Thursday, May 16, 2024

Best Small Ship Alaska Cruises

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Alaska Small Ship Cruise

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.

Related: The coolest things to do on an Alaska cruise

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.

Timing An Alaska Adventure Cruise

Small ship Alaska cruises make the most of the summer months when passengers can enjoy warmer temperatures, long days with late sunsets and accessible wildlife. Throughout the summer, weather is variable ranging from warm sunny days in the 70s or 80s to chilly rainy days in the 50s and 60s.

The climate data listed above is for Anchorage, Alaska, but there are Southeast coastal and Arctic microclimates to consider depending on your small Alaska cruise itinerary. For even more detail on thebest time to visit Alaska for your Alaska adventure cruise, view our month by month guide.

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 cruise expert to help you plan your small ship vacation.

Fla. Seller of Travel Reg. No. ST42496CST No. 2100614-50

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Con: Fewer Dining Options

If your idea of vacation is to sample as many restaurants as possible, small cruise ships arent for you.

Ocean Victory, for example, has only two dining venues the main dining room and a more casual bistro-style area with indoor and outdoor seating on the top deck. The menus vary daily, serving a wide range of options at every meal, and I certainly never lacked for food I enjoyed.

However, if you prefer variety, the ship has no room for specialty venues or bonus shops like ice cream or hamburger stands. On the flip side, you avoid the up-charges and scrambles to secure reservations that go along with additional onboard restaurant options.

Related: The ultimate guide to cruise ship food and dining

Northwest Passage Cruise In The Wake Of The Great Explorers

Three options for Alaska small

A 26 day cruise that introduces you to the wild natural beauty of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, AAAs Northwest Passage Cruise will satisfy your craving for frosty fjords and majestic arctic wildlife.

This cruise will be carried out aboard the MS Roald Amundsen, a 459-foot ship that was built in 2019. The MS Roald Amundsen is a cutting-edge hybrid ship, enabling it to cut down on CO2-emissions by around 20% and making it a superior, more eco-friendly way to cruise Alaska.

This is considered a small ship cruise as the MS Roald Amundsen can only accommodate just over 500 passengers.

Ports of call on this cruise include:

  • Day 1: Vancouver, B.C.
  • Day 2: Nome, Alaska
  • Day 3-7: At sea
  • Day 8-17: the Northwest Passage
  • Day 18: Labrador Sea
  • Day 19: Ilulissat
  • Day 21-22: Labrador Sea
  • Day 23: Red Bay
  • Day 26: Halifax

Visit this page to learn more about this small-ship adventure to Alaska.

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Sylvia Earle & Ocean Odyssey

These are the fourth and fifth Infinity-class expedition vessels designed in Europe and built in China for Miami-based SunStone Ships, which customizes and charters them to different lines on a long-term basis.

Sylvia Earlewill sail year-round for Australias Aurora Expeditions, which also fields the first Infinity-class ship, 2019s Greg Mortimer. And Ocean Odysseywill go to Boston-based Vantage Deluxe World Travel, which has the second Infinity-class ship, 2021s Ocean Explorer.

Ocean Odyssey will operate on year-round charter to Bostons Vantage Travel. * Rendering: SunStone Ships

Built to Polar Class 6 standard, these vessels sport Ulstein Designs distinctive inverted X-BOW for better seakeeping and fuel efficiency. Each ship has multiple lounges, a library, fitness center, spa and swimming pool.

Sylvia Earle will sail for Aurora Expeditions. * Rendering: Aurora Expeditions

Sylvia Earle is expected to debut in April for an inaugural season in the Americas, including Baja California, the Sea of Cortez and Alaska. Then the 132-passenger ship will explore the Russian Far East and Pacific islands before joining Greg Mortimer in Antarctica for the 2022/23 season.

Customized to a luxury standard for Vantage, Ocean Odysseycan accommodate up to 162 passengers including 15 rooms for solo travelers. Besides the main restaurant, theres a private dining area and a top-deck alternative restaurant.

Ocean Odyssey is pictured during its construction in China. * Photo: SunStone Ships

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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Best Alaska Cruises For Families With Kids

Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean all have extensive kids clubs aboard their ships that cater to all ages, from babies to teens. Little kids will adore meet-and-greets with beloved characters onboard Disney cruises or hanging with Dr. Seuss characters when sailing with Carnival. Older kids will love the rock climbing walls, video game stations, sports courts, go-karts and laser tag on Royal Caribbean and Disney ships.

Our Experiences On The First Sailing To Alaska With Princess Cruises

Alaska by Tugboat: Best Small Ship Cruise Experience

It is true, We Are Back! Princess Cruises is delivering a memorable Alaska cruise experience. We are happy to report that cruising with Princess Cruises has not changed much since the pandemic. With a few extra health and safety protocols, that mainly go unnoticed, the cruise line is able to offer the same great cruise experience.

While this is our first Princess Cruises sailing, we can see why the cruise line has become so popular, especially in regions like Alaska. Providing a contemporary cruise atmosphere, with plenty of enrichment and onboard fun, travelers have the flexibility to customize their voyage.

With everyone fully vaccinated, in addition to some enhanced health and safety measures, we feel completely safe on this cruise. Like other cruise lines, all staff members are required to wear masks in all public areas. When compared to our other sailing from the U.S., we have noticed more fellow passengers also wearing masks during this trip even though they are not required.

If you are looking to cruise to Alaska, now might be the perfect time to do so!

  • Ship Name: Celebrity Solstice
  • Itinerary: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Alaska Inside Passage, Victoria

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Best Small Ship: Oceania Cruises

Oceania cruises introduce Alaska to guests by offering local experiences in partnership with native tribes for a more meaningful connection to the area beyond sightseeing.

Two specialty restaurants , WiFi, and free and unlimited soft drinks replenished daily in refrigerated mini bar

  • Onboard menus feature local Alaskan delicacies, such as Halibut, King Crab, and Alaskan blueberry pancakes

  • Impressive guest-to-staff ratio: maximum of 656 guests served by 400+ officers and crew

  • 4 open-seating restaurants, 8 lounges and bars, and a casino

  • Not all staterooms feature private verandas

Built in 1998 but fully refurbished in 2019, Oceania Cruises Regatta dazzles guests with bejeweled chandeliers in the Grand Dining Room, fresh color palettes, and new furnishings in the public spaces, plus new everything in the suites and staterooms. Between the gentle rocking of the ship and the Ultra Tranquility Bed, youre sure to sleep like a baby.

When youre not off exploring Alaskas many wonders, keep busy at the casino, take in an after-dinner production of Tuxedo or Gatsbys or chill out and choose a book from the English-style library with 2,000 options. Book a spa treatment or work out in the Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center, play nine holes of golf on the putting greens, shop the three boutiques, and unwind, help yourself to afternoon tea with all the accouterments at 4 p.m. daily.

Holland America Vs Princess In Alaska

Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have been sailing Alaska longer than any other cruise lines and are the undisputed leaders in this market. Both claim deep roots in the region, have contacts with local companies other cruise lines dont have and operate their own accommodations throughout the state to best serve their cruise tour passengers. They also have the most ships in the region of any of the major cruise lines.

Holland America Line first began sailing Alaska in the 1960s and launched its land operations there in 1970 when it partially acquired local tour company Westours, which had been operating in the state since the 1940s.

Princess Cruises first Alaska season was in 1969, and the line began running its land-based tours in 1972.

To help you decide which cruise line is the best choice for your Alaska cruise or cruise-and-land tour, Cruise Critic has compared Holland America versus Princess in regards to the Alaska-specific onboard experience, cruise itineraries and prices, and cruise tour itineraries and prices.

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Mixed: Limited Shopping Options In Small Towns

The flip side of getting off the beaten path is you wont find the same shopping options in small ports that you would in the major cruise ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. This could be a plus or minus depending on your point of view.

Most cities on major cruise line routes are known for their endless rows of jewelry, souvenir and specialty shops many of which are not locally owned. If you love to spend hours looking for deals and gifts to bring home, youll find the most variety in the big-ship ports.

Related: Best Alaska cruise tips to help you make the most of your time aboard and ashore

The smaller ports take a different approach to souvenirs. In Wrangell, there were only about a half dozen stores, including a grocery store, drug store and a few stores that offered essentials, like swimsuits, flip-flops, T-shirts and sweatshirts. One was more of a traditional store than souvenir shop, and the other, the Compass Line Gift Shop, offered high-quality T-shirts, hats hand-designed by the owner, candles and handmade soaps.

We purposely dont carry items that other shops may carry on the island, the shops website says. We like our neighbor shops, so why compete with them.

In Kake, population 500, I didnt come across any souvenir stores at all. Instead, a few locals sold handmade jewelry, postcards and other odds and ends in the community center before the towns children performed local dances for the cruise passengers.

The Best Alaska Cruise For Every Type Of Traveler

8 of the best small ship cruises to Alaska

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Even with a season that only runs from April through October, there are some 40 big ships and dozens of small ships cruising Alaska, making it one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world after the Caribbean and Europe.

Choices of type of ship abound from vessels carrying fewer than 100 passengers to megaships that hold thousands. Some ships stick to tried-and-true ports, following the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska and into western Canada. Others wander deeper along the Alaska coastline to places such as the Kenai Peninsula, north to Nome and Barrow and even deep into the Bering Sea.

It can be hard to figure out which ship will deliver your idea of a bucket list experience in The Last Frontier. A lot comes down to your travel style, preferences and budget.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPGs cruise newsletter.

The good news is theres a ship in Alaska for you no matter your taste or style. Heres a beginners guide to help you narrow down your choices.

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Alaska Luxury Small Ships

  • The 100-guest National Geographic Venture and National Geographic Quest are state-of-the-art, purpose-built luxury expedition ships with all the usual upscale amenities. In addition, the National Geographic ships feature thoughtful design considerations such as open decks with a tiered system for optimal wildlife viewing and specialty tools for exploration like an underwater rover, hydrophone, video microscope and splash-cam.
  • The 84-guest Safari Endeavour offers unique amenities usually found aboard a yacht such as hot tubs, an intimate wine bar and memory foam mattress bedding.
  • The 36-guest Safari Explorer is sometimes referred to as a Goldilocks of small ships: not too big, not too small, but just the right size.

Best For Solo Travelers

The ships in Norwegian Cruise Lines Breakaway and Getaway classes all have tight studio cabins designed and priced for one person. Additionally, theyre located in a complex where a private lounge encourages mingling. Royal Caribbeans studio staterooms, on its Quantum-class ships in Alaska, give solo travelers the benefits of both decent space and balconies. Holland America Line has ocean-view accommodations-for-one on select ships in the Alaska market.

Among small-ship lines, Alaskan Dream and UnCruise occasionally offer discounts for solo travelers. Luxury lines Silversea and Seabourn, while not cheap, do a great job of taking care of single cruisers, hosting them at dinner and providing easy opportunities to meet and mingle with other travelers.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

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Guides Choice Photography Discovery

Serious photographers are often frustrated when they find a nice spot, set up for a shot, and the guide yells, Time to get back on the bus!This tour is for photographers, so theres ample time to get your shots just right. Better still, your professional photographer guide has the flexibility to take you where the action is, whether its a field of wildflowers by the Chilkat River, brown bears feeding on salmon near Chilkoot Lake, or a juvenile bald eagle exercising its wings for its first flight.

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Best Alaska Cruises For 2022

10 Best Alaska Cruises for 2022! Best New Cruise Ships and Itineraries for Alaskan Cruise!


There is no better time to start planning the ultimate Alaska cruise for 2022. If you are looking to book that bucket list cruise now, we have put together our list of the Best Alaska Cruises for 2022. Put those future cruise credits to good use and book your trip of a lifetime!

Best Alaska Cruises for 2022

Discovery Princess

It is tough to pick the best Alaskan cruise for 2022 among the 6 Princess Cruises ships planned to sail in the region this year. Given that we are partial to mega-ships, the brand new Discovery Princess has to be at the top of our list.

Discovery Princess is sailing roundtrip Inside Passage cruises from Seattle in 2022. The itinerary will visit all the popular stops, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, as well as cruising through Endicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier.

The brand-new Discovery Princess is the final Royal Class ship that will debut just in time for the 2022 Alaska cruise season.

With the largest balconies at sea, this ship is perfect for cruising in Alaska. Further, you wont be able to beat the views from the SeaWalk, a 60-foot glass walkway extending 28 feet off the side of the ship.

Of course, cruisers can also indulge in a variety of culinary treats, unwind in the Sanctuary, and enjoy the cruise lines signature entertainment in the main theater and Princess Live!.

EXCLUSIVE SAVINGS: Score Big on 2022 Alaska Cruises Now!

Norwegian Encore

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Ovation of the Seas

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Benefits Of A Small Ship Cruise

Imagine sailing within Glacier Bay filled with calving glaciers as icebergs float past while you watch from the deck of your ship. Now imagine standing on a small ship free from crowds, where the crew knows you by name, and they explain every detail of what you see before your eyes. That is UnCruise Adventures

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