Choosing the perfect Alaskan cruise can feel a bit like navigating a sea of options, especially with unfamiliar destinations thrown into the mix. We totally get it – we were in the same boat. Our journey led us to dive deep into research to uncover the insights needed to make a choice we felt confident about.
Unlike the sun-soaked Caribbean or lively Mexico, Alaskan cruises offer a unique experience with diverse ports and ships. While the breathtaking scenery is a given, we understand the importance of onboard amenities. Whether it’s your first Alaskan adventure or you’re craving a different kind of voyage, let us join you in planning the most unforgettable Alaskan cruise for 2024.
There are 4 main factors to consider when you are going to plan an Alaskan cruise:
- Embarkation Cities and Cruise Length
- How long can you take for your trip
- Where do you want to start/end and does it have to be in the same location
- Land and Sea or just Sea
- Do you want all of your nights to be on the cruise ship
- Would you prefer exploring not only the coast of Alaska but also some of the interior
- Amenities desired while you are cruising
- Are big activities like go carting and waterslides on the ship important to you
- Are you picking the cruise based on ports only
- Ports and Glaciers
- What ports are you interested in and what kind of activities do you want to do in each port?
- How many glaciers do you want to see on your cruise and are there any particular glaciers that are must see places?
Embarkation Cities and Cruise Length
When considering to plan an Alaskan cruise, the first thing to think about is where you would like to begin your journey and how long you can be at sea. The most common duration for a cruise is 7 days, but there are also options for 10 or 14-day cruises, allowing for a more immersive Alaskan experience without disembarking from the ship. The primary departure cities for Alaskan cruises are Vancouver, BC, Seattle, WA, and Seward/Whitter, AK.
For round trip cruises, the embarkation city options are Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA. Roundtrip cruises are convenient for the ease of flying in and out of the same airport, making the pre and post cruise process easy. Also note, cruise lines use their bigger ships with more amenities to sail out of Seattle, so if this is important to you, this is your option. Seattle or Vancouver are also great cities to explore pre or post cruise, adding a more adventure with less hassle to your vacation.
Opting for a roundtrip cruise from Seattle has its drawbacks, such as less time in Alaskan ports and missing out on sailing through the entire inside passage. Furthermore, if you are prone to seasickness, this could be an issue as the ship navigates the open waters outside Vancouver Island, which can be rougher than the other side of the island.
Great Options for a 7 Day Roundtrip Cruise:
7 Day Inside Passage cruise leaving from Seattle. This cruise is on the Majestic Princess and includes 3 ports and a visit to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier.
7 Day Inside Passage cruise leaving from Vancouver. This cruise is on the Disney Wonder and includes 3 ports and a visit to Stikine Icecap on it’s itinerary.
7 Night Inside Passage cruise leaving from Seattle. This cruise is on the Encore and includes 4 ports and a visit to Glacier Bay National Park on the itinerary.
Longer Alaskan Cruises
If you have more time for your trip and are not particularly interested in a land and sea vacation, it might be worth considering longer cruises. Choosing a longer cruise allows you to unpack only once for the entire trip and avoids spending long hours on buses or trains that are typically part of land and sea vacations. These extended roundtrip cruises provide more opportunities to visit different ports and view glaciers, offering more time for relaxation and an enhanced Alaskan experience.
Great Options for Longer Cruises:
14 Day Inside Passage leaving from Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Royal Princess, which has to sail on the outside of Vancouver Island. It includes 4 ports and a visit to Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park on the itinerary.
14 Day Alaska Roundtrip Collectors’ Voyage cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Nieuw Amsterdam. It includes 2 days at 3 ports as well 1 day in Whitter as a visit to Glacier Bay National Park, College Fjord and Hubbard on the itinerary.
11 Day Inside Passage cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Viking Orion and visits 6 ports as well as a visit to Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier on the itinerary.
One Way Cruises
For those who are open to flying to and from different airports and desire additional time in the ports, a one-way cruise starting and ending in two different cities could be a suitable option. These cruises usually begin in Vancouver and end in Seward or Whitter, with passengers flying back from Anchorage (a Northbound Cruise), or starting in Seward or Whitter and ending in Vancouver (a Southbound Cruise). The advantages of choosing one of these cruises include more time in the ports, smoother sailing conditions resulting in less chance of seasickness, and the opportunity to explore further north into Alaska.
However, it is important to note that this choice requires arranging flights at two different airports and the ships used for these cruises are often smaller and offer fewer onboard amenities.
Great Options for a One Way Cruise Are:
7 Day Northbound cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC and ending in Seward, AK. This cruise is on the Norwegian Jewel, which was recently refurbished. It has 3 ports as well as a visit to the Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park on the itinerary.
7 Day Southbound cruise leaving from Seward, AK and ending in Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Celebrity Millennium, recently refurbished but still the oldest in the fleet. It has 4 ports and a visit to the Hubbard Glacier on the itinerary.
7 Day Northbound Cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC and ending in Whitter, AK. This cruise is on the Royal Princess, which will sail on the outside of Vancouver Island. It has 3 ports and a visit to Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord on the itinerary.
We making our plan for an Alaskan cruise, we chose a Northbound cruise for the longer port times and the smoother ride, since seasickness is an issue for one of us as well as the ability to see more of Alaska.
Land and Sea or just the Sea?
Cruises exclusively transport passengers to the coastal towns of Alaska, providing a wonderful opportunity to sample the region. To gain a deeper understanding of Alaska’s interior, such as Denali or Fairbanks, and if you have a considerable amount of time available for travel, then this Alaskan cruise vacation is ideal for you. The majority of cruise lines that sail to Alaska offer cruise tours that extend the vacation beyond the cruise itself, providing the option for a land tour before or after the cruise. These cruise tours handle all aspects of the trip, including transfers, accommodations, tours, and a portion of your meals during the land portion of the journey.
Cruise tours are perfect for individuals seeking a seamless vacation experience with all travel details taken care of, while still allowing for exploration of Alaska’s interior. I highly recommend choosing either Princess Cruises or Holland American Cruises. These two cruise lines are both owned by the same parent company, which means they have established relationships with many of the same tour companies and own the same lodges. They have the longest history in Alaska and operate a highly organized land trip operation, ensuring you can relax and enjoy your time.
Denali News for the 2024 Cruise Season
Be advised when making your plan for your Alaskan cruise and land tour that you can not tour all of Denali at this time – there was a landslide that took out a bridge partway up the road. They are working on fixing it but it will be closed through the 2025 summer season and maybe longer if they can’t come up with a long-term solution to fix the landslide area. The buses now only go to mile 43 instead of mile 92, cutting out a large portion of viewing the park.
Great Choices for a Land and Sea Vacation to Alaska:
12 Day Off the Beaten Path leaving from Fairbanks, AK and ending in Vancouver, BC. This tour has the land portion first, visiting the Kenai Fjords, Denali and Mt. McKinley, ending in Whitter. From Whitter, you will cruise to 3 ports and will be visiting Glacier Bay National Park as well as Hubbard Glacier.
14 Day Yukon + Double Denali leaving from and ending in Vancouver, BC. This tour has the cruise portion first, visiting 3 ports as well as a visit to College Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park. From Whitter, you will have time in Anchorage, Denali and Dawson before you head back to Vancouver, BC.
11 Day Denali Explorer FA4 leaving from Vancouver, BC and ending in Fairbanks, AK. This tour has the cruise portion first, visiting 3 ports as well as a visit to College Fjord, Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. From Whitter, you will visit Denali, Mt. McKinley and Fairbanks over the next 4 days.
Ship Size and Amenities Offered Onboard
Cruise ships that have more onboard experiences, such as bumper cars and ropes courses are bigger and will sail out of Seattle. The bigger ships cannot sail through the inside passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland, so they sail on the outside of Vancouver Island. This means more time at sea and less time in ports but if this is something you want for your vacation, there are some great cruises that let you go to Alaska and do the things you want to do on the ship.
Check Out These Cruises on Ships with More Amenities:
7 Night Adventure cruise leaving from Seattle, WA. This cruise is on the Ovation of the Seas and includes 3 ports and a visit to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier on it’s itinerary. This ship features the North Star, waterslides, bumper cars, and Ripcord by iFLY as well as specialty restaurants and bars.
7 Night Inside Passage cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Disney Wonder and includes 3 ports and a visit to Stikine Icecap on it’s itinerary. This ship features Broadway caliber shows, a water slide, a top notch area for kids and teens as well as an adults only specialty restaurant and several bars.
7 Night Inside Passage cruise leaving from Seattle, WA. This cruise is on the Majestic Princess, and includes 4 ports and a visit to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. This ship features an infinity pool, original productions in their theaters, a sports court as well as several specialty restaurants and bars.
If the focus for your Alaskan cruise is on longer times in port, getting closer to glaciers, as well as cruising the entire inside passage, then sailing on a smaller ship will your best choice. They will have fewer big ticket items to do onboard, such as waterslides and rock climbing but they will still have plenty of activities scheduled to keep you busy. A smaller ship also means smaller crowds, which is a nice bonus.
Great Options for Smaller Cruise Ships to Alaska:
7 Night Hubbard Glacier cruise leaving from and ending in Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Celebrity Summit, it is a smaller ship but has some great dining options plus plenty to keep you busy while not in port. It has 4 ports and a visit to the Hubbard Glacier on the itinerary.
7 Day Inside Passage cruise leaving from and ending in Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Westerdam, which offers great live music venues as well as cooking demonstrations. It also has some great dining options as well. It has 4 ports as well as a visit to Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier on the itinerary
9 Day cruise leaving from and ending in Seattle, WA. This cruise is on the Norwegian Sun, an older ship that went through a major upgrade in 2018. It features an intimate cruising experience but still has great amenities. It has 6 ports and a visit to Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier on the itinerary.
Port Visits and Glacier Choices
The last thing to consider when making a plan for an Alaskan cruise are the Alaskan experiences you want to include while on your cruise. Are glaciers important? Is seeing Glacier Bay National Park the most important thing? Do you want to ride a train in Alaska or see the totem poles?
Glacier to Consider when You Plan an Alaskan Cruise
Only four cruise lines have access to Glacier Bay National Park, so if visiting this park is a priority for you (as most people say it is a must-see), then consider Princess Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Cunard, or Holland American Cruise Lines. When visiting Glacier Bay National Park, you will remain on board the ship throughout the day. A park ranger will board the ship upon entering the park and will be present for the entire visit, providing informative presentations, answering questions, and offering narratives about the views you will encounter.
Alaska is home to numerous other glaciers, and all cruises include at least one glacier visit. Other frequently included glaciers on itineraries are Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord, Tracy Arm Fjord, and Endicott Arm Fjord/Dawes Glacier. Keep in mind that weather conditions can impact how close the ship can get to each glacier. The exact proximity will only be determined on the day of the visit.
Alaskan Cruise Glacier Information
|Highlights of Glacier
|Glacier Bay National Park
|It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the cruise ship must have a permit to enter. You will usually spend the whole day cruising through here with a Park Ranger on board giving presentations and answering questions. When you visit, you will see multiple glaciers, mountains and sometimes wildlife. This is the quintessential cruise stop on an Alaskan cruise.
|It is known for it’s beautiful blue color and they way it is rapidly advancing, sometimes moving multiple feet a day. This creates plenty of calving (when ice chunks fall off the glacier) which is a highlight to a visit to the glacier. The drawback of visiting this glacier is sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and it is not safe enough for the ship to get very close to it.
|Tracy Arm Fjord
|This is a long narrow fjord that ends at the Twin Sawyer Glaciers and only smaller ships can navigate. Sawyer Glacier is know for it’s deep blue hues and seals are often in the area. The views of the tall fjord are beautiful and waterfalls often can be seen coming down the cliffs.
|Located in the Prince William Sound, it contains multiple glaciers, including 5 tidewater glaciers and 5 valley glaciers. This is the only place in Alaska that you will be surrounded by glaciers.
|Endicott Arm/Dawes Glacier
|This is part of the same wilderness area that Tracy Arm Fjord is located in with Dawes Glacier at the end of the fjord. The spectacular views are similar to those of Tracy Arm Fjord, filled with waterfalls and wildlife.
Ports to Consider when You Plan an Alaskan Cruise
When selecting an Alaskan cruise, it is important to consider the ports and the excursions offered in each port. If riding a train through the Alaskan wilderness is a priority, make sure to choose a cruise that includes a stop in Skagway. This port offers a train ride through the Yukon, where the Klondike Gold Rush occurred. If seeing totem poles is important to you, select a cruise that stops in Ketchikan. For wildlife encounters or the opportunity to interact with sled dogs, Juneau is the port to explore. Each port has its own unique experiences to offer. Here are some of the most popular ports and the activities you can enjoy.
Popular Activities and Facts about the Alaskan Ports
|Facts about the Port
|Juneau is the capitol city of Alaska and has the most activities of all the ports. Here you can hike the Mendenhall Glacier, interact with sled dogs, walk around town, or go on a whale watching tour.
|Skagway is home to the White Pass & Yukon Gold Railroad that takes you up into the Yukon Territory. It also has a rich history centering around the Klondike Gold Rush and has museums and building you can check out from that time. This stop has plenty to do from shopping to hiking.
|Called the first city because it is the first city you come to in Alaska, this rainforest area is known for it’s beautiful scenery, Totem Heritage Center, and salmon. There is plenty to do here at this stop, including zip lining and kayaking.
|Icy Strait Point
|Icy Strait Point is a more recent port and the area is only open when cruise ships are in port. There are plenty of adventure activities to be had though. They have ATV tours, zip line tours as well as a gondola you can ride to see the amazing views of the area.
|This port is full of Russian influences, which you can see in some of the architecture around the town. There are multiple historic sites you can visit as well as plenty of hiking and shopping you can do. Also located here is the Fortress of the Bear and the Alaska Raptor Center.
Our Pick for an Alaskan Cruise
So, what would we pick for an Alaskan cruise in 2024? Our pick would be a Northbound cruise with Princess cruise line that stops at Glacier Bay. The top reasons for this were for the glacier viewing (Glacier Bay and College Fjord), extra time in ports and the one way itinerary because of seasickness.
This ship has some great amenities for when we are relaxing after a busy day exploring ports and tasty food options. We also decided to wait and go back to visit Denali when the road opens back up. This itinerary also has 2 days of cruising through glaciers and Fjords, which is such a great experience – I really recommend a balcony for this itinerary so that you don’t miss any awesome animal sightings! A glacier cruise in Whitter and taking the train up to Anchorage would be a epic way to end your Alaskan adventures. I would love to help you plan an Alaskan cruise today, contact me and we can get started on your own journey!
Our Top Pick for a 7 Day Roundtrip Out of Seattle:
7 Night Inside Passage cruise leaving from Seattle. This cruise is on the Encore and includes 4 ports and a visit to Glacier Bay National Park on the itinerary.
Our Top Pick for a Land and Sea Cruise:
12 Day Off the Beaten Path leaving from Fairbanks, AK and ending in Vancouver, BC. This tour has the land portion first, visiting the Kenai Fjords, Denali and Mt. McKinley, ending in Whitter. From Whitter, you will cruise to 3 ports and visit Glacier Bay National Park as well as Hubbard Glacier.
Our Top Pick for a Longer Cruise with More Ports to Visit:
11 Day Inside Passage cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC. This cruise is on the Viking Orion and visits 6 ports as well as a visit to Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier on the itinerary. This itinerary includes 7 ports, giving you a great taste of coastal Alaska. Viking’s service and amenities are impeccable, giving you a luxurious way to experience Alaska.
Our Top Pick for a One Way Cruise:
7 Day Northbound Cruise leaving from Vancouver, BC and ending in Whitter, AK. This cruise is on the Royal Princess and has 3 ports and a visit to Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord on the itinerary. This cruise allows you to visit the big three – Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan as well time sailing in Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord. The port times and docking locations are great and it is easy to add time in Alaska after your cruise.
Having chosen the best itinerary and cruise line for your Alaskan cruise, there are still a few decisions to make. The best month to go and what to do while you are there. Check back for our recommendations for what you can do in Alaska, as well as the best experiences you can have. I hope you find this information helpful how to plan the right Alaskan cruise in 2024.
Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite Alaskan cruise itinerary or if you have any other questions about how to plan an Alaskan cruise. We can help you book your 2024 Alaskan Adventure today!
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