Cruising Alaska

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear “Alaska”? Is it “bears,” “glaciers,” “whales,” “totem poles,” “Denali.” Many people will respond with “cruise.” More than half of travelers who visit Alaska take a cruise.

Now if you think all of these cruises are the same, you’re sorely mistaken. All of these options means there’s an Alaska cruise for every type of traveler, whether you’re looking for a wilderness adventure, a cultural experience, a fun family vacation or a luxurious escape into nature.

Alaska sees every type of cruise ship from Norwegian’s new mega-ships complete with water slides, laser tag and go-kart tracks to Maple Leaf Adventures’ converted tugboat that holds just 12 guests, and everything in between like Disney’s family-focused cruise ships or Cunard’s elegant ocean liners. One size certainly doesn’t fit all. Fun facts: Hurtigruten sails into Alaska for the first time this year on the world’s first hybrid cruise ship. UnCruise rarely, if ever, makes port calls, opting for pure wilderness experiences. Alaskan Dream Cruises is the only Alaska Native-owned cruise line. And while Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have been sailing in Alaska the longest, 70 and 50 years respectively, they’re both introducing new ships to Alaska this summer.

Most of these ships sail from Seattle or Vancouver through Alaska’s Inside Passage and hot spots like Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Icy Strait Point to Seward or Whittier in Southcentral Alaska. Recently more small communities like Yakutat, Elfin Cove, Metlakatla and Kake are appearing on cruise itineraries. And still more cruises are sailing even farther away to Nome in the Arctic or Kodiak and Dutch Harbor in the Southwest region. Take a look at the Alaska map and zero in on the destinations you really want to see as one way to narrow down your cruise choices.

If you’re open-minded about your destinations, think about what you want to experience on the cruise to help narrow down your choices. Beyond the entertainment options on the ship, some cruises include shore activities, while others offer them a la carte. With so many things to do in Alaska, it’s perfectly reasonable to fit hiking, kayaking, glacier trekking and dog mushing into one trip. There are plenty of new and unexpected activities: rent an electric bike in Skagway; take a foodie tour of Juneau; or go snorkeling in Ketchikan. Curious about Alaska Native culture? Seek out opportunities to learn from guides and interpreters, watch traditional performances or carving demonstrations or visit cultural spaces.

Many cruisers also want to visit Denali National Park and Preserve or cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks while they’re in the state, and several cruise lines offer add-on land packages to make that possible. If your cruise line doesn’t, design your own Alaska vacation package with some of our suggested land itineraries.

And for the record, no matter what word you associate with Alaska, whether it’s “bears,” “glaciers,” “whales” or “totem poles,” you really can do it all from a cruise ship. To get the most out of your time in Alaska, check out our Alaska trip planner here.

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