Alaska is known as America’s last great frontier. Its sheer beauty will take your breath away and the wildlife will transport you into the pages of National Geographic. Alaska often tops many travelers’ bucket lists. One of the best ways to experience this beautiful state is from the water. On a cruise ship, you literally feel like you’re part of the deep blue glaciers. The whales playfully splashing around might make you think their performance is just for you.
If you are planning to cruise Alaska, there are a few things to keep in mind. Alaska cruises only set sail May through September, with most people traveling June through August. However, you can find discounts if you go in the shoulder season of early May or late September, when the weather is a little more unpredictable.
The ships sail out of many different ports, so you can find one that works with your schedule and location. Also, keep in mind that Alaska has lots of sunlight in the summer. Some places will experience close to 20 hours of daylight. If you want to see the midnight sun, book your cruise over June 21, the longest day of the year.
Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s take a look at which Alaska cruise lines made our readers’ best-of lists.
1. Royal Caribbean
The name of the winning cruise line definitely does not make us think of Alaska. But Royal Caribbean stands out as our readers’ favorite. This ship offers 7- to 13-day cruises with very specific itineraries available. You can trek for bears, zipline through Tongass National forest, or even stand atop the highest glacier viewing deck on a ship.
Royal Caribbean’s Alaskan fleet offers something for everyone. Quantum of the Seas showcases breathtaking views from every room, including interior staterooms where you can watch a real-time Virtual Balcony. Radiance of the Seas contains more glass than any other Royal Caribbean ship, allowing you the perfect opportunity for a clear view of the glaciers and wildlife. Ovation of the Seas includes a fantastic voyage to see the northern lights in Juneau.
Each ship serves up a unique dining experience as well as creative entertainment. If you’re looking for world-class dining or on-deck fun, look through the different amenities on the ships. Considering their Alaska itineraries and amenities, it’s no wonder Royal Caribbean ended up on top.
Editor’s Note: Royal Caribbean was also this year’s Best Caribbean Cruise Line winner!
2. Viking Cruises
Viking Cruises’ guided tours draw in many travelers. One shore excursion is included in each port of call during the trip (excluding embarkation and disembarkation ports). These guided tours take you inside some of the best parts of Alaska. You can board a rigid inflatable boat in Sitka on your way to some of the tastiest cuisine in the state. Another popular excursion is whale watching in Juneau. Or meet the local Tlingit people who fish and live in the mountainside towns. The villages you’ll experience have the feel of the Wild West.
With Viking in Alaska, you can choose from two different ports, Vancouver, British Columbia, or Seward, Alaska. The 11-day itineraries include two scenic days at sea
Viking is known for its exquisite food and small ship experience. While Viking can tend to be a little more expensive, cruisers love the award-winning service and destination-focused dining.
3. Disney Cruise Line
Anyone who loves Disney will tell you they do everything right! It’s the Disney way, and their Alaska cruises are no different. Disney cruises offer outdoor adventure and breathtaking scenery every step of the way. Something unique about this cruise line is that they offer 5-, 7-, and 9-day trips. All of their cruises start in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Some of the fun when cruising with Disney starts at each port. Adventurous travelers might enjoy speeding down the highest zipline in the U.S. at Icy Strait Point. Or hop in a kayak along the calm and quiet Hoonah waterfront. You can also throw in some lines and fish for halibut at Icy Point’s hottest fishing holes.
As you drift by the beauty, you will be in awe of the Endicott Arm fjord. It’s almost impossible to describe as you pass by rock formations, valleys, and waterfalls on the sapphire blue water. At the head, you will see the main attraction, the icy mass known as Dawes Glacier.
You can also expect top-notch service, food that looks too good to eat, and your favorite Disney shows and movies. Disney also offers some adult-only experiences onboard.
4. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian encourages travelers “to let the outside in” on its Alaska cruises! The cruise line offers five different ships, sailing from seven different ports. Its Cruisetours also have something for everyone in your cruising party. The tours are led by local Alaskan guides who provide you with an authentic experience. This opportunity is a Norwegian exclusive. The ships are also custom-built to make the outdoor Alaska experience come to life.
Another interesting note is that they offer a 16-day cruise from Hawaii to Alaska. You get the best the Pacific — in the U.S. at least! —has to offer on the water. Downside: You’ll need to pack for two seasons!
5. Holland America
If Holland America sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. This cruise line was showing off the beauty of Alaska before it was even a state. Holland America has been sailing Alaska for more than 75 years. With all that experience, these ships are sure to know every nook and cranny in the state. Not only do you get to experience the must-sees like Glacier Bay National Park, but you’ll also learn about the history and ecosystems from tribe members and rangers.
This cruise line also keeps your schedule at the forefront by offering cruises May through September with convenient weekend departures, and you’ll have more time to enjoy the state — either on or off your cruise — thanks to Holland America’s premiere docking locations.
If you’re looking for a little adventure, you’ll want to book the inside passage cruise. You sail through narrow fjords and watch ice calve off and rocket into the sea. And if fishing for salmon is on your list, you will want to sign up for the shore excursion in Ketchikan.
6. Princess Cruise Lines
Princess prides itself on its cuisine. Your Alaskan food is more than a meal. It’s a culinary marvel that will leave your taste buds wanting more. The meals are almost too pretty to eat. All the food onboard is homemade. They use locally sourced ingredients and showcase Alaska’s seafood, steak, and even vegetarian options. Lunch may find you diving into food inspired by Tracy’s King Crab Shack, a Juneau favorite for crab cakes. Or test out the fish tacos from Ketchikan’s Alaska Fish House.
Princess travels further north than any other cruise line. They offer a 14-day round-trip experience from Los Angeles that includes a train ride and an overnight stay in a lodge. And if puppies make you smile, you can cuddle with some sled dog pups right on the ship.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to check out Princess’s Cook My Catch excursion!
7. Celebrity Cruises
Set sail with Celebrity Cruises to experience Alaska’s old-world charm mixed with modern-day urban life. You can get up close and personal with 30-ton whales or zipline through a rainforest and then visit the Mendenhall Glacier afterward. Their award-winning ships will captivate you.
Celebrity also combines its cruises with 9- to 13-day land excursions. You can travel on remote roads and railways as you explore Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali. Take the tram up Mount Roberts and hike through a rainforest or go trekking in the Juneau ice field. Celebrity also offers a few important pointers about Alaska cruises:
- Alaska has some of the best tasting water because it’s glacial water.
- The state is covered by a rainforest, so bring water-resistant clothing.
- Temperatures vary widely depending on your activity. Wear layers to stay comfortable throughout the day.
8. Windstar Cruises
Rounding out our list is a very unique cruise line that allows you to experience Alaska like no other. Windstar’s private yacht-style cruises only serve between 148 and 342 guests. This unique cruise line launches rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) right from its ships. This experience gets you closer to the shoreline and gives you a better opportunity to enjoy the wilds of Alaska at your pace. If whales are present, the RIB operators can linger just a little longer so you can get that perfect picture.
Windstar’s Alaska itineraries have eight onboard expedition experts who spend one-on-one time with guests providing insight on glaciers, culture, and wildlife and lead optional tours on RIBs and kayaks. They also offer a 23-day cruise that allows travelers to explore more of Alaska.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to book any one of these cruises! Each one offers a little something for every traveler. And Alaska is just too amazing not to experience once in your life.
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