Alaska Cruises: the Ultimate Guide for an Unforgettable Alaskan Cruise

As one of the most beautiful places in the world, Alaska offers a perfect escape into the Last Frontier. With most of the noteworthy destinations being ruggedly remote, the best way to traverse the landscape is through Alaska cruises.

Through this form of travel, visitors can enjoy cruises to Alaska do not need to sacrifice luxury and comfort while cruising on their ship. Eager cruisers will enjoy the Alaska cruise deals offered throughout the year by various travel agents and cruise lines.

So make sure to grab one of my free cruise planners and get comfortable, because we are going to dive into all the things you need to know about Alaska cruises!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure here.

When is the Season for Alaska Cruises?

Alaska cruise guide

Cruise lines most consistently visit Alaska on their best Alaska cruises between the months of late April to mid-September. This means that it can be difficult to narrow down your choices as many cruise lines have dozens of itineraries operating a month in season.

With so many must-see spots in Alaska, the most popular months for cruises to Alaska are July and August. This is when the temperatures are the highest and most enjoyable with sunnier days.

If you were hoping to see the northern lights, try to book an Alaska cruise later in the season around late September. While this spectacle may be seen from multiple ports of call, watch out for deals through the cruise lines offering Aurora Borealis viewing experiences.

How is the Weather on Alaska Cruises?

While spring, summer, and early fall on an Alaska cruise can be fabulous, you should always come prepared.

This means you should definitely dress in layers to have the best Alaskan cruise. Mornings and nights can be quite chilly (in the 40s and 50s), however, mid-day when the sun is at its best can bring the high 70s and low 80s.

It also rains a lot in Alaska, so make sure to bring your best rain jacket and umbrella. When I went on my Alaskan cruise, I forgot my umbrella and instantly regretted it as while my body was protected, my face and shoes became soaked. Thus, also pack some waterproof shoes whether hiking shoes or rain boots.

How Do I Plan an Alaska Cruise?

cruise to Alaska

If you have never been on a cruise before, you may have some questions about the logistics and how to plan your cruise.

First, you will want to get an idea of what your must-see attractions are. Most Alaska cruises follow the popular itineraries of the Inside Passage, Gulf of Alaska, or even longer sailings from the west coast.

After you determine the itinerary you would like, then you need to focus on a specific cruise line for the best Alaska cruise ever. Each cruise line offers a unique experience for every type of cruiser. Then, you can select a date with that perfect cruise line and itinerary to book and mark in your calendar!

I highly recommend booking a balcony or higher stateroom with a trusted cruise travel agent as you will not regret waking up to the breathtaking Alaska cruise landscape from your own private balcony. Also, make sure to avoid the loudest staterooms onboard to completely relax on your Alaskan cruise.

Once booked, you will receive access to more booking options like onboard packages, shore excursions, and stateroom upgrades. I highly suggest taking advantage of these pre-travel opportunities to have your vacation planned out before you leave!

What are the Different Alaska Itineraries?

My first cruise to Alaska started in Seattle and went up the western Canadian coast, eventually bringing me through the inside passage. I was traveling with a group of over 20 people, so it made sense financially to start in the continental United States.

Our cruise was through the Norwegian Cruise Line and was 7 nights. For us, that was perfect, however, others may be looking for a shorter or longer experience spending more time in the Last Frontier. While that particular cruise was through a popular cruise line, there are ships running throughout the season sailing a variety of itineraries with their version of the best Alaska cruise.

Inside Passage

cruise to Alaska

By far the most popular itinerary for Alaska cruises in the inside passage. Itineraries typically leave out of either Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia. If you are looking to start your Alaska cruise in Alaska, there are some inside passage cruises leaving from Juneau.

The history behind this unique water passage is quite interesting. Glacial ice carved the inside passage a long time ago, and today, cruise ships and other fishing boats zig-zag through the islets and channels to witness some of the most fascinating natural sights in the world.

Reasons to Cruise the Inside Passage

Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, and those who would just love to relax will fall in love with this itinerary. They all head out on Alaskan cruises for fishing charters, bird and bear-watching trips, seas kayaking expeditions, glacier hiking, and much more!

Book a stateroom overlooking Alaska's magnificent mountains (often snow-capped even in the summer), waterfalls, lush forests, fjords, and calving glaciers. If you are looking for marine wildlife, you are in luck. On my shorter, 7-night cruise, I saw an abundance of whales, porpoises, sea lions, dolphins, and harbor seals. When in port, you can spot bears, Dall sheep, eagles, puffins, and countless other seabird species.

Shore excursions and onboard lectures are a must-do as they will overview the rich history of Alaska. You will want to learn about the cultures of the indigenous people of Alaska on your Alaskan cruise and about more recent inhabitants. This includes the Russian community in Sitka and the gold-seekers who moved to Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s.

Inside Passage Ports

The most popular inside passage ports are Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, Petersburg, and Skagway. Most Alaskan cruises also pass by the famous sights of Glacier Bay National Park, Dawes Glacier, and Endicott Arm.

A perk of Alaska cruises traversing the inside passage is calm waters. If you are prone to seasickness, this may be the itinerary for you, versus one that transits over open, rougher waters.

Gulf of Alaska

Gulf of Alaska

If you are looking for a little more than just exploring the Inside Passage, I highly suggest booking a Gulf of Alaska cruise. This way, you will enjoy parts of the Inside Passage and its ports while hitting other, less-visited cruise destinations to the north.

In general, these one-way itineraries depart from Anchorage (Seward) or Anchorage (Whittier) and end in Vancouver (or vice versa). Many of these sailings are seven nights, however, it should not be difficult to find ones longer.

Reasons to Cruise the Gulf of Alaska

You will have up to two days at sea perfect for scenic cruising as you enjoy the views of the landscape passing by. This may sound boring at first, however, these days at sea are completely different from others, as you will see some incredible sites. These include Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.

The Gulf of Alaska sailings can experience rough waters in the Gulf of Alaska section of the voyage. This is especially prevalent in late August and September, so that may be something to keep in mind if you are prone to seasickness.

Longer Alaska Cruises from the West Coast

Alaska cruise

Finally, if you are looking for a longer cruise, there are some cruises leaving out of San Francisco. Usually 10 nights long, these round-trip itineraries are best suited for cruises who love days at sea.

You will typically have four days at sea (two from San Francisco to Juneau) with another day of scenic cruising when on a Alaskan cruise. The waters before entering the Inside Passage can be rough or calm, it really depends on when you go.

The ports of these longer cruises are typically Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia.

Land and Sea Cruise-tours

On an Alaska cruise, you can expect to journey along the state's southeastern coast aboard your cruise ship. However, if you are looking to spend more time exploring inland, you may want to consider extending your vacation with a cruisetour.

Many cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line offer these itineraries. These options were created by popular demand as you can combine a simple 7-night Alaskan cruise with an exhilarating land tour. These are typically booked through the cruise line where you can stay in authentic lodges and travel remote roads in motor coach.

Most of these Land and Sea Cruise-tours are guided by locals. This means you will get to know the land and culture with deep connections to the local communities.

Types of Alaska Cruise Lines

Alaskan cruises

No matter what cruising experience you are looking for, I guarantee you will find it in Alaska. Nearly every cruise line has voyages heading up to Alaska, from 3-day weekend trips to 180-day world cruises.

There are plenty of Alaska cruise deals available for eager cruisers booking through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line. Make sure to research diligently to find the best Alaska cruise for you!

Mainstream and Family Cruise Lines for Alaska Cruises

Just about all the main cruise lines offer sailings to Alaska's scenic shores.

  1. Royal Caribbean International -- Royal Caribbean offers spectacular itineraries up to the Last Frontier at extraordinarily low prices. With prices as low as $500 for a 7-night Alaskan cruise, this cruise line offers amenities for all types of cruisers-- from toddlers to bingo enthusiasts.
  2. Norwegian Cruise Line -- Norwegian (NCL) offers unique itineraries visiting the icy fjords and frozen wilderness. If you are looking to spend more time on land, check out their Alaskan Cruisetours! NCL prioritizes Alaska cruises sending their two popular ships - Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore - out every summer!
  3. Disney Cruise Line -- Disney Cruise Line offers outdoor adventures and picturesque scenery on their Alaska cruises. This is the perfect cruise line to choose if you are traveling with little ones! They will fall in love with the Last Frontier with an immersive Disney experience.
  4. Celebrity Cruises -- Celebrity Cruises offer their passengers a slightly more luxurious experience tailored to each guests' dream Alaska cruise. This cruise line is popular for their Alaska Cruisetours as well, spanning from 9 to 13 nights. Three award-winning ships will take you to Alaska: Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Millennium, and Celebrity Solstice.
  5. Carnival Cruise Line -- Carnival offers affordable Alaska cruises for the average cruise enthusiast. Their popular cruise ports include Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. They offer some longer West Coast cruises from San Francisco as well.

Small Cruise Lines and Expedition Sailings to Alaska

Active travelers may be searching for expedition-style voyages or Alaska cruises on a smaller ship to enjoy more time in port.

  1. Uncruise Adventures -- Uncruise Adventures operates smaller ship expeditions on an Alaskan cruise focusing on culture, wildlife, and active participation. Their fleet of small ships varies from 22-passengers to 84-passengers. Excursions are also included in the fair.
  2. Silversea -- Silversea offers stylish yet intimate Alaska cruises. You will fall in love with their new Silver Muse ship offering a spot for 596 guests in suites with butler services. These itineraries range from 7 to 11 days with extensive exploration opportunities.
  3. Seabourn -- Seabourn combines personalized Alaska cruises with ultra-luxury, perfect for navigating the pristine waterways. The best part of Seabourn is the marine biologist, geologist, photographer, and other experts on board ready to assist or answer any questions you may have.
  4. Regent Seven Seas -- Seven Seas Mariner returns for Alaska cruises every summer. This cruise line is world-renowned for its combination of comfortable suite living and excellent dining services. They offer a perfect 7-day itinerary with personalized day-trips into port.
  5. Holland America -- Holland prides itself on its 75-year history of Alaskan cruises. They consistently rank as the best Alaska cruise because of their superior experience and knowledge of the best itineraries. Holland cruises by artic-blue glaciers and marine wildlife hitting those must-see attractions in Alaska.

Top Ports for Alaska Cruises

Alaskan cruises

No matter which cruise line and itinerary you ultimately decide on, you will likely visit a mix of these popular ports. Many cruises to Alaska feature fabulous ports of call that are consistent with most itineraries. Like Caribbean cruise ports, these ports cater to the Alaskan cruise market. If you are looking for more than touristy attractions and activities, make sure to get out of the main port area and explore the most scenic Alaska cruises ports.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Alaska cruises

This Alaska cruise port is known as the "salmon capital of the world". You may have also heard of this authentic Alaskan town popular for Native Alaskan totem poles and the Misty Fjords National Monument. In fact, Ketchikan is home to more standing totem poles than anywhere else in the state.

What to do in Ketchikan:

The main draws include excursions to Saxman Native Village to learn about the totem poles in the area or The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. The show is staged within walking distance of the cruise port and it’s the place to see athletes wielding axes and saws in traditional lumbering activities.

Kayak or cruise tours of Misty Fjords are incredibly popular in Ketchikan as well. You can also sightsee by floatplane or city trolley, bear-watch, fish ( salmon and halibut), hike through a rainforest, and try active adventures like a canoe safari, Zodiac expedition, zip-lining. You can even snorkel in the cool waters at Mountain Point, or take it easy with a pub crawl downtown to enjoy the tasty local brews and socialize with locals.

Related: What to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway Alaskan cruises

This is a great stop on Alaska cruises to learn about the state's rich Gold Rush history. Located around 90 miles northwest of Juneau, this port has a lot of excursions and activities for cruisers to enjoy. Skagway is known as the gateway to the Dawson and Klondike mining district in Canada's Yukon Territory. This port can be quite crowded during the busy summer months when several ships are docked during the same day.

What to do in Skagway:

You can easily walk from the cruise port into town and explore on your own or book a guided shore excursion. Tours include panning for gold, a snowshoeing expedition, and rides on the White Pass Rail.

You can also visit a waterfall, hike the Chilkoot Trail, explore Glacier Point by ATV, helicopter flight-see the area’s glaciers, or rock climb. If you didn’t get to enjoy a dogsled experience yet, do it in Skagway. And if you just want to see the city sights, take the Skagway Street Car City Tour.

Juneau, Alaska

cruising to Alaska Juneau

As Alaska's capital city, Juneau is unique in that it has no roads leading from the rest of the state into the city. Located at the base of Mount Juneau, this cruise port can only be accessed via the water. Talking with locals, you will quickly realize that everything, including their cars, has to be brought in via ferry. This port is home to the famous Mendenhall Glacier, a popular spot for a unique shore excursion.

What to do in Juneau:

Look for kayak and bike adventures, a ride in the sky on the Mount Roberts Tramway (the pickup point is right at the cruise port), and wildlife-viewing trips (whale, bears, and more) while in Juneau. Juneau Food Tours are a popular option for you to explore while in port. Get to know the state capital's lively food scene with an in-depth tour of the city's most delicious food offerings.

Fishing outings and glacier visits (Mendenhall, Taku, and Tracy Arm Fjord) are also popular in Juneau. Even fun culinary trips such as an Alaska salmon bake or a craft beer tasting are popular in this port. You can go to a dogsled camp, pan for gold, or take a helicopter and land on Mendenhall Glacier as well.

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska cruising

Located on Baranof Island on the outside coast of the Inside Passage, Sitka is a popular cruise port visited on Alaska cruises. As the former capital of Russian America, Sitka offers colorful heritage throughout the town for cruisers to explore extensively during their day in port.

What to do in Sitka:

Head into the heart of Sitka to the town's gorgeous onion-domed St. Michael's Cathedral. This beautiful cathedral is a must-see attraction on your Alaskan cruise when you go into port. Another popular attraction in Sitka is the neighboring restored Russian Bishop's House. On the edge of town you will find the Sitka National Historical Park boasting over 100 acres of striking totem poles contrasting against the Alaskan pines.

While in other ports you will more than likely notice the influx of jewelry shops, Sitka offers a completely different experience. Watch out for artisan handicrafts like homemade foods and herbal soaps while strolling through the streets of Sitka during your Alaskan cruise.

Top Cruise-by Ports on a Alaskan Cruise

Top cruising ports of Alaska cruises

If you are planning to go on an Alaskan cruise, you can more than likely expect to have a couple days at sea cruising by some of the state's top natural wonders. This alone is reason enough to splurge on that balcony cabin you have been debating about as you can sip on your morning coffee while watching whales and glaciers pass by.

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay

While there may not be a dock or really a port, Glacier Bay National Park will more than likely be the highlight of your entire Alaska cruise.

This expansive bay offers a front-row seat for passengers to observe how to earth has evolved in a relatively short amount of time. Some of the ginormous glaciers found here have retreated nearly 40 miles since their engulfment of the bay a mere 250 years ago.

Most cruise lines running Alaska cruises will spend the majority of their time sailing to and stopping at Marjorie Glacier, located 55 miles into the National Park. While you will totally fall in love with the park's glaciers, you may also get the chance to see mountain goats and brown bears along the shoreline. Also keep your eye out for migrating humpback whales-- especially near the mouth of the bay.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard is the largest glacier visited by cruise ships on Alaska cruises offering large vistas and big icebergs.

 As an impressive natural wonder, this glacier is 6 miles wide with a 400-foot tall face. These facts combined with the brilliant blue ice will have you watching in awe as you inch towards Hubbard Glacier. If you are lucky enough to visit on a good, clear day, you will be able to get within 1/2 miles of the face.

Even if your ship doesn't get this close, your experience onboard Alaska cruises will be remarkable! This glacier is located in Disenchantment Bay found near the outer Alaskan coast town of Yakutat.

Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier

Dawes Glacier Cruise

One of the top cruise-by ports frequented by Alaskan cruises is the 32-mile-long fjord known as Endicott Arm. Located at the beginning of this magnificent fjord is the majestic Dawes Glacier shown in the image above.

The steep walls found along the Endicott arm rise up to 1,000 feet from the depths of the icy water to heights of over 3,000 feet above the water. Dawes Glacier is one of Alaska's gorgeous tidewater glaciers-- meaning a glacier that drops directly into the sea.

Endicott Arm is an exciting wildlife destination, home to migrating humpback whales, climbing mountain goats, and soaring bald eagles. Most cruise lines offer an in-depth history seminar during the day of this important cruise-by port, highlighted by John Muir's exploration in the 1880s.

Tracy Arm

Tracy Arm

Located a mere fifty miles south of Alaska's capital of Juneau, Tracy Arm is a long, narrow fjord popular on most Alaskan cruises.

While the glaciers found at Tracy Arm aren't the largest, they extend deep under water-- placing extreme pressure on the glacier ice. This process squeezes out the majority of air pockets and fractures resulting in a beautiful cobalt blue look.

Tracy Arm is almost a half-mile in width, creating an illusion of the area's relatively small glaciers looking massive! The narrowness of the access route getting to Tracy Arm is also quite striking. Ships frequently visit this cruise-by port on Alaska cruises  and navigate these zig-zag waterways through S-Turns around 3,000-foot high cliffsides.

24 thoughts on “Alaska Cruises: the Ultimate Guide for an Unforgettable Alaskan Cruise”

  1. Alaska looks so beautiful! I am definitely looking to go in the near future. I also heard Alaskan cruises are amazing and this is so helpful Great article. πŸ™‚

    1. Taking an alaskan cruise has been on my bucket list for YEARS! I hope to still be able to go once we have a better handle on the pandemic πŸ™‚ Thank you for these tips!

  2. I would love love loooooove to visit Alaska! The pandemic has made me pretty wary of all cruises, but once things are really safe again, I would really like to see these gorgeous views. Now I know to come to you when I need all the details. πŸ™‚

  3. My sister went on a cruise in Alaska and she loved it. I don’t like the cold but she said it wasn’t as cold as you think. Thank you for sharing this. Its’ on my bucket list! I’m saving it for later.

    1. I went on my Alaskan cruise in the summer so I thought it was not super hot, but comfortable during my trip! You should totally book an Alaskan cruise when it is safe to cruise again πŸ™‚

    1. The inside passage was amazing. Lots of scenic sailing that I loved watching on my cruise balcony with my morning coffee πŸ™‚

  4. Alaska is a bucket list destination for me. My best friend used to work on Uncruise ships in Alaska and all her photos just made me dream of visiting, love that you included them in your list!

    1. That’s so cool! I’m sure your friend has some crazy stories about her time onboard πŸ™‚ Definitely make sure to add an Alaskan cruise to your bucket list!

    1. I know I love sticking to the bigger cruise lines but have met plenty of travelers looking for a more personalized experience! I have heard great things about Uncruise πŸ™‚

  5. Alaska is such an original destination! I would love to visit but never realized a cruise could be a great way to discover it! Thanks for sharing all the details!

    1. With all the glaciers and cool islands off the coast of Alaska, an Alaskan cruise is the perfect way to explore this northern state! I highly suggest checking out some of the Inside Passage itineraries if you have never visited Alaska before πŸ™‚

  6. I have always wanted to do an Alaskan cruise and now I feel like I am so much better informed about which option would be best for me.

  7. Alaska looks like such a stunning destination! It’s somewhere I’d absolutely love to visit and a cruise looks like a fantastic way to see the state! Thanks so much for the great guide!

  8. I’m not a huge cruise girl, but I do love Alaska! We visited Fairbanks and Anchorage a few years ago, but we want to go back to see Ketchikan and some of the other places on the ocean!

  9. You have captured the beauty of Alaska through the pictures quite professionally. I will love to take land and sea cruise tours and for this, the Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line sound interesting.

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