An Alaska cruise is a dream trip for many visitors to the state and a once in a lifetime vacation. There are a variety of choices and not all Alaska cruise tours are created equal.
More than 30 ships from 13 cruise lines sail in Alaska's waters. The ships range from the medium size (800 to 1500 passengers) to mega-size (2000 and more) to smaller, nature-oriented ships with fewer than 200 passengers. The medium size and mega-ships are really floating resorts with a wealth of entertainment facilities and organized activities. The focus of these cruises is as much on the shipboard activities as it is on the passing landscape.
Smaller ships focus more on nature, the environment and cultural activities. They can also get closer to shore and enter some fjords that may be too small for the larger liners. However, the small ships do not have the resort facilities of the larger ships such as nightclubs, casinos, shops and spas. So what type of Alaska cruise is best depends on the type of experience desired.
You can't spend all of your time onboard and part of an Alaska cruise vacation will be shore excursions. Fish for king salmon in Ketchikan, take a flightsee over the Mendenhall Glaciers outside Juneau, pan for gold in the creeks near Skagway, go for a kayak tour, view interpretive presentations of native cultures and many more activities.
Shore excursions can usually be booked on board your cruise ship but check with the cruise line to see if advance booking is possible. Some shore excursions are very popular and you don't want to find that it's all booked up once onboard. Prices on shore activities will vary widely with tours of the city starting around $20 and on up to the more expensive trips like helicopter rides onto a glacier. Look carefully at the itinerary when selecting a cruise. There is a lot of variation in how much time is spent in various ports of call. Shore excursions are often limited by how much time the ship will have in port so review the itinerary carefully before selecting a cruise tour.
Most Alaska cruise lines offer lots of add-on options to extend your Alaska vacation once you arrive at your final port. Excursions to Denali are one of the most popular trips but check with the cruise line to see what trips they offer.
About 25% of cruises are booked by families so the cruise lines generally have planned activities with kids in mind. Inquire with your cruise line about their family activities. Discounts may also be available for kids.
The Alaska cruise season runs from May through September but the busiest months by far are July and August. Start planning early for an Alaska cruise especially if you are wanting to travel in the high season.
Cruises & Tours: Small Ship Cruises
If more interested in getting up close with the Alaskan landscape than gambling in the onboard casino then a small ship cruise might be for you. There is a lot of variation in what people consider to be a small ship but under 50 passengers results in a more intimate experience.
Most of the small ship cruises are family owned and operated businesses so making the experience as memorable as possible is more than just a job to them. Smaller ships can get into bays and fjords that the big ships can't reach. Opportunities for wildlife viewing are much greater especially close up viewing. If you are interested in doing some sea kayaking on an Alaska cruise there's no need to wait for a shore excursion on a small ship cruise. Many carry small boats and kayak right on board.
Some people prefer the large and modern mega-cruise ships and all the onboard activities that come with them. But with smaller ships you will find some interesting older and vintage cruise boats plying the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. The small ship cruises will definitely allow for a more intimate encounter with the Alaskan landscape than is possible on a larger ship. But whether you want an onboard disco or prefer wading in tide pools, there is an Alaska cruise tour that's just right.