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Selecting the Right Alaskan Cruise for You

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Aren’t cruises supposed to feature sunbathing on the Lido Deck, sun-soaked snorkeling excursions, and over-the-top boat drinks served in disemboweled fruit?

But how exactly does that work on an Alaska cruise? If you haven’t been on an Alaskan cruise, then you might be surprised to learn what the experience entails. There are no Zambonis or ice rinks. In fact, Alaskan summers – the cruise season lasts from May to September – range on average from 45F to 62F. And they can get much warmer. That’s almost flip-flop weather. 1

An Alaskan cruise can take on a few different routes. Round-trip cruises often departing from Vancouver and Seattle loop through what’s called the Inside Passage before returning to that same city are popular. Other way-way itineraries pack a few more ports into the same travel time, typically seven to 10 days, often starting or finishing in Anchorage. Tack on rail trips to Denali National Park, shipside Glacier-watching, and even inland overnights to Fairbanks and smaller towns. All of these options can amount to a much more eclectic itinerary that your typical Caribbean cruise. 2

More than one million travelers are expected to cruise through Alaska in 2015. And with increased popularity comes increased options. The below Alaskan Cruise Guide was developed to help you navigate through the many available options and hone in on a cruise line, ship and dates that best match the preferences of you and your family.

Defining Cruise Classes

Before breaking down the various Alaska cruise options, it’s important to detail the various class or level that cruise companies can be categorized under. This is the first filter many cruisers apply to their search. These classes include: Contemporary, Premium and Luxury. Some companies may choose a different label, such as “deluxe,” but these are the most popular ways of describing the relative cost, accommodations and other factors that make up a cruise.

  • Contemporary: These are mainstream cruise lines that pack and promote the value they bring travelers. They boast casual, family-friendly environments, Vegas-style shows and midnight buffets.
  • Premium: Synonymous for “upscale.” Marked by knowledgeable staff, onboard art collections and a fair amount of pampering.
  • Luxury: Don’t be surprised if you see bowties and white gloves among these floating formal ice palaces. No detail is spared in the dining experience or accommodations. 3

2015 – 2016 Alaska Cruise Guide

Cruise LineIdeal for…Departure CitiesCruise Length in DaysClassShips Cruise ships(# Denotes Top 25 boats based on reviews and health ratings)4
Carnival Value seekers Vancouver, Seattle 7-8 Contemporary Carnival Legend
Celebrity Cruises Empty nesters and active adults Vancouver, Seattle 7-12 Premium Celebrity Solstice (#2), Infinity (#5), Celebrity Millennium (#10)
Crystal Cruises Globetrotters with flexible schedules and refined taste Tokyo, Vancouver, Anchorage / Seward 7-32 Luxury Crystal Symphony, Crystal Serenity
Disney Cruises Families Vancouver 7 Contemporary Disney Wonder (#4)
Holland America Cruisers seeking manifold land + sea options Vancouver, Seattle, Seward / Anchorage 7-20 Premium ms Oosterdam (#5), ms Nordam, ms Westerdam, ms Zaandam, ms Volendam, ms Amsterdam
Norwegian Travelers seeking modern amenities and plentiful accommodation options Seattle, Seward, Vancouver 7-22 Contemporary Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl
Princess Cruises Travelers seeking a step up in class from Contemporary cruise lines (and “Loveboat” fans; the Pacific Princess was the featured vessel) Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage / Whittier 6-15 Premium Coral Princess (#5), Ruby Princess (#5), Star Princess, Grand Princess, Pacific Princess
Regent Seven Seas Cruises Cruisers seeking top-flight amenities and extended stays at sea San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage/Seward 7-42 Luxury Seven Seas Navigator (#3), Seven Seas Mariner
Royal Caribbean Families and active adults seeking value Seattle, Seward, Vancouver 5-20 Contemporary Jewel of the Seas (#5), Explorer of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas
Silverseas Cruises Travelers looking for smaller, boutique ships and lavish amenities San Francisco, Vancouver, Seward / Anchorage 5-20 Luxury Silver Shadow (#1), Silver Discoverer

Based on 2015 – 2016 itineraries and date available on each cruise line’s customer portal. Non-Alaskan ports and destinations omitted for extended cruises spanning Asia, South America, etc.

If you can imagine your perfect Alaskan cruise itinerary, odds are it’s available through one of these cruises lines. The best way to approach finding the right cruise for you is to start with two or three “gotta-have” elements – the dates, price point, etc. – and then dial in on the smaller details, including ports of call and types of cabin available. And while you’ll want to pack a hat and maybe even some gloves depending on the departure date, bring a bathing suit, too; the pools are heated.

Jul 14, 2015