When it Comes to Cruising Alaska, Differences Matter
If nature is your happy place, then Alaska is a must. The spectacular scenery of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and emerald fjords is endless. It’s where eagles soar and bears and moose roam. Humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and seals flourish in the productive ocean.
There are resort lodges accessed by float planes, road-tripping, or excellent land tours, but cruising is the most popular way to visit Alaska. With Alaska’s vast terrain and limited roadways, you’ll see more of Alaska on a cruise. Plus, you can usually spot awesome marine life from cruise ships. Did you know there are no roads in or out of Juneau, or that it’s one of the best places to witness humpback whales bubble feeding?
With so many cruise options, how do you choose? A good travel advisor will find out what your preferences are and then match you with the best for you. That’s what we do at The Vacation Resource.
There are three basic types of cruise itineraries for Alaska.
Inside Passage itineraries are most often round-trip Seattle, but sometimes round-trip Vancouver, and generally visit the popular ports of Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, or Sitka. There are several round-trip itineraries that could include additional ports.
Northbound or Southbound week-long cruises usually travel Vancouver to/from Anchorage, Whittier, or Seward so that guests can also add a land trip to Denali National Park or other Alaska lodges. These cruises usually visit the same ports as the Inside Passage so if you don’t plan to add a land trip, avoid the longer Anchorage or Fairbanks flight and choose the Inside Passage. Longer northbound or southbound cruises may include Haines, Wrangell, or other scenic spots.
Expedition cruises are on smaller ships that generally do not visit traditional ports and spend more time exploring nature by Zodiac with activities such as hiking, kayaking, or SUP. You could miss some of the usual excursions, one example is the White Pass Rail, but you will optimize your chances to see wildlife. If you want to dog sled, you might have a chance if you add a stay in Juneau pre- or post-cruise.
There are different types of cruise lines, too. Just as hotels and resorts can vary, cruise lines also have their differences.
Do you want to spend more time observing wildlife?
Do you want all the fun goings-on of mainstream cruise lines with numerous shore excursion options?
Are you bringing the kids and want a super children’s program?
Are you going on a multi-generational cruise and want a ship grandma can get around but has activities to keep the kids busy?
Do you want a large suite with an all-inclusive luxurious experience?
How about a small ship with fewer guests that can also go to places larger ships can’t go?
Here is a comparison of cruise options in Alaska 2023:
Cruise Line Category
Our Favorite Cruise Lines in the Category for Alaska
Lindblad Expeditions and UnCruise Adventures
Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line
Oceania Cruises and Windstar Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn
Princess Cruises, but we also like Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line
Wildlife, nature lovers
Adults and families who want a ship with less than 3,000 passengers but with many venues
Adults and families with older children who want luxury, but are okay without all-inclusive
Adults and some families who want all-inclusive luxury
Anyone who wants all the venues and activities large ships offer
# of Passengers on Alaska 2023 Ships
22 to 450
1432 to 2852
312 to 656
450 to 746
1936 to 4004
Non-ports except for embarkation and disembark-ation
Generally, the popular ports
Popular ports plus Windstar Cruises goes to areas where larger ships can't go
Popular ports plus Seabourn has additional ports on some itineraries
Included Onboard Entertain-ment
Educational presenta-tions by naturalists
Venues, presenta-tions by specialist
Many venues and activities
Windstar Cruises - no Oceania Regatta - yes
Generally, no children's program, but children are welcome on Family Travel dates. Ask us about minimum ages.
Yes, but Holland Americ Line does not usually have on the Volendam
Neither is geared for children. Windstar Cruises' minimum age is 8; no children's program. Oceania Cruises has children's activities on Family Cruises.
No on Seabourn, but children are welcome. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a youth program in Alaska during summer.
Has the best children's programs at sea with dedictated areas by age group.
Alcoholic beverages, Gratuities, Wi-Fi, Specialty Restaurants
All included in fare except Wi-Fi
All are additional
Non-alcoholic drinks are included as are most speciality restaurants, otherwise items are additional
All are additional
More expensive than premium cruise lines but includes more
Similar to mainstream or upscale ships
In-between ultra-luxury and mainstream
Expensive but all-inclusive
Most affordable pricing for basic fare
Lindblad Expeditions has a photo-graphy program on all cruises. UnCruise Adventures has smaller ships, but has all you need to explore.
Offers something for all ages
Oceania Regatta is large enough to have more venues than yachting. Windstar offers Zodiac cruising and kayaks directly from the ship in Alaska and includes more ports
Some butlers Seabourn has a yacht and luxury expedition ship in Alaska.
Has the most venues and activities to keep everyone entertained
* Expedition cruising includes exploration by Zodiac, hikes, kayaks, and sometimes Stand-Up Paddleboard. A more standard shore excursion might be arranged.
* All-inclusive usually includes gratuities, alcoholic beverages (except super premium), specialty coffees, teas, and bottled water, 24-hour room service, complimentary stocked mini-bar, and often include specialty dining, yoga, and other fitness classes, and many include Wi-Fi. Some include airfare, pre-night hotel, airport transfers, shoeshine, laundry, butler service, an onshore event, some shore excursions, and more.
* Cruise lines that are not all-inclusive offer packages for beverages, Wi-Fi, and gratuities.
* All cruise lines have a minimum age, and there are restrictions for pregnant women for their own safety.
* There are more children on itineraries, such as Alaska, when children are out of school.
* Princess Cruise Lines has some ships with less than 3,000 passengers, considered Premium.
Find out about Expedition Cruising here: What is Expedition Cruising? (thevacationresource.com)
Check back for The Vacation Resource’s Alaska Cruise Award Winners next week.
Which cruise is for you? Let’s chat about it.
The Vacation Resource