Resplendent with natural beauty and steeped in adventure, Alaskan cruises are popular summer destinations. With marvelous options for complete vacation packages centered around Alaska's stunning features, this type of cruise was once reserved for the elite but today is popular with couples, honeymooners, families, and both novice and experienced cruisers.
When to Take an Alaskan Cruise
Because of the region's extreme climate, Alaskan cruises are only offered during the summer months (May through September). This is not only due to ice formation along cruise ship routes, but also the fact that during the winter months the days are incredibly short and shore excursions and other tours are not possible at dusk or at night. Because of this limited cruise season, voyages fill up quickly and interested passengers should consult a travel agent to make arrangements.
The vast majority of Alaskan cruises are seven-day itineraries for both northbound and southbound voyages. A limited number of longer cruises - ten- to fourteen-days - may be available depending on the cruise line, some of which are round-trip voyages. Each Alaskan itinerary includes ample time cruising scenic bays, fjords, and alongside majestic glaciers as well as multiple ports of call.
All the mainstream cruise lines offer Alaskan itineraries, including Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. Holland America, in particular, is known for a wide variety of Alaskan cruises combined with land packages in popular "CruiseTours" that offer passengers the opportunity to experience interior Alaska with extended treks to various national parks, rail journeys, and city visits along with their cruise. These combination vacations may last up to three weeks, though the cruise itself is only a portion of that time.
Several luxury cruise lines also offer Alaskan voyages, including Crystal Cruises and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, though their experiences are markedly different from the activities aboard mainstream ships.
Embarkation Ports for Alaskan Cruises
Naturally, embarkation ports for Alaskan cruises are located in the northwestern United States as well as Canada. Despite the fact that the voyage may be in U.S. waters and visiting U.S. ports of call, passengers who depart from Canadian ports must be aware of customs regulations and provide the proper passport documentation for their journey. Major embarkation ports for Alaskan cruises include:
- Vancouver, British Columbia: A frequent departure port for most northbound Alaskan itineraries.
- Seattle, WA]: Another favorite departure port for northbound cruises and more convenient for passengers nervous about departing from a foreign country.
- San Francisco, CA: A limited number of longer, luxury cruises depart for Alaskan voyages from this northern Californian city.
- Anchorage, AK: Though Anchorage may be the named departure port for many southbound voyages, the true ports are located at Seward and Whittier, just south of Anchorage. Because Anchorage is the nearest airport to the ports, cruise lines offer transportation to the cruise port from the airport.
The limited number of Alaskan cruise departure ports is another reason why these voyages often fill up more quickly than other itineraries. In order to make appropriate travel arrangements to the departure ports, passengers are encouraged to work with an experienced travel agent or directly with the cruise line itself.
Ports of Call for Alaskan Cruises
While the main attraction for Alaskan cruises is the stunning natural beauty found simply by cruising through the region, there are a number of interesting ports of call, including:
- Ketchikan: Just north of the Canadian border, this town is a shopper's paradise with dozens of gift shops in the immediate port vicinity. Nearby Misty Fjords is an excellent national monument and cruise ships offer multiple shore excursions to view the monument in different ways: by land, air, or sea.
- Juneau: Alaska's state capital, Juneau offers many unique attractions for visitors, including Mendenhall Glacier just outside of town, the most visited glacier in the world, as well as cultural landmarks and attractions devoted to Alaska's history and economic industries.
- Sitka: Just south of Juneau, Sitka is a quintessential Alaskan town, complete with a rich local history and multiple cultural venues for interested visitors. Because the town lacks a large dock, fewer megaships visit this port of call and it is generally less crowded than other Alaskan destinations.
- Skagway: North of Juneau along the Lynn Canal, Skagway was a pivotal departure point for thousands of 1890s prospectors in search of fortune. Today, it is a treasure for cruise passengers, with a wide variety of attractions, from a genuine ghost town to modern golf courses.
- Inside Passage: While the Inside Passage is not a technical port of call, no Alaskan cruise would be complete without this scenic venue. Ships cruise between massive glaciers and weave among the thousands of islands to offer stunning views; lucky passengers may even glimpse whales providing an unofficial escort, making "days at sea" a completely different experience than on tropical voyages.
With rustic historical attractions combined with incredible natural wonders, Alaskan cruises visit a number of unique ports of call. Depending on the ship's itinerary, extended stays may be available in different ports in order to accommodate more demanding shore excursions such as glacier hiking, helicopter tours, and wildlife quests where visitors hope to personally meet some of Alaska's most famous residents: bears, moose, wolves, caribou, and more.
A far cry from tropical vacations featuring snorkeling and sunbathing, Alaskan cruises are perfect summer getaways to experience truly adventurous tours and destinations. With a number of cruise lines offering lengthy voyages, passengers have the time to marvel at the wonders around them as they enter a completely different world, coupled with the comfort and convenience of a cruise ship.