Whether you want to witness epic wildlife, see calving glaciers in person, or check the so-called Last Frontier off your bucket list, an Alaska cruise deserves your consideration. I was born and spent my young childhood in Alaska, and the natural beauty of the state is unparalleled. A cruise along the coast anywhere in the state — especially in summer, the season of the Midnight Sun — is an excellent way to experience it.
Let these reader picks for the best Alaska cruise lines inform your itinerary, Alaska shore excursions, and beyond.
1. Holland America Line (Winner)
Holland America is celebrating 150 years of cruising this year and Alaska is one of its most popular destinations. The cruise line has an 11-ship fleet that takes cruisers all around the world, but in Alaska, where it’s operated cruises for more than 75 years, it doesn’t stop with sailing the seas and stopping in ports of call: Holland America offers both Alaska cruises and Alaska Cruisetours that invite travelers to go inland aboard the McKinley Explorer, its exclusive glass-domed train, for a McKinley Chalet Resort stay that gets them up close and personal with Denali National Park.
Between its straight-up Alaska cruises and Alaska Cruisetours, you have over 100 Holland America itineraries and seven ships to choose from. The cruise line’s ships exude classic elegance. You’ll get to marvel at the Inside Passage, an Artic Circle Summer Solstice, or the Aleutian Islands; taste the culinary creations of celebrity chefs; enjoy a diverse onboard music and entertainment lineup; and, once you’ve had your fill, sink into your stateroom’s Mariner’s Dream Bed — a plush “Euro-Top” mattress made exclusively for Holland America’s ships.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line
When it comes to its Alaska cruises, Norwegian’s goal is for cruisers to realize what it feels like “when you let the outside in,” and it boasts the best glacier-sighting experiences in the state. This pairs perfectly with Norwegian’s signature offering: Freestyle Cruising. Think an Alaska cruise with no set schedule and plenty of accessible onboard options.
Norwegian’s big, bold ships offer amenities like The Waterfront, a dedicated promenade that lets you walk a quarter-mile of the waterfront while sailing the seas (available on three of its Alaska ships: Bliss, Encore, and Joy).
The cruise line’s seven Alaska ships depart from six ports. In addition to shore excursions, Norwegian also offers 10 Alaska Cruisetour options that take cruisers inland to Denali National Park & Preserve and as far north as Fairbanks. In many cases, cruisers are transported via a domed railcar on the famed Alaska Railroad, which promises to take anyone’s Alaska experience to the next level.
3. Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises’ six Alaska cruise and cruisetour itineraries prioritize travelers’ glacier, wildlife, and national park experiences. The cruise line boasts a “50-year legacy of sharing the best places and experiences.” In Alaska, it delivers on that commitment by serving up fresh Alaska seafood on board; introducing guests to local Alaska craftspeople, rangers, and guides; and making space for Alaska-only experiences — think on-deck sled dog puppy meet and greets and northern lights viewings from the ships’ planetariums.
Princess also boasts exclusive service on Alaska railways and five Princess Wilderness Lodges that put cruisetour travelers close to Alaska’s national parks in Kenai, Denali, Fairbanks, and the Copper River Valley.
4. Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean currently offers a whopping 75 Alaska cruise options with round-trip and one-way cruises departing from Seattle, Washington; Seward, Alaska (a 2-hour drive from Anchorage); and Vancouver, British Columbia. Cruisers can choose from four ships, including Quantum of the Seas, the largest and potentially most decked-out ship (on-board sky-diving simulator, surfing, and rock climbing) to cruise the region.
Pro Tip: Quantum of the Seas sailings are exclusive to Alaska and Australia, so unless you’re planning to cruise “Down Under,” an Alaska cruise is your chance to experience this first-of-its-class vessel perfect for family groups and thrill-seekers of all ages.
Regardless of which ship you choose, Royal Caribbean’s Alaska expeditions promise “warm impressions of the wilderness,” meaning shore excursions and glacier viewings that prioritize comfort. Royal Caribbean also puts an emphasis on hearty, locally sourced food like wild-caught salmon, satisfying sourdough, and fresh-picked Alaska berries galore.
5. Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity’s 14 Alaska cruise itineraries and 42 cruisetour options center the state’s natural beauty, wildlife, and history. The cruise line boasts five elegant ships including the recently renovated Millenium, a Forbes Four-Star-Rated “resort at sea.”
All of Celebrity’s Alaska ships feature luxurious cashmere bedding (perfect for chilly Alaska nights!), adult-only solariums, and the opportunity to upgrade to The Retreat — an exclusive all-suite, all-inclusive vacation experience that includes access to a private restaurant and private resort-style lounge.
6. Viking Cruises
Unlike other cruise lines on this list, Viking centers its Alaska & the Inside Passage itinerary around native Tlingit culture and the “region where a Wild West spirit still feels very much alive,” rather than Alaska per se. Ports of call during the 11-day cruise (Viking’s sole Alaska offering) include Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Valdez, and Seward in Alaska.
The itinerary’s Scenic Sailings include the 500-mile Inside Passage on Day 2 and glacier-ensconced Yakutat Bay on Day 8. Cruisers will be accompanied by a Viking Resident Historian who will deliver lectures on Pacific Northwest expansion and development, indigenous people, and glaciers.
While this singular offering makes choosing your Viking Alaska blissfully straightforward, you can opt for pre- and/or post-cruise extensions in Vancouver, Anchorage, Denali, and beyond.
7. Alaskan Dream Cruises
Alaskan Dream Cruises is unique in that it offers small-vessel expeditions — no more than 76 passengers per sailing, compared to the thousands who could be aboard giant Alaska cruise liners. Itineraries combine excursions in Alaska towns and native villages with glacial bay and fjord sailings.
On board, cruisers enjoy what the cruise line calls a “relaxed ambiance” that is less about frills and more about experiencing “True Alaska with True Alaskans.” Get ready for ocean views from whichever cabin you choose, the freshest Alaskan cuisine, and opportunities to taste local craft beers and Pacific Northwest wines daily.
Pro Tip: If you want to charter your very own Alaska cruise, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers excellent options. Cruisers can charter the Misty Fjord or the Kruzof Explorer and customize an itinerary for up to 12 guests.
Alaskan Dream Cruises also boasts two exclusive island lodges — Fin Island and Orca Point — both constructed of beautiful local timber. Guests on every Alaskan Dream Cruise get a night at one of these two remote lodges, where they’ll enjoy a special seafood dinner, a campfire, cultural presentations, and, at Orca Point, an opportunity to peruse the exclusive gift shop.
Fun Fact: Alaskan Dream Cruises’ history is intimately intertwined with the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 rescue efforts, also known as Miracle on the Hudson, where half the vessels that responded to the downed flight were “highly maneuverable” ferries built by its parent company in Sitka, Alaska.
8. Oceania Cruises
Oceania currently offers 30+ Alaska cruise options, plus Pre- and Post-Cruise Land Programs that let cruisers explore places like Anchorage and Denali in Alaska and Calgary in Canada. For cruisers 5–12 years old, it also offers the Alaska Youth Explorer Program, which is staffed by camp counselors and centers around Alaska-inspired activities and programming.
All of Oceania’s cruises emphasize the locals and cuisine is a highlight. It boasts “the finest cuisine at sea,” so if you’re a foodie in search of Alaskan flavors, an Oceania cruise could be the ideal fit for you. Of its 275+ Alaska itinerary shore excursions (some of which are in the Pacific Northwest and Canada), over 50 feature drinking and dining experiences — think tea service, winery visits, cooking classes, “seafood feasts,” and beyond.
9. UnCruise Adventures
UnCruise Adventures is a favorite among TravelAwaits readers and writers alike. Recently, writers have raved about their UnCruise experiences in Mexico and the Pacific Northwest (and shared photos you have to see to believe!). Like Alaskan Dream Cruises, this is a small-ship cruise line — vessels accommodate a maximum of 86 cruisers, meaning a truly intimate experience.
UnCruise’s seven-, 12-, and 14-night Alaska itineraries are all about exploration. Their mantra: “Get ready to put boots on the ground.” Yes, there’s time to get cozy on the ship, but expect days filled with water activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, and whale watching, plus hiking and northern lights spotting. Feeling brave? You could even say “yes” to an UnCruise polar plunge!
Still considering your Alaska cruise options? Don’t miss TravelAwaits writer Parm Parmar’s UnCruise tell-all, Alaska By Small Ship Cruise: Wilderness, Solitude, And Wildlife Sightings.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.