Complete Guide to Alaskan Cruises in 2023 Including Ports of Call + What to Pack
An Alaskan Cruise is the best way to explore a truly unique state. The ship will take you to various cities in this gorgeous region while you make the most of your vacation without ever having to switch hotel rooms.
A cruise to Alaska, as opposed to a land trip, also enables you to maximize the many landscapes you can experience in a short amount of time. Cruise season in Alaska is from late spring to early fall, so there are plenty of options for you to embark on a truly memorable trip in North America's Pacific Northwest.
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Typical Length of Alaskan Cruises and Ports of Embarkation
The majority of cruises to Alaska are about seven to 14 days. (You'll find some shorter cruises, like a Discovery Princess itinerary with Princess Cruises, a “sampler” of sorts. It is a four-night cruise to Alaska from Vancouver, Canada.)
Mostly all of these cruises depart from and return to an area of the Pacific Northwest. Many of the cruises embark from the US cruise port of Seattle, Washington, if leaving from the mainland USA. Canada's port in Vancouver is also a popular Alaska cruise port of embarkation. Some cruises sail from the Port of Los Angeles in California.
Alternatively, you can fly to Alaska and start your cruise there. A popular port to start or end a cruise is their capital, Juneau. In addition, some smaller cruise ships can embark or disembark from smaller cities, like the port in Sitka.
People often say that a cruise ship sailing Alaska is sailing through the “Inside Passage.” That refers to the famous coastal route vessels sail from Washington, through British Columbia, to Alaska. It's said that the sea is calm along this route because it closely borders the mainland on one side and islands on the other.
Some cruise itineraries sail this route while others go further into Alaska towards the city of Whittier, close to Denali National Park.
Cruise Lines that Travel to Alaska
Big cruise ships and small cruise ships travel to Alaska. Some vessels carry 3,000 passengers or more, and others have just 40 guests or less.
The type of experience you want can influence your choice of which Alaskan cruise line you choose.
Here are some major cruise lines that have Alaskan cruise itineraries:
- Celebrity Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Royal Caribbean
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- Holland American Line
- Carnival Cruise Line
- Disney Cruise Line
Some smaller cruise lines with 100 passengers or less that are solid options to consider in Alaska include:
- Alaskan Dream Cruises
- Maple Leaf Adventures
If you're not sure if you want to go big or small, consider a mid-size ship that carries approximately 400 to 1,000 passengers:
- Seabourn Cruises
- Oceania Cruises
- Viking Cruises
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Where do Alaskan Cruises Go?
Alaskan cruises stop at beautiful ports. If you want to sail to the major cities, a big ship (like Celebrity or Royal Caribbean) will stop at Alaskan cities you regularly hear about. But if you want to sail to some more remote areas of Alaska, consider a cruise on a small vessel.
Alaskan cruises visit well-known cruise ports like Glacier Bay National Park, Seward, Skagway, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Juneau, and Icy Strait Point. (Icy Strait Point won a “Port of the Year” award from SeaTrade in 2020 – a cruise industry conference – over other cruise ports worldwide.)
Smaller ships can go to Alaska's lesser-known ports, including Thorne Bay, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Haines.
Best Time of Year for an Alaskan Cruise
Alaska has a cruise season, which is from April through October. June through August are the warmest months, while April and October will make for a colder cruise.
Average temperatures from the mid-to-high 60ºF are the warmest Alaska typically sees at the height of summer.
Keep in mind that there is more daylight during summer than you may be used to due to Alaska's geographical location. For example, Juneau experiences 18 hours of daylight in June, with sunrise before 4:00 am and sunset after 10:00 pm many days.
Notable Landscapes and Experiences in Alaska
If thinking of Alaska evokes images of evergreen trees, blue and white glaciers, bears, and salmon, it's all accurate! But, in addition to this, you may see whales and moose as you sail through beautiful fjords.
Dog sledding is a popular excursion during a cruise through Alaska, as are helicopter tours. Native American history and cultural experiences are a highlight of exploring this region. That could include anything from seeing Formline art in ports to learning about totem poles and seeing local dance performances.
What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise
Prepare to layer clothing as you set out to explore Alaska!
That means packing things like jeans and leggings, long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, fleece jackets, and an outer coat. It's also a good idea to be prepared for rain, especially if you're visiting during August or September, the rainiest months of the year.
Otherwise, in terms of what to pack for the onboard portion of your cruise, check with your cruise to see how formal or informal the ship is. Some cruise lines have formal nights where you get to dress up for the evening. Other cruise lines (especially very small ships) are casual.
Don't forget your camera and battery chargers for camera batteries and your phone, if that's your camera.
Consider traveling with a good pair of binoculars as well. Part of the fun of cruising to Alaska is the potential to see a lot of wildlife. Binoculars will get you even closer to the beautiful creatures around you.
You want to wear supportive footwear while you’re off the ship. It's even better if your shoes are waterproof or sprayed to be water-resistant! If you don't have a raincoat, consider packing a poncho or umbrella.
Keep plastics at a minimum and strive to be an eco-conscious cruiser in a place as gorgeous as Alaska, whose eco-system is fragile and precious. We recommend Stasher bags for cruises, which are great for packing and many uses onboard and while exploring a port. They help to support reducing the need for single-use plastics.
How Much Does an Alaskan Cruise Cost? (And How to Budget for It)
As with any vacation, various factors affect how much a cruise to Alaska costs.
Don't forget that you're not simply booking the sailing, but you will likely need to account for flights and potentially a hotel for the night before your cruise. Whether or not you need to account for accommodations on land depends on your flight options and when you arrive at the port of embarkation area in advance of your cruise.
Generally, the larger the ship, the less the starting price for the cruise. However, it would help to consider what is included in the price. Also, generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the more money it will be. A 14-day cruise is going to cost more than a 7-day cruise. The exception maybe if you're looking into a shorter luxury cruise versus an extended cruise on a standard ship.
Excursions are often included in cruise fares for small ship cruising, ranging from approximately $3,000 to $14,000. Yet big cruises don't include tours, which can add up if you add an excursion for multiple people every day of the voyage to a base fare of $900. Don't forget about money for gratuities – tip your tour guides!
Book a Bucket List Alaskan Cruise Today
While a cruise to Alaska may have been a bucket list trip in the past to book “one day,” nowadays, more and more people are booking a vacation to this great area as soon as they can.
With lots of beauty and adventure awaiting your arrival, many Alaskan cruise options fit anyone's travel style and budget.
We highly recommend booking Princess Cruises, a cruise line where we enjoyed their MedallionClass and Thermal Spa, The Enclave. Our experience on Celebrity Cruises was incredibly enjoyable as well – if you book with Celebrity we cannot recommend The Retreat enough. And, of course, we always recommend small ship adventures.
As we mentioned above, the expedition ships that sail in Alaska are really the best way to experience what Alaska has to uniquely offer.