The staggering natural beauty of Alaska is impossible to ignore. It’s hard to believe so many unique cruise ports are contained in a single state, but a voyage to Alaska by ship unfolds rugged mountainscapes peppered with wildlife and tiny, eclectic towns founded by gold prospectors.
Alaska cruises blend a mix of port calls with spectacular scenic sailing through Glacier Bay National Park or through other routes that also hold calving glaciers and potential whale sightings. The experience of watching the scenery from your cruise ship is just as rich as the stops it makes along the way.
In fact, many sites in Alaska – including its capital, Juneau – are only accessible by air or sea, making a cruise one of the best ways to explore the Last Frontier.
To make sure visitors by cruise ship don't miss the sprawling interior of the state, nearly every cruise line offers a variety of tours that can be added before or after your cruise. The most popular extensions include a visit to Denali National Park & Preserve.
On some Alaska itineraries, American citizens might not even need a passport (unless you are passing into the Yukon at any point, which is Canadian territory).
The variety of shoreside tours in Alaska is second to none. Whether you take a helicopter tour to a dogsledding camp, learn about indigenous cultures or go salmon fishing like the local bears, excursions in Alaska are an unforgettable experience.
Active types will thrive with plenty of opportunities to hop in a kayak, hike and even ice climb. Passive activities can be just as thrilling, like the White Pass Summit scenic rail of Skagway or a whale-watching boat tour in Juneau. Alaska caters to all ages and activity levels meaning you don't have to break a sweat to see some truly awesome sights here, and to learn about their history in the process.
Alaska is a seasonal destination, meaning cruise ships only visit for a few months out of the year due to harsh, long winters and ice blocking the waterways. The standard Alaska cruise season coincides with summer, beginning in May and ending in September. Some small adventure-style cruise lines run special voyages that depart as early as March and continue into late September.
The most popular time to cruise to Alaska is smack in the middle of July and August. The midnight sun shines in many parts of the state during the summer, meaning nearly endless sunny (or overcast) days. For savings on your cruise, consider a sailing at the beginning or end of the season.
The weather here can be unpredictable no matter the month; be sure to pack lots of light, waterproof layers. Days can get surprisingly warm, especially considering your activity level, while wind and rain on an outdoor tour can have you reaching for a hat and gloves.
Glacier Bay is not a physical port, but due to its stunning scenery it's one of the highest-rated destinations in Alaska. The U.S. National Park contains glaciers, lush forests and is part of one of the largest protected biosphere preserves in the world, as well as a U.N. World Heritage Site.
Most sailings to Alaska follow the Inside Passage, or the southeastern "panhandle" around Alaska. Popular ports along this route include Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and sometimes Sitka (formerly Russian and the site of the purchase of Alaska). From Vancouver or Seattle, you will also typically call on the Canadian port of Victoria in British Columbia.
Roundtrip Alaska sailings typically depart from Seattle or Vancouver, but also California cities like San Francisco. These sailings typically follow an Inside Passage itinerary.
Cruises also regularly depart from either Seward or Whittier, both Alaska ports accessible a short drive from Anchorage. These one-way sailings usually follow the Gulf of Alaska, also known as a cross-gulf cruise. These cruises might call on some Inside Passage stops, but also ports farther north.
Most cruisetours (sailings with a land component) will begin or end in Anchorage, where the primary and central airport is.
Here are our best tips for finding a cheap cruise or cruise deal to Alaska. If you book a “guaranteed cabin” (they select for you), a cabin on a lower deck or sail on an older ship from a brand you like, then you can get the best price for a specific cruise to Alaska. Last minute cruises deals to Alaska appear as you get closer to the sail date, usually 1-2 weeks in advance. Taking a cruise to Alaska in the shoulder season (before or after the peak season) can also be a great way to find a cruise deal.