The Best Alaska Itineraries
My first visit to Alaska started in Anchorage, where we took the Alaska Railroad to Whittier to board Regent Seven Seas Mariner to explore Prince William Sound, Kodiak and the remote Dutch Harbor before heading to Russias Kamchatka Peninsula and the northern islands of Japan.
What I saw in Alaska took my breath away, and weve returned several times since. While that particular cruise was aboard a pricey luxury line, there are ships in all price ranges sailing a variety of itineraries, so dont let budget stop you from visiting.
The Alaska Time Zone Explained
As you begin planning for your Alaska small ship cruise, note that Alaska observes daylight savings time, so you will find times listed in Alaska Standard Time and Alaska Daylight Time depending on if daylight savings time is in effect. For reference, this equates to typically one hour behind Californias Pacific time. The Aleutian Islands instead observe Hawaii-Aleutian Time, one hour behind the remainder of the state. A fun fact that visitors from southern latitudes often dont take into account is that daylight time truly varies in Alaska and varies greatly from solar time. For example, the sun can set at 11:41pm in Anchorage on the summer solstice, and up north in Nome, the sunrise can be after 12:00pm noon on the winter solstice, just four hours before it sets again! View daylight hour averages and more on our Alaska climate page.
Whens The Best Time To Cruise To Alaska For Salmon Fishing
Luckily, any cruise season month is a good time to fish for salmon in Alaska. Heres a quick guide to help you time your trip to match when your favorite salmon is running:
- King salmon: May-June
- Silver salmon: Mid July-late August
- Chum salmon: July-August
Cruise ship in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.
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How To Choose The Perfect Alaskan Cruise
Dont get overwhelmed with all the options. There is a perfect Alaskan cruise itinerary for everyone. Ill walk you through all of the considerations when booking your cruise to make sure you have the cruise of a lifetime and can enjoy Alaska to its fullest.
When sorting through all the different Alaskan cruise itineraries, here are six decisions to consider:
Now, lets break each of these steps down:
A Balcony Room Was A Must Have For Us
We typically book balcony rooms because we like to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and peace and quiet. Being able to be outside was especially important to us for Alaska, where we were hoping for some breath-taking views. We could have saved around 19% if we let Royal Caribbean assign our rooms, but because some of the Quantum-Class Balcony Rooms are partially obstructed by lifeboats, we picked our cabin to ensure a good view. We decided on deck 7 as it seemed like a good location for us, just a few levels of stairs to many of the main areas of the ship.
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A Balcony Cabin In Alaska:
Reason FOR Booking a Balcony Cabin in Alaska:
- Views from your room The ability to dart in-and-out quickly and easily.
- Early morning or late night views when youre not necessarily ready to meet the world. While you cant go on your balcony in your nothings , you CAN s tep outside without primping.
- Shoulder Season will provide some amazing sunrises/sunsets..at regular times.
Reasons NOT to Book a Balcony Cabin in Alaska:
- COST: Expense is probably the #1 reason many do not book Balconies in Alaska!
- Weather is unpredictable: If you end up with a rainy week or windy cold days, your balcony could basically be UN-USABLE.
- Views are limited to only ONE side of the shipand you really cant control which side that whale swims on. Glacier viewing is best from the open decks. If youre the person who wants to see it all, those open/upper decks will come closer to providing that with their 360° views. Balconies give you a 50% view of everything.
- Shoulder Season: weather can be colder, wetter, etc decreasing your ability to enjoy a balcony. Of course, it COULD be beautiful during those times too. Its just a gamble you have to decide if youre willing to take.
When Should I Book My Alaska Cruise
We always recommend booking your cruise early, even nine to 12 months in advance, to get the lowest prices and best pick of cabins. You can probably wait until January or February, when cruise lines put out Wave Season sales and promotions, to see if you can get a deal on your Alaska sailing.
Once it gets to be March or April, your booking is considered last minute. You might find a low fare, especially on shoulder-season cruises, but you might also find that the room types you prefer are sold out or that fares have gone up on a nearly full ship.
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Best Alaska Cruise Lines
As one of the most popular cruise destinations in the USA, Alaska is served by several, if not most, major cruise lines. Whether youre looking for expedition cruises to Alaska or a high-end luxury cruise, youll find something that matches your interests and passions. In no particular order, these are cruise lines that offer Alaska cruises.
The Best Alaska Cruise Ports And Choosing The Right Itinerary For You
Thinking about setting sail for Alaska? Not sure which itinerary to choose? This article is all about the highlights and best Alaska cruise ports to help you !
This article doesnt include a review of different cruise ship companies, rather it is information about the ports you may visit and how to decide based on whats most important to you. Great news to get started you really cant go wrong here as all the Alaska ports of call are interesting and different in their own ways and all are surrounded by life affirming natural beauty!
Ill also talk about how to decide between a cross gulf cruise or inside passage only , a big ship or small ship and options for scenic cruising around glaciers. I spent seven seasons working in the Alaska cruise industry and have visited all of these ports multiple times and even lived in two of them, so Im excited to share my insider knowledge with you!
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The Best Cruises In Alaska
Cruise lines are in the business of giving their guests a good time, so they’ve all got something going for them. Here are our picks for Alaska’s best, in a few different categories.
- The Best Ships for Luxury: Luxury in Alaska is defined in 2012 by Regent Seven Seas and Silversea. If you want a more casual kind of luxury , the Seven Seas Navigator offers just that on an all-suite vessel with excellent cuisine. Silversea, on the other hand, represents a slick, Italian-influenced, slightly more formal luxury experience with all the perks — big suite cabins and excellent food, linens, service, and companions. Both Regent and Silversea include fine wine and booze in their cruise fares. For the ultimate Alaska experience in a small-ship setting, check out the intimate offerings of American Safari Cruises, where soft adventure comes with upscale accouterments.
- The Best of the Mainstream Ships: Every line’s most recent ships are beautiful, but Celebrity’s Infinity is a true stunner, as is its sister ship, Millennium. These modern vessels, with their extensive art collections, cushy public rooms, and expanded spa areas, give Celebrity a formidable presence in Alaska. And the late-model Sapphire Princess and Diamond Princess have raised the art of building big ships to new heights. Both of these vessels will again be in Inside Passage service this year from Vancouver.
What About The Ferry
You might have heard someone refer to the Alaska ferry as a locals cruise or a cheaper cruise and I want you to know that is not accurate! I cringe whenever I read or hear this. The Alaska ferry is absolutely wonderful, but its public transportation and that is how its used by Alaskans. Its also more expensive than people expect and there are lots of hidden costs, such as getting a small cabin and eating in the cafeteria. If youre interested in taking the ferry to or within Alaska, its an amazing experience, but its very different from a cruise! Learn more in my complete guide to riding the Alaska ferry here.
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Popular Alaska Cruise Ports
Most Alaska ports offer a mix of history, culture, scenery, and outdoor activities. If the best Alaska cruise ports are the most popular ones, then the top options are the main Inside Passage ports of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.
Cruise ships sailing one-way voyages often visit Sitka, a former Russian outpost in North America and home to many native Alaskans. Some ships visit Haines instead of Skagway. Icy Strait Point is a native owned and operated port set on a former fish cannery, which has been expanding and growing in popularity. Less common are the ports of Petersburg and Wrangell, located between Ketchikan and Juneau you can find these smaller ports on select itineraries.
For more information on our favorite destinations, read our post on the best Alaska cruise ports.
Why Choose This Itinerary
Find Voyage of the Glaciers cruises below…
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Best Cruises For Extended Trips To Alaska
If you want to cruise Alaska but also see some of the interior and enjoy a stay in a lodge or hotel, go for a cruise-tour package from either Holland America or Princess Cruises. Both have fantastic itineraries that take passengers not only to the Inside Passage, but also Anchorage, Denali National Park, the Yukon, Kenai Peninsula, Talkeetna and Fairbanks. Princess even owns a handful of its own lodges.
Advantages Of Visiting Alaska In August
- Warm weather, with temperatures between 45-65 degrees and 18 hours of daylight.
- Abundant fishing opportunities, as halibut, northern pike, rainbow trout, and salmon are all in season.
- Numerous cruise and land tour packages on offer, giving you access to the breathtaking fall foliage of the Last Frontier.
- As for wildlife, August is peak migration season for songbirds and youll see numerous caribou, bears, beavers, orca, and loons on your adventure.
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Alaska Cruise Travel Faqs
Do I need a visa to travel to Alaska?Is tipping customary in Alaska?What is the internet access like in Alaska?Can I use my cell phone while in Alaska?Do I need a power adapter/ converter?Can I drink the water in Alaska?What is the most common way of paying for things in Alaska?Should I purchase travel insurance for my trip?Once You’re Booked
Insider Tips For Alaska Cruises
Transfer day is a sightseeing day The trip between Whittier or Seward and Anchorage travels one of the most scenic stretches of road in the state. Youll cross the mountains and follow the coast of Turnagain Arm. Transfers are typically by motorcoach, private shuttle or train, but this is far more than getting from A to B. Keep your camera at the ready, and dont be surprised if you spot wildlife and incredible natural landscapes along the way.
Day cruises get even closer to glaciers Its worth adding a day cruise either in Prince William Sound or Resurrection Bay/Kenai Fjords. These nimble vessels are able to slip into smaller spaces than the big ships, better navigate to sea lion haulouts, bird nesting areas and whale watching hot spots in the moment, and get closer to glaciers and then linger in silence. These incredible sights also makes day cruises a great option for independent travelers as well. If spending nights aboard a ship doesnt appeal to you, day cruises are a great way to sample the marine ecosystem and keep the start of each day on solid ground.
Anchorage as flightseeing capital Anchorage isnt just the spot to catch the flight into or out of Alaska. With a huge concentration of pilots and small aircraft, its also a prime spot for sightseeing tours by air. Flights from Merrill Field or Lake Hood in Anchorage take off for glaciers in the nearby Chugach Mountains, the waters of Prince William Sound, or even circle Denali by air.
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An Interior Cabin/room On Alaskan Cruise
- Darkness in the room around Summer Solstice: During this time it can be light outside for up to 20 hrs/day. Interior cabins may provide the best nights sleep youve ever had!
- The room is always pitch dark when the light is off. Theres no morning light to wake up with or outdoor ship lights through the window to guide you to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Bring an alarm and a nightlight!
- You have to go to upper or open decks for views.
If choosing an Interior, check the deck map to find a cabin with quick access to an open deck perhaps just down the hall or up/down a flight of stairs. With this, you can have a cheap stateroom yet still be on deck in 2-3 minutes if they announce something phenomenal over the ships intercom. Thats the best of both worlds
For Interesting Info about Summer Solstice, check the bottom of this article.
What To Do On An Alaskan Cruise
When it comes to planning shore excursions or time in port, youll find more things you must see or do on your Alaska cruise than you have time for.
Flightseeing is a popular activity, either by a floatplane that will soar you over beautiful natural areas or a helicopter that will fly up to the top of a glacier. Dogslide rides or visiting a dogsled training center and playing with the huskies are quintessential Alaska activities. To get more of a glimpse of Alaska culture and lifestyle, get tickets to a lumberjack show, attend a salmon bake, or go on a crab fishing tour.
History buffs will want to explore the states Gold Rush history, either with a local tour of Skagway or a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. Culturally curious cruisers can visit a totem park or see a performance by native Alaskans.
Animal lovers can sign up for a whale watch, visit a bald eagle preserve, or take a tour to observe bears in their natural habitat or at a sanctuary. Active travelers can work up a sweat hiking, kayaking, biking, zip-lining, and even snorkeling in Alaskas wilderness. Gentle rafting and float trips are a less intense way to get outside and bond with nature in this cruise destination.
Dont want to book a tour? Alaskas cruise ports provide plenty of shopping opportunities for souvenirs and locally made crafts. Grab an Alaskan beer at a historic saloon, or try local seafood at any number of portside restaurants.
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Southcentral Alaska Prince William Sound & Katmai
Like the Inside Passage, Southcentral Alaska offers remote wilderness, but it is linked via roads and numerous communities that can serve as base camps for land adventures. In fact, this region is home to over half of Alaskas population, so cruises here embark from unique road-accessed port towns like Whittier and Homer, with the city of Anchorage being the hub for your travel. Numerous options to explore beyond your cruise include world-class fishing on the Kenai Peninsula or further exploration inland to Denali National Park. Southcentral Alaskas terrain ranges from volcanic landscapes in Katmai National Park, home to an impressive population of brown bears, to the windswept Aleutian Islands that make a 1,000-mile sweep toward Asia.
Our partner cruises in this region are aboard smaller vessels, great for charters, with unique itineraries. Southeast of Anchorage, explore Prince William Sound and the nations second largest national forest, the Chugach, on the Prince William Sound Discovery. And farther west, along the shoreline of Katmai National Park, embark on The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter, a bear-focused cruise accessed by floatplane from Kodiak.
Which Ship Is Right For Your Alaska Cruise
Update: Royal Caribbean is committed to delivering vacations that are as safe as they are memorable. We are thrilled to welcome our guests to experience the memorable vacations we are known for once again, starting summer 2021. As you plan your next trip with your loved ones, well be here with inspiration in all forms whenever you need it.
Royal Caribbean visits top spots in Alaska each summer, including the Inside Passage, Juneau, Icy Strait Point and Skagway.
There is a lot of ground to cover when visiting Alaska, from its vast, rugged terrain to the many animals that call it home. Planning a vacation to the 49th state may seem like a daunting task. But with two Royal Caribbean ships sailing to the Last Frontier in 2021 and departing from convenient cities in the Pacific Northwestthis must-see destination has never been more within reach. Your big decision is choosing which ship is right for you!
Whether youre in it for the views, activities, destinations or an extended experience, every ship offers a bit of everything, but each has its perks:
Quantum of the Seas is packed with family adventures for the young and young at heart.
The Family Vacation Quantum of the Seas
Explore more of the family adventures that await when you sail aboard Quantumhere.
The Nonstop Views Ovation of the Seas
Sneak a peek at the views from Ovationhere.
When sailing on Serenade of the Seas, its as much about the destinations as it is the journey.
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