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Cruise To Alaska? Here’s 10 Reasons Why You Should!

Last updated on April 18th, 2024 at 09:49 am

A cruise to Alaska is, for many people, a bucket list adventure. It certainly was for me. The majestic beauty of ‘The Last Frontier’ combined with unique stops, outdoor activities, cultural experiences not to mention the comfort and convenience of being on a floating hotel make for an unforgettable journey.

I experienced all of that and in this post I’m going to share some of the basic information about Alaskan cruises and why I think you should take one! It appears now that with competition and the ease with which many of us can travel internationally, going on an Alaskan cruise has become more affordable and accessible and, although still a bucket list item, it’s no longer just a dream. It’s one that you can make a reality.

Image showing Alaskan scenery as seen when on a cruise to Alaska

My Cruise to Alaska

To give some context to this post, it’s worth me setting out what cruise I chose.

I took an 11 night Alaska cruisetour operated by Princess Cruises. This included a 7 night Alaskan cruise which departed from Vancouver, Canada followed by 4 days on land in Alaska – 3 nights in Denali National Park and 1 night in Anchorage where our trip finished. I was travelling as part of a group of family and friends and we departed Vancouver at the end of August.

Where does a Cruise to Alaska depart from?

The departure point will depend on which cruise to Alaska you book but typically cruises depart from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver or Anchorage (Whittier). Your Alaskan cruise may be one way (i.e. start in one port and end at another) or a round trip (i.e. start and finish in the same port).

Whichever departure port you choose, keep in mind the added cost of getting to/from that city and, in the case of a one way cruise, home from your arrival port. In addition to international or national airfares, you may need to factor in the costs of accommodation either side of your Alaskan cruise, taxi fares, train fares etc. This is on top of the cost of the cruise itself.

Hello Adventure

Is a Cruise to Alaska worth it?

Yes! Whilst it’s not the cheapest trip you could take, Alaska cruises have become more affordable over the years. When you consider the beauty of the region, the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural habitat and the fact that you can only access some of the ports of call by ship or air, then you come to appreciate how special the opportunity to visit is. The reality will not disappoint.

When is the Best Time to Cruise to Alaska?

The Alaska cruise season will generally run from late April through to early October. I’ve set out below a very general guide on a month by month basis:

Late April/May – shoulder season with cheaper prices, cooler weather but some wildlife may be scarce eg bears

June/July/August – high season with higher prices, warmer weather with temperatures cooling into August and some rain, salmon running, good bear viewing

September/early October – shoulder season, cooler temperatures with some rain, some salmon, possibility of northern lights, autumnal/fall foliage visible

My cruise to Alaska departed on 31 August so basically took place during the first week of September and overall, the weather was fine and the foliage beautiful! Days were quite sunny and there wasn’t as much ice in the sea as I had expected but this was at the end of the summer months so I assume it had melted!

Note that wildlife sightings are not guaranteed!

Do make sure you dive deeper into seasonal conditions however when researching which cruise to Alaska is best for you.

Which Companies Cruise to Alaska?

There are a number of companies who cruise to Alaska. As I mentioned above, I travelled with Princess Cruises but other operators, including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Cunard and Holland America Line, all offer cruises of various durations.

My advice is to research all Alaska cruise options and find the one that best suits your needs and budget – a great starting point for this is Cruise Critic where you can view cruises, read reviews of them and find cruise deals.

What to Pack for a Cruise to Alaska

Layers! Onboard you will feel comfortable temperature wise but on deck it may be windy and chilly and on shore you may encounter rain and wind.

I’m not going to provide a comprehensive packing list as you will be fine with much of your day to day clothing eg jeans/trousers, fleece/jumper, tops, comfortable shoes. I would however recommend packing the following:

  • clothing and footwear suitable for onboard restaurants
  • waterproof jacket
  • gloves
  • scarf
  • hat
  • umbrella
  • camera, phone and charger
  • protective case for your camera/phone (useful when enjoying water based activities)
  • binoculars
  • sunglasses
  • insect repellant
  • sunscreen
  • sea sickness tablets
  • gym clothes – for use in the onboard gym or on the onboard walking/running track
  • swimsuit – for use in the onboard pool and hot tub

Most cruise lines will provide advice as to what to pack, including as to clothing suitable for smart casual and/or formal dining occasions. Check the onboard facilities of your chosen cruise ship and pack accordingly.

10 Reasons to Cruise to Alaska

If you are considering a cruise to Alaska but haven’t quite made up your mind, then here are my 10 reasons why you should cruise to Alaska:

1. It’s a unique experience!

It’s not every holiday that transports you from one isolated, historic spot to another, past glaciers and wildlife all while you luxuriate on your own floating hotel, but that’s exactly what a cruise to Alaska does. The sheer size and majesty of the landscape as you sail through Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord will amaze you and make for a journey like no other.

Your floating hotel is an experience in itself! With various cabin and dining options, cruise ships also offer entertainment, a chance to relax, spas, movies, live music, fitness facilities, wine tastings, casinos, shopping opportunities, cafés….the list goes on! Whilst Alaska is the destination, getting there really is half the fun.

2. Visit interesting ports of call

The exact ports of call on your Alaska cruise will depend on which cruise you choose but may well include Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, all of which were included in the itinerary of my cruise. Other Alaska cruise ports of call include Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Valdez and Victoria, Canada. As my trip was a cruisetour, I also spent time in Denali National Park and Anchorage.

You will be able, as part of your cruise research, to review what each port offers by way of excursions and decide which destinations most appeal.

Some of the key features of the ports I stopped at are:

Ketchikan

Located at the southern end of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital of the world due to a cannery having been founded there is 1885. The town is only accessible by sea and air.

One of the main attractions is the colourful Creek Street area. Formerly a red light district, today it’s home to shops and galleries.

Juneau

The State Capital of Alaska, Juneau is also only accessible by air or sea. Gold was discovered here in 1880 and a town established shortly thereafter, although the surrounding area had of course been inhabited by native tribes for thousands of years before that. The downtown area is located between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts and the Gastineau Channel.

Catch the Mount Roberts Tramway for lovely views over the town….except in the fog! I’m pleased to say however that the weather did clear up later in the day.

Skagway

A very picturesque, historic gold mining town, Skagway was the starting point from which many prospectors would leave to head to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush between 1896 and 1899. Today, the town, with its colourful historic store fronts, wooden sidewalks and people in period costume, will have you feeling as though you have stepped back in time!

From Skagway you can also travel on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. Unfortunately for us, although we got away ok, a problem with our train meant we had to abort our trip and return to Skagway.

Anchorage

The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage was officially founded in 1915 when construction of the Alaska Railroad began. Captain James Cook was one of the first European explorers to map the coastline of Alaska and you will see quite a few references to him in the city.

Anchorage has more of a ‘big city’ feel to it than the other port stops I made, although you also have a good chance of seeing moose in the urban areas!

Denali National Park

Time in Denali National Park will only be included as part of a cruisetour.

Dominating the Park is Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level (6,190m). The Park is home to a lot of wildlife, including the ‘big 5’ – bears, moose, caribou, wolves and Dall sheep.

3. The scenery

Stunning! I could leave it at that, but I will just add – rugged mountains, sparkling glaciers, colourful, historic towns and expansive seas. You will have front row seats to all of this.

Image showing beautiful scenery of glaciers in Alaska

4. Wildlife viewing

There are plenty of opportunities to look for wildlife on an Alaskan cruise, be it in the air, on the land and in the water. Whales, sea otters, American bald eagles, salmon, moose…all of these I was lucky enough to see (along with a tiny Dal sheep far off in the distance!) during my trip. My cruise also had a National Park ranger join the ship in the Glacier Bay National Park to share their knowledge and help with wildlife spotting.

As with any wildlife viewing opportunities however, there are never any guarantees and unfortunately I didn’t see any bears this time. I didn’t join any bear viewing excursions though and may have had better luck if I did.

5. Glacier viewing

Depending on which cruise you choose, you will have opportunity to see Hubbard Glacier, the glaciers within the Glacier Bay National Park, College Fjord in the northern area of Prince William Sound or Tracy Arm Fjord.

6. Outdoor activities

Each cruise will offer its guests a selection of outdoor shore excursions. These can include anything from whale watching to bus tours, guided walks, kayaking, fishing, dog sledding, gold panning, zip lining…..you get the picture! One of the activities I joined was a sea kayaking trip departing from Juneau to see the Mendenhall Glacier.

My advice when it comes to Alaska shore excursions…..book early! Excursions are very popular and will likely sell out quickly. Look into what is offered as part of your cruise research but keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to do all of them and that there is an additional charge for each.

7. Cultural Experiences

As with the optional outdoor experiences, cruise guests can learn about the local culture whether through museum visits, guided walks, native village visits, cooking & food experiences etc. These excursions too will sell out so be sure to book early.

It’s not always possible to do more than one or two excursions during a single stop. Sometimes there are clashes with the timing or you simply cannot get back from one activity to make the next. Please ensure you consider carefully what you really want to do and get it booked!

8. Learn about Alaskan history

As you cruise Alaska there will be opportunity to learn about the history of the State and the ports you visit. Onboard information, onshore excursions, free time to visit museums etc. will all help educate visitors about The Last Frontier and the people who have lived in or passed through it.

In Skagway for example, visitors will learn about the local history from various street monuments including the Skagway Centennial Statue which commemorates the role of native Tlingit guides during the Klondike Gold Rush and a monument of a gold stampeder and his dog which commemorates the hardships stampeders faced.

9. You’re close enough to visit Denali National Park

If your dream is to one day visit Denali National Park, then taking an Alaska cruise vacation to get there is just good sense! You can consider either doing a cruisetour as I did which includes a stay in Denali National Park, or make your own way from your final port of call into the Park. Note that some cruisetours offer a land first then cruise option or a cruise first, then land option.

Alternatively, if Denali National Park isn’t somewhere you had previously contemplated visiting, then you may want to take advantage of your proximity to it and research your options for visiting.

10. Northern Lights

Seeing the northern lights on a cruise to Alaska may be a bit of a shot in the dark (see what I did there?!) but it may be possible in September. There are apps available to advise on the likelihood of seeing the lights and when, however in the end I was not successful and this remains a bucket list item for me.

Final thoughts

I had long wanted to do an Alaskan cruise and I was not disappointed. My experience was enhanced by the stay in Denali National Park following my actual cruise, but even had I not had that experience I would still have enjoyed the cruise itself.

Travelling to Alaska on a cruise is such a unique experience – being a small speck on the water surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers knowing that whales and other animals swim nearby and land mammals look on make it an unforgettable journey and one that I would highly recommend for all the reasons set out above.

If you need any further help in planning your Alaskan cruise, do check my Resources page here.

If you are interested in visiting other parts of the United States, then click here to read my Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans blog posts.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before travelling.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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