other ports so it’s fun for an independent minded traveler to explore. Most likely your ship will dock a few miles outside of town, but there’s a free shuttle downtown that goes every 15 minutes while a ship is in port, and it’s easy to zip around. Sitka’s beautiful setting on Baranof Island combined with an intriguing history of Tlingit history and modern culture with Russian and American rule make it an interesting place to visit. See the best Sitka Shore Excursions here.
Icy Strait Point/Hoonah
At Icy Strait Point, near the town of Hoonah, you can explore the museum in a historic cannery, walk the nature trails, eat delicious seafood and book one of the many tours offered. Tours include whale watching, trips to look for bears around Chichagof Island, ziplining and off road adventures. If you have the chance to go, don’t miss out on this truly unique Alaska cruise port, there’s nothing like it anywhere else! See the best Icy Strait Point 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.
Radiance of the Seas
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.
National Geographic Quest
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.