A cruise ship sails by the town of Juneau, Alaska

How to Plan the Best Alaska Cruise

How to Plan the Best Alaska Cruise

When it comes to cruising in Alaska, you’ll be spoiled for choice as no other state has more coastline to explore. The best cruises in Alaska offer unparalleled experiences that will bring you up close to some of the most unique and awe-inspiring places in the world. From the lush rainforests and tranquil seas of the Inside Passage, to the endless horizon and luminous ice of the Arctic, there’s no shortage of what Alaska offers to cruise enthusiasts.

What to Expect on an Alaska Cruise 

Whether you’re looking for an all-inclusive multi-day Alaska cruise package or simply a day cruise to see wildlife and glaciers, there are many options to choose from.

Cruises are typically offered in three-night, seven-night, and even up to 28-night cruises. On average, a seven-night cruise ranges from $500 to $5,000, depending on the cruise line and state room of your choice. The price typically includes all on-board expenses such as food, room, and on-ship activities. However, you can expect to pay extra for land excursions.

A whale tail in front of a cruise ship in Alaska
You don't even have to get off the ship to view wildlife on an Alaska cruise.

Where to Cruise in Alaska

The majority of cruise ships cruising to or throughout Alaska depart from Seattle, Washington; Vancouver, Canada; Whittier, Alaska; or Seward, Alaska. The routes traveled vary from cruise line depending on length of the cruise and places visited, but the majority of seven-day cruises will travel from the Vancouver area through the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Glacier Bay National Park, with some cruises crossing the Gulf of Alaska to end in Whittier, Seward, or Anchorage.

Many cruise lines also travel to additional locations such as Sitka, Hoonah/Icy Strait Point, and Haines. Programs like Princess Cruises' Cruisetours take the stress out of planning on-shore excursions and curate incredible itineraries for extensive, luxurious travel across the state.

Longer cruises, like the Holland America Alaska Arctic Solstice Cruise spans 28 days, and will take you from your port to the Arctic Circle. The course begins in Seattle and leads through the Inside Passage, Prince William Sound, and up to Anchorage. Then, you’ll travel over to Kodiak Island, out to the far stretches of the Aleutian Islands to Dutch Harbor, and around to Nome, and through the Arctic Circle. Some cruise lines offer pre or post-cruise fly-in opportunities to remote areas of Alaska, like leaving from Fairbanks to the visit the Arctic Circle.

Aerial view of Ketchikan
View of Ketchikan, the first stop on most cruise itineraries from Seattle or Vancouver

Best Time to Take a Cruise to Alaska

The main cruise season in Alaska is May through September, though many cruise lines are adding shoulder season itineraries in April and October. The sunniest months are July and August and the best time for whale watching is May and June. That being said, traveling anytime during cruise season will offer epic views of landscape and wildlife, no matter where you travel. 

For those looking for winter options, you’re in luck! Starting in 2024, Uncruise Adventures will be offering a winter cruise, where winter sports and northern lights viewings are all part of the package! Running February through March, this is a great option for travelers looking to experience Alaska during the winter months.

A deck with a pool on an Alaska cruise ship
Enjoy the non-stop scenery from the cruise decks.

Types of Cruises

Major Cruise lines

You'll find a wide variety of major cruise lines that operate in Alaska, including Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Disney, Holland America Line, Hurtigruten, Princess Cruises, Norwegian, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Viking. These cruises offer the benefits of a wider range of itineraries, shore excursions, departure dates, and availability and take you to all of the must-see stops along the way. They feature a wide range of amenities including multiple dining options, on-board entertainment, fitness centers, pools, different room types to choose from, and plenty of room to spread out and explore.

Small Ship Cruises: adventure & Luxury

If you prefer to get off-the-beaten-track and travel with smaller groups, a wide array of small ship cruise companies offer more intimate cruises catering to adventure and luxury travelers. AdventureSmith Explorations, Alaska Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Discovery Voyages, Lindblad Expeditions, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea, UnCruise Adventures, and Windstar Cruises are a few of the small ship cruise operators in the state.

Small ship cruises tend to offer more adventure-focused shore excursions alongside personalized service and luxurious accommodations and amenities. Smaller ships can reach ports of call and destinations that are inaccessible to larger cruise ships, allowing you to explore more remote settings and communities. For an even more customized experience, consider a private cruise on smaller ships like yachts and sailboats.

Culinary experiences

For the foodies, several cruise lines offer culinary shore excursions such as foodie walking tours or cooking demonstrations. And while excellent food is a given on major cruise lines, Alaska's small ship cruises pride themselves on sourcing local ingredients for their onboard dining experiences, where menus are specifically curated to highlight Alaska’s bountiful seafood and locally-grown foods. You’ll be able to experience the best Alaska offers at your own table!

Cruises for families

If you plan to travel as a family, cruises to Alaska are a fantastic option. Royal Caribbean offers a “kids sail free” option, while Holland America offers an itinerary and activities that are specifically catered to families with young children. Disney Cruises also offers land excursions geared specifically to families, so you’ll be able to enjoy family time both on and off the ship!

Cruises for couples

For those looking for a couples retreat, Viking Cruises cater exclusively to adults. The minimum age is 18, and the ship is designed for a luxurious and tranquil experience, so you can truly get away from it all.

Glacier & Wildlife Day Cruises

If you’re looking for something less time consuming than an Arctic excursion, but are still looking for stunning views of glaciers and wildlife, day cruises are a great option for young families and adventurers alike.

A day cruise in Prince William Sound
A day cruise in Prince William Sound; Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Ben Prescott

Spend the Day on Shore

Experience all that Alaska has to offer, up close and personal. Shore excursions booked through your cruise line are a fantastic way to experience Alaska, so be sure to research what land excursions your cruise line offers. Some popular offerings are:

And be sure to check out local artisans for souvenirs and keepsakes from your travels along the way!

Most major cruise lines also offer the opportunity for pre or post-cruise land packages that will take you by bus or train to destinations in Southcentral and Interior Alaska. If you have the time, these cruise packages give you the best of both worlds for exploring Alaska's coastal communities and some of the top sights in Alaska's heartland, including Denali National Park

Sitka Tribal Tours Alaska Native dance performance
Learn about Alaska Native culture on a cultural shore excursion, like this performance in Sitka

Dress for Alaska

With nearly endless summer days and coastal breezes, you’ll want to make sure to dress with flexibility in mind. During the summer months, especially July and August, temperatures in Southeast Alaska usually fall between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, while Southcentral Alaska and the Interior see higher heights into the 70’s and 80’s.

To prepare for all conditions, you should plan for temperatures ranging from the 40s to 70s, both on and off ship. For your on-shore day excursions, be sure to pack layers of clothing and rain gear so that you can be comfortable. Base layers with a windbreaker and rain jacket are great options. Proper footwear is also important and be sure to bring hiking shoes if you plan to enjoy outdoor activities.

For those traveling further north on cruises that reach the Arctic, you’ll want to pack everything from spring to winter attire. Parkas, proper footwear, and base layers are a must – and don’t forget the sunscreen! No matter where your travels take you in Alaska, with up to 24 hours of sunlight in the peak of summer, sunburns are every bit as real as they are in the lower 48!

A woman sightsees on a cruise in Alaska
Photo Credit: @blissfulltravelgal

Enjoy the Views

The landscape and views you’ll experience on an Alaska cruise will be unforgettable, so be sure to pack your binoculars and your best camera to capture the incredible sights to share with friends and family. For photo enthusiasts, an assortment of wide-angle lenses, x-factor lenses, multipurpose lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, and even a tripod can help you capture that perfect shot.

A man takes a photo on a day cruise in Alaska

Wherever your Alaska travels take you, Alaska cruises offer the best of both worlds on sea and land. Be sure to check out all of the options that await you and start planning your trip today!


Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure

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