How Do I Go About Planning My Alaskan Cruise
Many of the cruises that Ive written about up here are able to be planned and arranged for you with a little help from us.
When you outsource planning out your cruise, you can spend your time and energy focusing on actually enjoying the experience. There can be lots of little moving parts and logistics, so you can leave the heavy lifting to us!
Top Alaska Cruise Tours
Cruise tours to Alaskas interior come in different lengths and visit different areas of the state. The most popular visit Talkeetna for views of Denali and Denali National Park to see wildlife and learn about the parks history and ecosystem.
Some Alaska cruise tours will give guests a night in Anchorage to explore the city, or travel as far north as Fairbanks. Others will swap Anchorage with a stay on the Kenai Peninsula or at the Alyeska Resort in the Chugach Mountains before heading north.
Other cruise tours combine interior Alaska with trips to Canadas Yukon. Some simply extend the land portion of the trip to include Dawson City or Whitehorse for one epic trip. For those with less vacation time, Holland America has an option that combines half an Alaska cruise with a land extension through the Yukon to Fairbanks and Denali, ending in Anchorage.
For a different Canadian adventure, Princess offers a cruise tour that starts in Calgary and visits Banff and Lake Louise before finishing up in Alaska to meet the cruise ship. This tour does not venture as far as Denali.
Which Alaska cruise tours are the best? That decision is personal, but Holland America and Princess lead the pack for the most diverse tour options, company-owned Alaska railway cars and resort properties, and experience in the region.
Expect Rustic Surroundings For Creature Comforts
Cruise tours tend to favor Alaskan lodges over chain hotels. The lodges typically feature a carefully created rustic look with exposed-log exteriors and blond-wood interiors. Lobbies are homey with cozy seating, fireplaces and “dead animal chic” decor — lopped off noggins of moose and bear locked in eternal staring contests over the heads of visitors .
Even in remote areas, Wi-Fi is often available, but amenities can be scarce. Few lodges have pools, and fitness centers might be tiny.
Guest rooms are either in wings off the main lobby or in out-buildings. Be prepared to walk, though golf carts might be provided for those with mobility issues. In Seward, you might walk along wooded trails to get from your room to the restaurant or lobby, and in Denali, there’s a bit of a hike through some properties in order to get to the shuttle bus stop.
And, yes, animals do frequent the premises — from a seat on the back patio of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, you could see a black bear wandering down a walking trail behind the hotel.
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Helpful Tips Before You Go
- Temperatures can differ based on the activity you are doing . Wearing layers can help keep you comfortable throughout the day no matter what the activity.
- Book Flights by Celebrity® to be protected in case there is any cancellation.
- All locations in Alaska take US dollars and most take credit cards but be sure to check before any purchase.
What documents will I need to travel?
Before leaving home, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the required travel documents you will be asked to provide prior to boarding the ship. The requirements described below are required by government regulations and policies. They are…
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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What’s Included In A Cruisetour
On your Alaska Cruisetour, youll stay in the finest lodgings available in the Alaskan interior. These boutique and local properties range from the luxurious Alyeska Resort, whose amenities include a heated pool with mountain views, to the charmingly rustic Denali Park Village, whose buildings are tucked into a forested 20-acre site along the Nenana River. All hotels and lodges on your Alaska Cruisetour will offer comfort, service, and authentic regional style for restful nights in the heart of every destination.
A highlight of every Cruisetour is a scenic ride on the Wilderness Express rail cars that travel on the Alaska railroad that extends from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Enjoy 360-degree views from dome windows, reclining leather seats, spacious interiors, fine cuisine prepared by the onboard chef in the dining section, along with full bar service at your seat. Celebrity also uses luxury motor coaches to travel along the miles of scenic highways, highlighting the sights along the way.
What Is The Best Time To Cruise To Alaska
Typically, May through September is regarded as the optimal time to cruise to Alaska. July and August are where the season hits its peak, so if youre looking to not fight the crowd, you may try to be on the earlier or later end of the season.
However, July and August are often when the temperatures hit their peak too, so the weather is generally sunnier. Finding the best deals on Alaska cruises can depend on when you choose to visit, of course.
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Which Cruise Line Is Best For Alaska
Nearly every major cruise line sails to Alaska, so you have your pick of price points and onboard personalities.
Among the big-ship lines, Holland America and Princess are known as the Alaska experts. These lines typically base the most ships in this region every summer, and offer the largest selection of cruises and cruise tours. They schedule Alaska-specific special events onboard, such as Princess Puppies in the Piazza and Klondike Festival, and even have their own train cars and hotel properties in Denali and Fairbanks.
However, if other lines, such as Royal Caribbean or Norwegian, suit your familys needs and budget better, you will still have a wonderful cruise vacation in Alaska. You might find that these lines offer more competitive pricing, your preferred onboard activities, or more robust kids programming, making them the best Alaska cruise choice for you.
Travelers looking for luxury should consider upscale lines such as Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea. These cruise lines offer more intimate ships, inclusive fares, and attentive service, but wont have as many onboard attractions or as expansive kids facilities or activities as the bigger ships.
Choose expedition cruise lines, such as UnCruise Adventures, American Cruise Line, or Alaskan Dream Cruises, for intimate, adventure-focused ships that sail off the beaten path.
Best Overall: Norwegian Cruise Line
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
- Ship Name: Norwegian Bliss
- Itinerary: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Victoria
Norwegian boasts that it has the youngest fleet cruising to Alaska,” and the Norwegian Bliss is NCLs newest ship . Bliss has buzzworthy features like laser tag, a race track on the top deck, and thrilling waterslides that overhang the sides of the ship. The ship has accommodations for every type of cruiser, including solo staterooms and elegant suites in the Haven, a luxurious enclave. Another perk of this cruise is that is sails round-trip from Seattle, so guests can drive or fly into the same port for departure and arrival . Bliss also has a beautiful observation lounge ideal when sailing the Inside Passage.
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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.
Wildlife Is A Highlight
Visiting Alaska is all about wildlife, but you have to know where to look. Spotting orca whales, caribou and grizzly bears requires cameras and binoculars at the ready while staring at scenery all day.
The trick is to look for movement. If it’s not moving, it’s often a “spruce moose” or “rock bear.” Using this advice in Denali National Park, you might find a mama and baby bear along one slope, Dall sheep next to a sheer cliff drop and caribou with huge antlers among the shrubbery. Also be on the lookout for lesser-known creatures like the spotted lynx or red-tailed fox.
On a half-day cruise through Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords out of Seward, you might cruise past horned puffins floating serenely in the water or a brown, furry island that’s actually a sea lion-covered rock when viewed through binoculars. And those white spots on the hills? Mountain goats! Bonus: When the boat reaches the Gulf of Alaska, be on the lookout for whales.
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You Prefer Your Dining Expenses Covered
Dining on the cruise ship is included, as always, but you can also pre-purchase a dining package on land with these trips. Choose a breakfast-only plan or a plan that also includes lunch and dinner. Triple Denali dining plans include a night at the Music of Denali dinner theatre at Gold Nugget Saloon.
Small Group Adventure Tour
This option is slightly different than the two above in that you will be dealing with different companies on land and sea. However, it gives you a guided itinerary on land with less of a crowd as group sizes are usually limited to 12 -16, and accommodations include small wilderness lodges. You can book a small group adventure tourafter or before any large ship cross-gulf cruise.
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Dining Is Uneven And Sometimes Additional
One of the biggest surprises about the cruise tour is that meals might not be included. Some cruise tour programs don’t include meals in the price to give travelers the freedom to try local restaurants of their own choosing.
Yet, you might often be compelled to eat at certain times and in certain places. On the Alaska Railroad train rides, you might not be allowed to eat your own food up in the seating area, but since the ride typically takes place smack in the middle of a meal time , you are basically forced to eat in the dining car. And, because the dining car can’t accommodate all the passengers at once, you’ll have to eat in shifts as dictated by the train host.
Eating dinner at the hotel each night will likely be the most convenient option, especially if you’re in a more remote lodge. However, it’s likely to be more expensive with limited options.
On the other hand, shuttle service between out-of-the-way hotels and the restaurant area are not always reliable, especially if you’re eating later at night due to your tour schedule. Be prepared: Getting back to the hotel is part of the adventure.
Travel At The Whim Of The Wilderness
For those craving a sense of spontaneity, the small-ship specialist UnCruise Adventures takes a unique approach to the classic cruise in Alaska: All expeditions have flexible itineraries driven by differing weather and wildlife patterns. The 7- to 14-day Alaska programs feature remote wilderness hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and whale-watching excursionsbut the activities that passengers participate in depend on what the given season dictates. Thats the true essence of an Alaskan adventure.
This article originally appeared online in June 2016 it was updated on February 12, 2020, to include current information.
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Best Traditional Cruise: Princess Cruises
Courtesy of Princess Cruises
- Ship Name: Royal Princess
- Itinerary: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Whittier
Royal Princess is a gorgeous ship that like all Princess cruises focuses on a more traditional experience . As passengers sail through Glacier Bay or the College Fjord they can stroll around the stunning skywalk a glass walkway that overhangs the vessel or relax next to a lovely water fountain in the pool area. In the evenings, passengers catch movies under the stars. The cruise concludes in Whittier, Alaska, where most cruise lines do not visit. Although Whittier is industrial, its ideal for those extending their stay in Alaska on land. The Alaska railroad connects Whittier to Anchorage so travelers can also enjoy a scenic ride to Anchorage and hop on a connecting flight.
The Knockout Scenery Might Be At Midnight
Only in Alaska can you choose from an array of interesting wake-up calls. The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge offers a Mount Denali wake-up call. The hotel staff will ring you if the skies clear, providing a view of the majestic mountain from the hotel’s back deck. If your trip is blessed with clear skies and sunny weather, you might actually see the mountain several times, say, during a jet boat tour on Talkeetna’s three rivers or on the way to board the bus in the morning.
In Denali and Fairbanks, you can request a northern lights wake-up call, and the front desk will alert you in the middle of the night should the aurora borealis be especially active. The heavenly phenomenon is not common during the summer months of cruise season, but don’t count out a phone call at 11:30 p.m. to view a ghostly arc of green, shimmering across the night sky.
The wake-up call opportunities show just how much scenery is a part of an Alaskan vacation — in addition to many hours riding buses, trains and boats. One of the most scenic rides is from Seward to Anchorage, along the Turnagain Arm, where snow-capped mountains and rolling hills rise on each side of the bay.
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Best 7 Day Alaska Cruise
Voyage of the GlaciersThis top-rated Princess 7-day itinerary visits the states most celebrated ports and includes two epic glacier-viewing experiences at Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier or College Fjord. Visit the Gold Rush-era towns of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan for a taste of the history and culture and enjoy a more ashore late- night stay in Juneau on every northbound sailing.
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Alaska Cruise Guide: Planning Tips And Best Cruise Itineraries
Most people equate cruising with tropical destinations. Why would anyone cruise to chilly, rainy Alaska, where you might be wearing fleece jackets and knit hats and gloves in July?
Look beyond the iffy weather, and youll find many reasons to cruise Alaska. Perhaps youre drawn to the gorgeous scenery, the areas cultural and historic riches, or its abundant wildlife. With a variety of itineraries, cruise ships, destinations, and activities to consider, no two cruises to Alaska will be the same. However, first-timers can easily become overwhelmed choosing the best Alaska cruise itinerary or picking the perfect cruise line or cruise tour.
In our definitive Alaska cruise, well take you through everything you need to know to choose and plan the Alaska cruise vacation of your dreams.
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You Hate Juggling Transport Arrangements
All transportation by bus, rail and cruise ship, as well as flights between Fairbanks and Dawson City, Whitehorse and Vancouver are covered on Alaska Land+Sea Journeys. If you prefer to let someone else deal with getting you from A to B on holiday, these transport-inclusive cruise-tours have got you covered.
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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