Small Ship Cruises Are Not For Everyone
Small ship cruises are for travelers who understand the difference between Mass Market and Expedition-Style cruising. On a small ship cruise, Alaska is the focal point, not the ship. These ships are small, intimate and able to take guests up close to find Alaska’s hidden treasures, where the big ships don’t – and can’t – reach.
How To Book A Small Ship Cruise
Small ship cruise lines do not offer online booking capability. Since small ships depart from more remote Alaska ports and there are so many different vacation extension options, we highly recommend you speak with an AlaskaCruises.com cruise expert to help you plan your small ship vacation.
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Best Large Ship Cruise: Royal Caribbean International
Dry docked in 2021 for a routine refurbishment, this Quantum Class ship holds 4,905 passengers and truly offers something for everyone.
Recreational activities like a flowrider surf simulator, iFly skydiving simulator, and rock climbing wall, high-tech virtual balcony views, and North Star, a glass observation capsule that rises 300 feet above sea level for birds eye views
Luxury shopping options, such as Cartier, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors
Adventure Ocean Kids Programs
A robot will code your favorite cocktails at the Bionic Bar
Formal nights with dress code
The best part about a mega-ship, like the Ovation of the Seas? Its literally impossible to be bored given the number of things there are to do, eat, and explore. For instance, there are 16 dining options , 10 bars and lounges, myriad activities and shows, a spa and fitness center, pool tables, and table tennis. Add to that guest lectures, outdoor movie nights, live music, an arcade and casino, theme nights, bumper cars, archery, and dance and sushi-making classes. Heck, you might just need a vacation after this vacation!
Interior staterooms are budget-friendly options with plenty of space and thoughtful touches, or you can upgrade to ocean view, balcony, or suite categories for some extra perks . And theres no better spot for taking in Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier than the North Star observation deck.
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Ride The Alaska Marine Highway
And if youre really looking for off-the-beaten-path Alaska cruisingand dont mind bare bones accommodationsthe Alaska Marine Highway ferry offers a plethora of routes. We combined a 5-night cruise from Haines, Alaska, to Bellingham, Washington, with an Alaska Highway road trip. But you dont have to be driving to enjoy this journey.
Best Overall Cruise: Windstar Cruises
Because of their small, yacht-like size, Windstar Cruises ships grant unparalleled access to Alaskas glaciers and fjords other ships cant squeeze into some of these special places.
All-inclusive option includes WiFi, unlimited drinks, Signature Expeditions program offers expert guides who give lectures and take guests on intimate excursions
Only 312 passengers
Each cabin is a suite there are no interior cabins
Ship was reimagined in 2021, with additional dining experiences, a new World Spa, and infinity pool
Fewer entertainment options than on larger ships
When it comes to experiencing the splendor of Alaska, your cruise is only as good as the direct access it offers to this regions beautyand Windstar Cruises delivers access like no other. Because of its dainty size, guests are treated to unique experiences, like anchoring right in Misty Fjords and Kenai Fjords, which is something youd have to do on a shore excursion if you were on a larger ship with another cruise line. For an even closer look at Mother Natures impressive work, from icebergs to whales, book a kayak or Zodiac Signature Expedition with their incredibly knowledgeable guides.
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When Is The Best Time To Take An Alaskan Cruise
We prefer cruising to Alaska in the fall toward the end of the season. Youll escape insects and crowds on an autumn visit, but shoppers may find that boutiques and gift stores are either closed already or offering limited merchandise.
Spring is another good time for an Alaskan cruise, with the promise of drier weather and fewer crowds . In both fall or springknown as shoulder seasondiscounted fares are a possibility.
Of course if youre traveling on a multi-generation Alaskan cruise, with work and school schedules to accommodate, summer may be your only choice. This is when an UnCruise adventure makes especially good sense for those traveling with tweens and above, since the line skips typical ports in favor of helping you experience wild Alaska.
No matter which line you choose, expect rainier weather on a summer Alaska cruise, especially in July and August.
Best For Land And Sea Adventures
Youve traveled far to get to Alaska and it would be a shame to miss inland sights such as Denali National Park and Preserve and the sight of Denali, North Americas largest peak so big its often shrouded in clouds caused by its own weather system.
Market leaders Holland America Line and Princess Cruises both send a half-dozen ships to Alaska each year, and they have 75 and 55 years in the market, respectively. They top the list in terms of cruises, as well as cruisetours, which combine time sailing with overnight stays on land. The companies operate their own lodges, railcars and motorcoaches for exploration of Alaskas interior and beyond. Many of the ships have permission to sail in Glacier Bay.
Standard one-week to 14-night cruise itineraries take you to the same ports as the megaships, such as Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and sometimes Sitka from Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco or Whittier, Alaska. On 10- to 17-night land tours, you might add an overnight in Anchorage, a visit to Denali park and time up north in Fairbanks, the gateway to Arctic Alaska.
Holland America Line also offers cruisetours that head into the Canadian Yukon, following the route of the Klondike Gold Rush from Alaska to northwestern Canada. Princess Cruises offers a cruisetour where you visit four national parks: Glacier Bay, Denali, the Kenai Fjords and, Americas largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias.
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Yacht Sailboat & Private Charters
Few visitors realize they can charter a small vessel for a custom adventure, or join just a few other travelers on a luxury yacht cruise. These exclusive trips are available in Prince William Sound , Seward and Kenai Fjords, and the Inside Passage.
- Activities launch from the boat. Kayak, paddeleboard, head ashore for a hike along the coast, pause to view spawning salmon and bears waiting to catch them. Or relax on the ship playing games, reading a book, and sharing stories with your fellow travelers. The choice is yours.
- Casual & intimate. If you’ve booked the boat, it’s just you your family / friends and the crew. If you’re on a shared trip, you’ll get to know the other few travelers on board.
- Maximum Flexibility. Yes, there’s a schedule, but it’s typically centered around exactly what you’d like to do.
- Fine Cuisine. The food is a point of pride for these smaller vessels, and it often centers on locally sourced products. Most trips also include beer and wine.
- Great for families. Chartering a boat is a fantastic multi-generational family trip where everyone will have the opportunity to do things they enjoy.
- Possible Downsides: Smaller boats are more prone to the elements, but cruises in Prince William Sound are generally very well protected.
Best For Megaresort Fans
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean both sail some of their largest ships in Alaska. They are floating megaresorts, carrying thousands, and big on amenities, glitz and a certain amount of glamor think flashy casinos, Broadway shows, lavish spas. Dining and drinking venues number in the dozens, while amusement park features thrill the kids and adrenaline-seekers.
On Norwegians Breakaway-Plus-class ships, you can race along a go-kart racetrack, complete in outdoor laser tag and zoom down slides at the water park. On Royal Caribbeans Quantum-class ships, you can order a drink from a robotic bartender, try simulated sky diving or surfing experiences and take a ride in a glass capsule that travels high above your ship on a mechanical arm a weird and wonderful way to see the Alaska scenery.
These supersized ships stick to tried-and-true weeklong itineraries, sailing round trip from Seattle to such ports as Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Icy Strait Point and Victoria, B.C. Many Norwegian sailings spend time in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Ships that dont visit the national park, regardless of cruise line, will call at other exciting tidewater glaciers.
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Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Seven Seas Mariner returns to Alaska each summer, providing anexcellent combination of comfortable spacious suite living withexcellent dining choices and a whole selection of excursionsincluded in the fare, unusual for a classic cruise ship. This isone destination where you’re going to want to take loads oforganised trips, so with up to 43 excursions on offer on a 7-dayitinerary, you can really get your money’s worth. There will alsobe guest lecturers and a great family programme.
Best Ship Renovation: Celebrity Cruises
The Celebrity Millennium, launched in 2000, has recently undergone complete modernization, which includes luxury staterooms, enhanced technology, and renovated restaurants and lounges.
Immersive dining at Le Petit Chef, where augmented reality intersects with luxury cuisine, private verandas, complimentary fitness classes, plus unlimited access to the Persian Garden and complimentary dining at Blu
Autism-friendly cruising, including sensory-friendly films and toys, and dietary options
Accessible staterooms with grab bars, roll-in showers, and wider doors
2,218 passengers put this squarely in the mid-size ship category
You wont find the over-the-top party-like activities of larger ships
If youre passionate about the finer things in life, Celebrity Cruises may very well speak to your soul. The Sky Suite in the Retreat, for instance, includes a long list of curated amenities , endless views, a Personal Retreat Host, private dining, and exclusive spaces, like the Retreat Lounge and Sundeck. And onboard experiences range from Macallan and Jack Daniels tastings to Riedel crystal workshops that show how different shapes and qualities of a Riedel glass change the taste of wine.
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The Alaska Luxury Small Ship Cruise Experience
Fact: All of our Alaska small ship cruises provide a comfortable vessel with a focus on exploring wilderness landscapes and incredible wildlife through daily guided shore excursions and off-vessel explorations. It is at the very core of our business model. So then the question becomes, how is a small luxury Alaska cruise different from a typical cruise? Its still an adventure, but its with elevated service and top of the line accommodations in their small ship class.
Traditional expedition style Alaska vessels are your base line boat with all the basic amenities. These could include a RV style bathroom, sinks on the outside in cabin and buffet breakfast and lunch.
When you choose a luxury Alaska cruise expect generous inclusions, beautiful cabins and the finest amenities. Find a wider array of cabin options with two room suites and even in room jacuzzi tubs and heated tile floors. Cabins aboard upscale luxury yachts and small ships come with exceptional view windows and may offer bathrobes, larger mattress dimensions and added turn down service.
Elsewhere on board, expect gourmet cuisine, plated meal service, larger lounges and public spaces, spas with a complimentary massage, superior service and top-rated naturalist guides with a high crew-to-guide ratio. Many luxury Alaska cruises are also all inclusive with activities, excursions and even alcohol included in the price.
Best Yacht Cruise: Seadream Yacht Club
SeaDream Yacht Club
For a yachting experience, SeaDream Yacht Club operates two ships carrying from 94 to 112 guests to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Transatlantic crossings plus dedicated wine-themed voyages. In addition, a third yacht, the Seadream Innovation, is planned to complete in 2021 with three marinas and wave runners, sailboats, and kayaks. Suites feature gorgeous wood furnishings, soaking tubs, living and dining areas, flat screen televisions, and 24-hour room service. For active adults, theres a golf simulator, mountain bikes , water skiing, and snorkel gear. Enjoy a movie under the stars or relax in the Balinese spa. All meals, beverages, and gratuities are also included in the fare.
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Small Expedition Ship Alaska Adventures Are Fun Too
If youve cruised in Alaska before, or if you prefer waking up to the quiet of a bay in the Inside Passage, UnCruise offers a different take on an Alaska cruise vacation with choices that fit both moderate and luxury travel budgets.
Alan and I enjoyed an UnCruise small ship adventure focused on outdoor activities while exploring the bays, fjords and glaciers of Alaska. You wont find many ports on UnCruise itineraries with the exception of a few smaller ones like Wrangell and Petersburg. The adventure cruise line uses and Ketchikan as embarkation and disembarkation ports.
Silversea expedition ships offer a luxurious adventure option. Some itineraries cruise in and out of Nome with routes that explore Dutch Harbor, Far-east Russian ports and Wrangell Island.
Gulf Of Alaska Cruises
Gulf of Alaska cruises usually run from Vancouver to Seward/Whittier or vice versa. Ports typically include Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan with a day in the Inside Passage. Youll either fly into or out of Anchorage depending on the itinerary. And youll have the opportunity for land adventures either pre or post cruise.
Because the ship leaves the protection of the Inside Passage, you may experience rougher seasor not. If you do, heres my favorite sea sickness remedy.
Most of the small, luxury cruise lines offer Sitka as a port as well as Holland American and Celebrity. Cruises that stop at Kodiak Island are harder to find and are usually part of a trans-Pacific cruise.
All Alaska cruises offer scenic cruising in addition to the Inside Passage. Look for itineraries that include a day in Glacier Bay National Park . Visiting Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord or Tracy Arm are other scenic cruise day options worth considering.
Im seeing Victoria, Prince Rupert, and Icy Straight , appearing on some cruises to Alaska. Keep this in mind if youre looking for new-to-you experiences on a second, third or even fourth cruise in Alaska.
Boomer Travel Tip
Check for best Alaska cruise prices here.
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American Cruise Lines Alaska
American Cruise Lines small ship sailings in Alaska include itineraries through the Inside Passage and Southeast Alaska. The line has traditionally drawn an older crowd more interested in ports than adventure, and its Alaska sailings are heavy on narrated boat, coach and walking tours.
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American Constellation, built in 2017, carries 175 passengers and most of its staterooms have private balconies. Rooms range from 226 to 450 square feet — they’re billed as being among the largest in Alaska. There’s elevator service to all decks, which is a great feature for those with mobility issues.
Round trip sailings out of Juneau, or between Juneau and Seattle, generally include stops in Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point, Petersburg, Sitka and Tracy Arm.
The 8 Best Luxury Cruise Lines Of 2022
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Best Overall: Regent Seven Seas“For an ultra-luxurious yacht voyage, Regent Seven Seas features all-inclusive pricing and premium service.”
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Seabourn“From Alaska to the Amazon and the Mediterranean to Arabia, Seabourn sails exotic itineraries with experts onboard.”
Best Luxury Expedition:Ponant“The French-influenced cruise line blends modern technology with traditional French luxury.”
Best Excursions: Crystal Cruises “The company offers an impressive 2,000 excursions to choose from in ports all over the world.”
Best Small Ships: Silversea“If youre ready to be completely pampered, Silverseas five-star service, smaller ships, and all-inclusive pricing is difficult to beat.”
Best Yacht Cruise: SeaDream Yacht Club“For active adults, theres a golf simulator, mountain bikes , water skiing, and snorkel gear.”
Best Tall Sailing Ships: Windstar Cruises “For a combination of traditional sailing and five-star service, consider Windstar Cruises, a luxury tall-sailing ship cruise line.”
Best for First-Time Cruisers: Oceania Cruises “For guests who enjoy deluxe cruise lines like Celebrity or Holland America, Oceania is a perfect stepping stone into luxury cruising.”
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The Definition Of A Small Ship
The Definition of what constitutes a small cruise ship is the subject of some debate. Some believe that anything over 200 guests is too big. Others would argue that any ship offering a capacity for fewer than 1,000 guests is small. At The Cruise Line, we generally recommend that a small ship is a vessel with a total of no more than 600 guests.
Best Luxury Expedition: Ponant
With cruise roots dating back to 1988, Ponant shifted its direction in 2009 and took the luxury cruise industry by storm with the introduction of Le Boréal, followed by four sister ships. The French-influenced cruise line blends modern technology with traditional French luxury in its yacht expedition vessels that boast more space and fewer passengers. Better yet, there are some cutting-edge industry firsts like an underwater viewing lounge with reinforced glass to gaze out below the water line, all while ocean sounds and visuals are projected. The current fleet consists of the four sister ships and six small-sized Ponant Explorers. Dining onboard features French cuisine with plenty of open-air venues. Plus theres a spa, fitness center, theater, and heated saltwater pools and solariums.
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