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Small Ship Alaska Cruises in 2024!

Embark on an unforgettable journey through Alaska’s breathtaking landscapes and pristine waters.

Our ultimate guide to Alaska small ship cruises offers an intimate glimpse into the heart of the Last Frontier, ensuring a truly unique and immersive adventure.

Why Choose a Small Ship Alaska Cruise?

Opting for a small ship cruise in Alaska offers a unique and enriching way to explore the rugged beauty and remote wilderness of this spectacular region.

Here’s a deeper dive into why a small ship cruise can provide the most memorable Alaskan adventure:

Unparalleled Access to Nature

Navigational Flexibility: Small ships excel in their ability to navigate the narrow fjords, hidden coves, and secluded waterways that Alaska is famous for.

This agility allows passengers to get up close to glaciers, navigate through iceberg-filled waters, and anchor in the heart of wildlife-rich bays, providing unparalleled access to nature’s wonders.

Intimate Wildlife Encounters: The smaller scale of these vessels often results in more frequent and closer wildlife sightings.

Without the noise and disruption of larger ships, passengers can enjoy serene moments watching whales breach, eagles soar, and bears forage along the shoreline.

The reduced passenger count also means everyone gets a front-row seat to Alaska’s majestic wildlife.

kayaking in sitka alaska

Exclusive Experiences and Ports of Call

Unique Itineraries: Small ship cruises have the flexibility to offer itineraries that are off the beaten path, visiting ports and regions that are otherwise inaccessible to larger cruise ships.

This opens up a world of exclusive experiences, from visiting remote native villages to exploring hidden natural wonders.

Personalized Shore Excursions: With fewer passengers, shore excursions are more personal and immersive.

Whether it’s a guided hike through the rainforest, a cultural tour with a local tribe, or a small boat exploration of secluded bays, these experiences are tailored to provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of Alaska’s natural and cultural heritage.

A Personalized, Intimate Experience

Close-Knit Community Feel: The atmosphere on a small ship is often compared to that of a private yacht—cozy, intimate, and friendly.

With passenger numbers usually ranging from a dozen to just over a hundred, it’s easy to get to know your fellow adventurers as well as the crew, creating a warm, communal experience.

Tailored Service and Attention: The high crew-to-passenger ratio on small ships ensures attentive, personalized service.

Whether it’s accommodating dietary restrictions with gourmet flair or remembering your favorite drink, the level of care and detail is unmatched.

Icy Strait Point

Enrichment and Education

Expert-Led Insights: Small ships often feature experts in fields such as marine biology, glaciology, and local history who provide enriching lectures, guided excursions, and personal insights.

This educational component turns your adventure into a moving classroom, deepening your connection to the places you visit.

Interactive Learning Opportunities: Beyond lectures, many small ship cruises offer hands-on learning opportunities.

This might include photography workshops with a professional photographer, citizen science projects that contribute to real-world research, or cultural immersion experiences that offer a genuine understanding of local traditions and ways of life.

Sustainability and Environmental Consciousness

Smaller Footprint: Small ships are inherently more eco-friendly, producing less waste and pollution than their larger counterparts.

Many operate with a strong commitment to sustainability, using environmentally friendly practices and technologies to minimize their impact on the delicate ecosystems they visit.

Supporting Local Communities: By visiting smaller, less touristy ports and engaging with local guides and businesses, small ship cruises often contribute more directly to the local economies, supporting conservation efforts and community projects.

Choosing a small ship cruise in Alaska not only promises an adventure filled with breathtaking landscapes and wildlife encounters but also offers a more meaningful, personal, and sustainable way to explore one of the planet’s most extraordinary destinations.

Small Ship Alaska Cruises

Types of Small Ship Cruises in Alaska

Alaska’s small ship cruises come in various flavors, each offering a unique perspective on the region’s breathtaking landscapes, rich wildlife, and cultural heritage.

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed adventure, a touch of luxury amidst the wilderness, or a journey that sails under the power of the wind, there’s an Alaskan cruise line that matches your desire for exploration and comfort.

Expedition Cruises: For the Adventure Seekers

Adventure-Focused Itineraries: Expedition cruises are designed for those who wish to actively engage with Alaska’s natural wonders.

They focus on getting passengers off the ship and into the action, with activities like kayaking among icebergs, hiking in pristine forests, and zodiac excursions to get up close to glaciers and wildlife.

Wildlife Emphasis: These cruises prioritize wildlife encounters, offering opportunities to see Alaska’s marine life, such as whales, seals, and otters, as well as terrestrial animals like bears, moose, and eagles in their natural habitats.

Expert Guidance: Led by seasoned naturalists and expedition leaders, these cruises offer in-depth insights into the ecosystems visited, enhancing the adventure with knowledge and understanding.

Luxury Cruises: Elegance in the Wilderness

Refined Comfort and Service: Luxury cruises blend the rugged beauty of Alaska with the comforts of fine dining, elegant accommodations, and impeccable service.

These ships provide a serene basecamp from which to explore the wilderness, complete with spa services, gourmet meals, and spacious suites.

All-Inclusive Experience: From excursions to meals and sometimes airfare, luxury cruises often offer an all-inclusive experience, allowing guests to relax and enjoy their journey without worrying about the details.

Intimate Settings: With a limited number of passengers, luxury cruises ensure a personalized experience, where every guest receives attention and care tailored to their preferences.

best excursions on Alaska cruise

Sailing Cruises: A Nostalgic Voyage

Traditional Sailing Experience: For those who love the romance of sail, these cruises use wind power to explore Alaska’s coastline, offering a quieter, more intimate connection with the sea.

The experience of watching the sails unfurl against the backdrop of Alaska’s fjords and glaciers is unforgettable.

Hands-On Participation: Guests on sailing cruises often have the opportunity to assist with the sails, learn about navigation, and engage in the sailing experience, making for a more immersive and educational journey.

Focus on Serenity: Without the hum of engines, sailing cruises provide a peaceful atmosphere that enhances the natural sounds of the wilderness, from the splash of a breaching whale to the call of distant seabirds.

Themed Cruises: Specialized Exploration

Photography Cruises: Tailored for both amateur and experienced photographers, these cruises are led by professional photographers who provide tips and guidance for capturing the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Alaska.

They offer early morning and late evening excursions to take advantage of the best light.

Culinary and Cultural Cruises: Focusing on Alaska’s rich culinary traditions and indigenous cultures, these cruises offer cooking demonstrations, visits to local communities, and meals prepared with fresh, regional ingredients, providing a taste of the local way of life.

Conservation and Science Cruises: Designed for those who want to dive deeper into environmental and scientific aspects of Alaska, these cruises involve participation in research projects, conservation efforts, and educational programs, offering a deeper understanding of the region’s natural history and ecological challenges.

Each type of small ship cruise in Alaska offers a distinct way to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Last Frontier, catering to different interests and preferences.

Whether you’re drawn to the thrill of adventure, the allure of luxury, the charm of sailing, or the depth of themed exploration, you’ll find a cruise that promises a journey of discovery and unforgettable moments.

Best Cruise Line for Alaska-4

Best Time to Go on a Small Ship Alaska Cruise

Deciding when to take a small ship cruise in Alaska is pivotal for aligning the trip with your expectations, whether you’re aiming to witness the vibrant wildlife, bask in the midnight sun, or marvel at the autumn colors.

Each season in Alaska offers distinct advantages, making your choice a matter of personal preference and the experiences you wish to prioritize.

Spring: Awakening of the Wilderness (May to Early June)

Budding Scenery: Spring in Alaska is a time of renewal, with landscapes coming to life.

Witness the awakening of the wilderness as the snow melts, revealing verdant forests and meadows dotted with wildflowers.

Wildlife Activity: This season is excellent for wildlife enthusiasts, as animals emerge from hibernation and migratory birds return.

Look out for bears, moose, and a variety of bird species, including bald eagles.

Fewer Crowds: Early in the season, you’ll encounter fewer tourists, making for a more serene experience at popular spots and more intimate wildlife viewing opportunities.

Summer: Prime Wildlife and Warmer Weather (Late June to August)

Peak Wildlife Viewing: The summer months are prime time for wildlife watching, with long daylight hours illuminating Alaska’s natural dramas.

It’s the best season to see humpback whales, orcas, and seals along the coast, as well as bears fishing for salmon in rivers.

Midnight Sun: Experience the phenomenon of the midnight sun, with near 24-hour daylight in parts of Alaska.

This natural marvel extends your days, offering more time for exploration and sightseeing.

Warmer Temperatures: Enjoy the warmest weather of the year, ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and glacier tours.

However, be prepared for occasional rain, as summer can also be Alaska’s wettest season.

Fall: Autumn Colors and Northern Lights (September)

Spectacular Foliage: As the season shifts, Alaska’s landscapes are painted in vibrant hues of gold, red, and orange.

The fall foliage provides a stunning backdrop for photography and scenic cruising.

Northern Lights: With the return of darker nights, September offers the first chances to witness the aurora borealis, a breathtaking natural light show that dances across the night sky.

End of Season Serenity: As the tourist season winds down, you’ll enjoy quieter destinations and potentially lower prices.

Wildlife is still active, with bears and other animals preparing for winter, offering continued opportunities for remarkable sightings.

Choosing Your Ideal Season

Match Your Interests: Consider what you most want to experience—wildlife, daylight phenomena, or the tranquility of nature—and choose the season that aligns with your interests.

Consider the Climate: Alaska’s weather can be unpredictable. Pack layers and waterproof gear regardless of the season to stay comfortable during your adventures.

Book Early: No matter when you decide to cruise, booking early is crucial. Small ship cruises in Alaska have limited availability and can fill up quickly, especially during the peak summer months.

Each season in Alaska casts a different light on the stunning landscapes and offers unique opportunities for exploration and discovery.

Whether you’re drawn to the awakening of spring, the abundance of summer, or the dramatic beauty of fall, a small ship cruise in Alaska promises an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most spectacular wildernesses.

Alaskan cruise on a small ship

Choosing the Right Small Ship Cruise Line

Finding the perfect small ship cruise line for your Alaskan adventure involves considering your travel style, desired amenities, and the type of experiences you wish to have.

From adventure-focused expeditions to luxury voyages, each cruise line offers its own unique approach to exploring the Last Frontier.

Adventure and Expedition Focus

  • UnCruise Adventures
    • Key Features: Specializes in active adventures with a strong emphasis on immersion in nature. Offers kayaking, bushwhacking, and paddle boarding right from the ship.
    • Unique Selling Point: Their small vessels and flexible itineraries allow for spontaneous encounters with wildlife and visits to less-traveled locations, providing an intimate connection with the Alaskan wilderness.
  • Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
    • Key Features: A collaboration that combines Lindblad’s pioneering spirit with National Geographic’s scientific and photographic expertise to offer in-depth exploration.
    • Unique Selling Point: Guests benefit from onboard scientists and National Geographic photographers, enhancing the educational aspect of the cruise with workshops and lectures.
  • Alaskan Dream Cruises
    • Key Features: A native-owned cruise line that offers a local perspective on Alaska’s culture and ecosystems. Its small size allows for personal interactions and visits to communities often overlooked by larger vessels.
    • Unique Selling Point: Offers a genuine cultural immersion experience, showcasing the rich heritage of Alaska’s Native communities through storytelling, dance, and visits to historical sites.

Luxury and Comfort

  • Silversea Expeditions
    • Key Features: Merges the thrill of expedition cruising with the elegance of luxury travel. Offers all-suite accommodations, gourmet dining, and personalized service.
    • Unique Selling Point: Despite its luxurious offerings, Silversea maintains a commitment to adventure, with onboard expedition teams leading explorations of the Alaskan wilderness.
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
    • Key Features: Known for its ultra-luxury ships and exceptional service, Seabourn offers a sophisticated way to explore Alaska, combining natural beauty with high-end comfort.
    • Unique Selling Point: Features unique “Ventures by Seabourn” excursions, which are zodiac, kayak, and hiking tours led by the expedition team, blending luxury with adventure.

Sailing and Specialty Cruises

  • Maple Leaf Adventures
    • Key Features: Offers classic sailing experiences aboard tall ships and schooners, focusing on environmental stewardship and historical insights.
    • Unique Selling Point: Provides an authentic connection with the sea and land, inviting guests to participate in sailing activities and learn from expert naturalists.
  • The Boat Company
    • Key Features: Operates conservation-focused luxury cruises that offer both relaxation and educational opportunities on environmental and cultural preservation.
    • Unique Selling Point: A nonprofit organization, it reinvests all proceeds into local conservation efforts, offering guests a travel option that directly benefits the Alaskan ecosystem.

Making Your Choice

  • Determine Your Priorities: Consider whether your main goal is adventure, luxury, cultural immersion, or environmental education. Each cruise line has its strengths, catering to different interests.
  • Consider the Size of the Ship: Smaller vessels offer a more intimate experience but may have fewer amenities. Decide what balance between comfort and access to remote areas is right for you.
  • Research Included Activities: Look into what excursions and activities are included. Some cruise lines focus on physical adventure, while others emphasize cultural tours or wildlife observation.
  • Read Reviews and Testimonials: Get insights from past passengers to understand the real experiences onboard different cruise lines. This can provide valuable information on the quality of service, food, and overall experience.

Choosing the right small ship cruise line is about matching your personal travel preferences with the unique offerings of each company.

Whether you’re drawn to the rugged adventure of expedition cruises, the refined elegance of luxury voyages, or the immersive experience of sailing and specialty cruises, there’s an Alaskan small ship cruise that’s perfect for you.

Alaskan cruise lines

How to Plan Your Small Ship Alaska Cruise

Embarking on a small ship cruise to Alaska requires thoughtful preparation to ensure you get the most out of your journey through the breathtaking landscapes and wildlife of the Last Frontier.

From selecting the ideal itinerary to packing the right gear, here’s a comprehensive guide to help you plan your ultimate Alaskan cruise adventure.

Selecting Your Cruise

  • Define Your Interests: Start by identifying what you hope to see and do. Are you keen on wildlife watching, glacier hiking, or learning about local cultures? Your interests will guide your choice of cruise line and itinerary.
  • Research Itineraries and Destinations: Look into the various routes available. Some might focus on the Inside Passage, while others explore more remote areas like the Aleutian Islands. Consider what destinations appeal to you most.
  • Consider the Length of the Cruise: Cruises can range from a week to several weeks long. Decide how much time you want to spend at sea and how extensively you wish to explore Alaska.
  • Review Ship Amenities and Services: Ensure the ship offers the level of comfort you prefer. Look at cabin sizes, onboard facilities, and dining options to choose a ship that matches your comfort needs.

Booking Your Cruise

  • Book Early: Many small ship cruises in Alaska sell out quickly, especially for peak travel months. Booking 12 to 18 months in advance can secure your spot and often fetch better rates.
  • Check for Special Offers: Keep an eye out for early booking discounts, last-minute deals, or special packages that include airfare or pre- and post-cruise hotel stays.
  • Understand the Cancellation Policy: Be clear on the cruise line’s cancellation policy, including any travel insurance recommendations, to protect your investment.

Preparing for Your Trip

  • Travel Documents: Ensure your passport is up to date. While most cruises don’t require a passport for U.S. citizens since they often start and end in the same U.S. city, some itineraries might visit Canada.
  • Packing Essentials: The key to packing for an Alaskan cruise is layers. Weather can be unpredictable, ranging from sunny and warm to cold and rainy. Include waterproof outerwear, comfortable walking shoes, binoculars for wildlife viewing, and a camera.
  • Health Preparations: Consult with your healthcare provider about any necessary vaccinations or medications you might need. While Alaska doesn’t have specific vaccine requirements, staying healthy is crucial.

Onboard and Shore Excursion Tips

  • Review Daily Itineraries: Familiarize yourself with the ship’s schedule to make the most of your time onboard. Plan your days around the activities and excursions that interest you most.
  • Stay Flexible: Weather can change quickly in Alaska, potentially altering your planned activities. Embrace the adventure and be open to adjustments.
  • Respect Local Cultures and Environments: When visiting communities or exploring natural areas, be mindful of your impact. Follow guidelines for responsible wildlife viewing and cultural respect.

After Booking

  • Stay Informed: Cruise lines often send preparatory materials and updates. Keep an eye on your email for any important information regarding your trip.
  • Connect with Fellow Travelers: Some cruise lines offer forums or social media groups where you can meet others who will be on your cruise. This is a great way to get excited about your upcoming adventure and possibly coordinate plans for shared excursions.

Planning your small ship Alaska cruise with care will enhance your experience, ensuring that your journey is not only memorable but also smooth and comfortable.

From the thrill of spotting wildlife to the awe of glacial vistas, your Alaskan cruise is poised to be an adventure of a lifetime.

Best Cruise Line for Alaska-4

Ports of Call and Highlight Destinations

An essential part of the allure of a small ship cruise in Alaska is the opportunity to explore its most iconic and remote destinations.

These cruises offer intimate access to the breathtaking beauty of Alaska’s natural landscapes and the rich cultural heritage of its coastal communities.

Here’s a closer look at some of the must-visit ports of call and highlight destinations that make Alaska a premier cruise destination.

Inside Passage

  • Overview: A network of waterways that weaves through the islands on the Pacific coast of Alaska, known for its sheltered fjords, rich wildlife, and Tlingit and Haida cultures.
  • Key Attractions:
    • Glacier Bay National Park: Renowned for its dynamic glaciers, abundant wildlife, and stunning mountainous backdrops. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    • Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, offering a glimpse into the area’s gold rush history with well-preserved buildings and vintage railroads.
    • Juneau: Alaska’s capital, accessible only by sea or air, featuring the massive Mendenhall Glacier and the Juneau Icefields.

Glacier Bay National Park

  • Overview: A highlight for many cruises, Glacier Bay offers some of the world’s most spectacular glacial scenery and opportunities for wildlife viewing.
  • Key Experiences:
    • Tidewater Glaciers: Witness the awe-inspiring sight of glaciers calving into the sea.
    • Wildlife: Look for humpback whales, sea otters, seals, and a variety of seabirds against the backdrop of stunning fjords.

Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Overview: Near the town of Seward, Kenai Fjords is famed for its rugged coastline, abundant marine life, and the Harding Icefield.
  • Key Experiences:
    • Wildlife Cruises: Explore the park’s fjords by boat, spotting whales, sea lions, and puffins.
    • Exit Glacier: One of the most accessible glaciers, offering walking trails that allow visitors to witness the effects of climate change on the landscape.


  • Overview: This unique town blends Tlingit culture with Russian heritage, set against a backdrop of island-studded seas and spruce-covered mountains.
  • Key Attractions:
    • Sitka National Historical Park: Site of the battle between Russian traders and Tlingit Natives, now featuring totem poles and cultural exhibits.
    • Raptor Center: A rehabilitation center for bald eagles and other birds of prey, providing up-close wildlife encounters.


  • Overview: Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Ketchikan is also famous for its vibrant totem poles, rich native culture, and lush rainforest environment.
  • Key Attractions:
    • Creek Street: Historic boardwalk on stilts, once the red-light district, now lined with shops and galleries.
    • Misty Fjords National Monument: Accessible by boat or floatplane, it offers dramatic views of steep fjords and waterfalls.


  • Overview: One of the oldest towns in Alaska, offering a deep connection to Tlingit culture and fascinating wildlife.
  • Key Experiences:
    • Anan Wildlife Observatory: A prime spot for bear watching, where visitors can see black and brown bears fishing for salmon.
    • Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site: Features ancient rock carvings that offer a glimpse into the region’s prehistoric inhabitants.

Each of these destinations offers its own unique blend of natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural experiences, making them highlights of any small ship cruise in Alaska.

The accessibility of these areas, coupled with the expertise of onboard naturalists and guides, ensures that your visit to these ports of call and highlight destinations will be both memorable and enlightening.

Alaskan cruise lines

Tips for a Memorable Small Ship Alaska Cruise

A small ship cruise in Alaska offers unparalleled access to some of the most pristine wilderness areas on the planet.

To ensure your journey is as enriching and enjoyable as possible, consider these tips designed to enhance your experience from the moment you book to the time you disembark.

Maximize Your Onboard Experience

  • Engage with Crew and Experts: The crew and onboard experts are invaluable resources. Their insights can deepen your understanding of the places you visit. Don’t hesitate to join the lectures or informal talks and ask questions.
  • Participate in Onboard Activities: Whether it’s a wildlife identification workshop, a cultural presentation, or a photography class, these activities are designed to enrich your cruise experience and prepare you for the adventures ahead.

Make the Most of Your Excursions

  • Choose Excursions That Align with Your Interests: Whether it’s wildlife watching, cultural tours, or active adventures like kayaking or hiking, select excursions that match your passion to ensure a fulfilling experience.
  • Prepare for the Weather: Alaskan weather can be unpredictable. Dress in layers and bring waterproof gear to stay comfortable, ensuring the weather doesn’t dampen your adventure.
  • Be Present and Mindful: The beauty of Alaska is in the details. Take the time to soak in the environment, listen to the sounds of nature, and be fully present during your excursions.

Document Your Journey

  • Photography Tips: Alaska’s landscapes are vast, and its wildlife can be fleeting. Practice using your camera before you go, and consider bringing lenses suitable for both landscapes and wildlife to capture the majesty of your surroundings.
  • Journaling: Keep a travel journal to note your experiences, thoughts, and feelings along the journey. These entries can become precious reminders of your adventure.

Stay Flexible and Open

  • Embrace Changes: Itineraries can change due to weather or wildlife sightings. These adjustments often lead to unexpected highlights, so embrace the adventure with an open mind.
  • Try New Things: Whether it’s tasting local cuisine, participating in an onboard activity you’re curious about, or trying a new form of wildlife watching, stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to some of the most memorable moments of your trip.

Respect and Protect the Environment

  • Follow Leave No Trace Principles: When exploring Alaska’s wild places, always minimize your impact. Follow guidelines for responsible wildlife viewing and leave areas as you found them.
  • Support Conservation Efforts: Many small ship cruises in Alaska contribute to conservation and research efforts. Participate in these initiatives where possible to help protect the incredible ecosystems you’re enjoying.

Post-Cruise Reflection

  • Share Your Experience: After your cruise, share your stories, photos, and insights with friends and the wider community. Your experiences can inspire others and raise awareness about the importance of preserving Alaska’s natural beauty.
  • Stay Connected: Keep in touch with the crew and fellow passengers. The connections made during your cruise can last a lifetime and keep the spirit of adventure alive until your next journey.

A small ship cruise in Alaska is more than just a vacation; it’s an opportunity to connect deeply with nature, immerse yourself in unique cultures, and experience the wonders of the Last Frontier.

By following these tips, you’re sure to have a journey filled with memorable moments, personal growth, and a newfound appreciation for the natural world.