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Selecting the Right Alaskan Cruise for You

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Few cruise destinations are hotter than Alaska.

That’s because 1.2 million passengers are projected to depart from ports including Seattle and Vancouver to tame Alaska and the Yukon this year. And that number would topple the previous record of one million passengers about eight years ago.1

But don’t worry, the Last Frontier is the great wide open. There is plenty of room to roam around on an Alaskan cruise, whether you’re seeking to go whale watching in Glacier Bay or hike through Denali National Park.

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.2

 What’s Fresh on the Alaskan Cruise Scene?

If you have cruised to Alaska, there is a different experience awaiting you. That’s because Alaska is now the tale of two ships — small ones and big ones. Sure, your typical 3,000-passenger cruise ship is still dominating the seas. But you’ll also find an influx of smaller ships, from cruise lines such as top-rated Seabourn and Azamara, which are increasingly popular because they can get up close and personal to glaciers and also slip into smaller ports such as Ketchikan and Sitka. (We’ve actually put together a separate article breakdown Alaskan small ship options.) 3

On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska is also welcoming its first “mega” cruise ships. This includes Norwegian Cruise Line’s 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss and Royal Caribbean’s 5,000-passenger Ovation of the Seas. Those are floating villages. Be sure to get on the list for karaoke early — and good luck winning the bingo game. (But the prizes must be huge, too, right?)4

Size isn’t the only change greeting repeat cruisers. Itineraries and the ships themselves are becoming more eco-friendly, and mainland Alaska is building fresh attractions to both elevate shore excursions and give freelancing passengers a few fresh options to check out on their own.5 These include everything from wilderness lodges and ecology themed-attractions to craft beer hotspots, including Skagway Brewing and Klondike Brewing6.

Where (And How Long) to Cruise

Alaskan Cruises can take on a few different routes. Round-trip cruises departing from Vancouver and Seattle often loop through what’s called the Inside Passage before returning to that same city are popular. Other ways itineraries pack a few more ports into the same travel time, typically seven to 10 days, and 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.7

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.8

Current Intineraries

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 & Long Beach (L.A) 7-14 Contemporary Carnival Legend, Carnival Journey, & Carnival Splendor 
Celebrity Cruises Empty nesters and active adults Vancouver, Seattle & Seward 7-16 Premium Celebrity Solstice (9), Infinity (9), Celebrity Millennium (9), Celebrity Eclipse (5)
Crystal Cruises Globetrotters with flexible schedules and refined taste Vancover & Anchorage 7-11 Luxury Crystal Symphony
Disney Cruises Families Vancouver 5-9 Contemporary Disney Wonder (3)
Holland America Cruisers seeking manifold land + sea options Seattle, Vancouver, Fairbanks, Seward (Achorage), Anchorage & San Francisco 7-42 Premium Amsterdam, ms Eurodam (9), Nieuw Amsterdam (9), Noordam Oosterdam (14), ms Volendam (24), ms Westerdam (20), Zaandam (20), ms Maasdam & ms Noordam
Norwegian Travelers seeking modern amenities and plentiful accommodation options Seattle, Seward, Vancouver 7-14 Contemporary Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Bliss & Joy
Princess Cruises Travelers seeking a step up in class from Contemporary cruise lines (and “Loveboat” fans; the Pacific Princess was the featured vessel) Vancouver, Anchorage (Whittier), San Francisco, Los Angeles & Seattle 4-14 Premium Golden Princess (17), Coral Princess (14), Star Princess (20), Ruby Princess (17), Island Princess (17), Royal (7), Princess Emerald Princess & Grand Princess (24) 
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 4-11 Contemporary Radiance of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, & Explorer of the Seas
Silverseas Cruises Travelers looking for smaller, boutique ships and lavish amenities Seward (Achorage) & Vancouver 7-16 Luxury Silver Mus, Silver Shadow (7), & Silver Explorer (20) 

Based on current itineraries and date available on each cruise line’s customer portal. 

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 cabins 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.

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