Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

Cruise Alaska

Cruise Planning Guide

When it comes to cruising Alaska, it's all about adventure, wilderness, history, culture, and fun.

Answers about cruising better in Alaska. Information about planning a cruise vacation in Alaska. What to do? When to go? What cruise line to take. Vacation planning tips and resources about planning a cruise vacation to Alaska.

Choose to cruise Alaska from the following itineraries:

  • One way: Southbound Anchorage (Whittier or Seward) to Vancouver (better for getting flights home and combining a land tour).
  • One-way Northbound: Vancouver to Anchorage (Whittier or Seward)
  • Roundtrip Vancouver
  • Roundtrip Seattle 

When is the best time to book a cruise in Alaska?

The Alaska cruise season runs from the end of May through to late August or early September (depending on the weather). Generally speaking, the height of the season is late June through July.  The shoulder seasons tend to be colder and wetter, but that is not a guarantee that rain and snow are not likely in the summer months. Read our Cruise Planning Guide to learn about how to buy a cruise vacation.

How do I get a deal?

When you are looking to purchase your dream cruise to Alaska, you will want to know that prices tend to run high, especially compared to other destinations like the Caribbean or Mexico. The number one reason why you may not find last-minute cruise deals or deep discounts on a cruise to Alaska is because the cruise season is very short and there is not a lot of inventory. In fact, some people plan well in advance and make a deposit sometimes two years in advance. Take advantage of promotions that offer reduced deposits, if you are traveling with a group find out if you qualify for a group discount, and keep an eye out for discounts from cruise lines offering incentives to past passengers. Read our Cruise Planning Guide to learn about how to buy a cruise vacation. 

What cruise line should I pick?

So many ships, so little time to figure it all out!

There is plenty of cruise product to meet the varied needs of cruise guests: luxury visitors, families, and those looking to explore the Last Frontier will find a shipboard experience catering to their specific needs.  

Some cruise lines do Alaska better than others. For example, Princess Cruises is a mainstay in the area and has a lot of infrastructure in place that makes your experience a little better. For example, if you are looking for rail and sail package, Princess owns their own lodges and also has their own rail car. Holland America Line and Norwegian are good choices as well. In addition small ship cruising is where it’s at in Alaska. Alaskan Dream Cruises offers a unique adventure themed cruise experience that is hard to beat. Of course, if it’s luxury touches that you seek, then Crystal Cruises or their competition might be a good option. 

Families will like Princess Cruises,  Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, or Disney Cruise Line ships. 

Tip: cruise visitors should look at the year a cruise ship was built and refurbished to make sure that their cruise line has the features they want: specialty restaurants, water slides, and stateroom amenities vary by ship within each fleet.

Read our Cruise Planning Guide to learn about how to buy a cruise vacation. 

What type of cabin is best?

Large ships with balcony cabins are always a great option, especially if you envision yourself gazing at the scenery from the luxury of your stateroom. However, some cruise ships don’t have a lot of balcony cabins, or perhaps there are none to choose from at all due to the size of the vessel. Make sure to plan your budget and determine if a balcony is a goof fit. You wont regret the splurge, but then again, it could break the vacation bank.  If you don’t have a verandah, then you will enjoy the scenery from the lounges and on deck. Read our Cruise Planning Guide to learn about how to buy a cruise vacation. 

How much does a cruise to Alaska cost?

Prices vary, of course, but you can budget for a seven-day one-way cruise, airfare, a hotel if you can’t find a good flight departing or arriving in time to meet the ship, plus you need to spend money on shore excursions, and other expenses. The least expensive cabin type will be an interior cabin without a view, and prices vary  depending on sailing date and cruise line. Read our Cruise Planning Guide to learn about how to buy a cruise vacation. 

What cruise itinerary should I pick?

  • One way: Southbound Anchorage (Whittier or Seward) to Vancouver (better for getting flights home and combining a land tour).
  • One-way Northbound: Vancouver to Anchorage (Whittier or Seward)
  • Roundtrip Vancouver
  • Rountrip Seattle 

What is it like to take a cruise in Alaska?

When it comes to cruise planning for Alaska, it’s all about picking the right itinerary.

Most cruises will cruise through the Inside Passage via a variety of routes depending on the embarkation port. There are roundtrip cruises from Seattle or Vancouver and also options to head north or south from Seattle, Vancouver, Whittier (the port that serves the Anchorage area), and Seward. The duration of an Alaska cruise typically is 7-days, but some people will add a landtour to their vacation plans visiting the  Fairbanks, the gateway to  Denali National Park.

Most cruises will venture along the calmer coastline of the Inside Passage, which is more common due to the more tranquil waters for leisure cruising.

One tip I will share is that if you are talking a roundtrip itinerary, you will not get as much of the “good stuff” and Alaskan cruise can offer. And if you sail on a large ship, you most likely will get to the glacier and then have to turn around (that’s no fun!).

Land tours are the best, and if you have the time and money to spend on this cruise extension, you will not be disappointed.

During your cruise you are not guaranteed sightings of wildlife (bears, whales, moose) but, you will see some gorgeous scenery, and it is very likely that you will see eagles, dolphins, and a lot of seabirds.

Popular shore excursions include trips that take you to the wilderness like helicopter rides, kayaking on the calm waters, or dog sledding. There are also touristy things to do like pan for gold and going to a salmon bake. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn about the history of Alaska and its native people.

Popular shore excursions include trips that take you to the wilderness like helicopter rides, kayaking on the calm waters, or dog sledding. There are also touristy things to do like pan for gold and going to a salmon bake. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn about the history of Alaska and its native people.

The first time I went to Alaska, I was immediately in awe of the natural beauty, plentiful resources, friendly people, and the enormity of the place.

I have cruised to Alaska on large ships, and I can compare the experience to what sailing in The Last Frontier on a small expedition boat is all about.

When it comes to cruising better in Alaska, it’s all about the destination and floating around on a ship is a great way to explore.

If it’s more time off the beaten path (Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka can get overrun by boat loads of cruise travelers during peak season) then take a small expedition boat like I did on Alaskan Dream Cruises.

However, if you are looking for bells and whistles commonly found on larger cruise ships, then you will have to forego longer stays in port and be willing to go with the flow and join the herd because the logistics of wrangling thousands of cruise ship passengers take a toll on independence.

Dock space is at a premium, and the ports know how to turn the space to accommodate the most amount of people.

One suggestion that I have is to plan extra time on a cruise tour, offered by the cruise line or make up your own. I never regret going to Denali as a pre-cruise tour before a 7-day Princess Cruises trip. Full disclosure, I was a guest of the cruise line with other travel influencers and did not have much choice in the matter, but it made me realize how varied the Alaska cruise experience can be. When I got home from that trip, I told all my customers going to Alaska about how excellent a land tour was and that it should be a serious consideration for anyone with time and vacations dollars to spend on this experience.