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Is Alaska on Your Travel Wish List?

by Angela Jacobus

All images taken by Angela, depicting things you can actually see and do when you take an Alaskan cruise.

Why You Should Add Alaska to Your Travel Wish List ... Even If You've Already Been

Still considered one of the last frontiers of the world, Alaska has much to offer as a travel destination. This land of glacial ice, majestic mountains, soaring eagles, powerful grizzly bears and mythical whales offers jaw-dropping opportunities to appreciate nature in its most spectacular forms. Not to mention the fascinating history and culture you can discover there.

Because Alaska is so unlike any other state in the U.S., we think it’s worth visiting more than once. I have been lucky enough to visit our 49th state twice by sea. Once aboard a big ship and once aboard a small expedition-style vessel. Now that I've experienced Alaska in two different ways, I would love to go again … and next time in a new way!


If it’s your first time exploring the Last Frontier, taking a cruise is a great way to start. Some cruise lines also make it really easy to add land packages to your cruise itinerary, which can give you the best of both worlds.

When you’re deciding which cruise to take, there are two main things to decide.

  1. Would you rather cruise the Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska?

  2. Would you rather sail on a big ship or a small one?

Humpback wales bubble net feeding in Juneau.

Inside Passage

This cruise option is the most popular. Perhaps because these cruises typically start and end in the same place, which makes purchasing airfare easier.

The main ports of departure for Inside Passage cruises are Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. Other departure ports include Anchorage, Juneau, Nome, Sitka and Skagway.

When a cruise is going along this path, it will run from the narrow strip near the Canadian border all the way to the Panhandle (which is the beginning of the Gulf of Alaska).

These itineraries often include:

  • Juneau – The capital of Alaska

  • Ketchikan – A great location for fishing and a look into the life of Native Alaskans

  • Glacier Bay National Park OR Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier

  • Skagway – A gold rush town with a lot of history

Tracy Arm Fjord with Sawyer Glacier in the distance.

Gulf Of Alaska

The major difference between Gulf of Alaska and Inside Passage itineraries is that these cruises often travel only one way – north or south.

The one-way aspect of these itineraries allows you to cover more ground during your cruise, and also lends itself to adding pre- and post-cruise land arrangements.

The southbound departure ports are usually Steward or Whittier (both are near Anchorage). Northbound itineraries typically depart out of Seattle or Vancouver, B.C.

These cruises visit many of the same ports as the Inside Passage itineraries, plus some additional stops, which can include:

  • A few days before or after the cruise in Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula

  • College Fjord, which is dotted with amazing glaciers

  • A few days in Denali National Park

Large Ships

While large ships in Alaska are usually on the smaller side, they are still capable of carrying more than 3,000 passengers. This means they can offer amenities comparable to an all-inclusive resort.

Two big-ship cruise lines have been sailing in Alaska the longest: Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. They both have well-established contacts with local companies and own their own accommodations throughout the state that are part of their land programs. They also have the most ships in the region. This does not mean, however, that other big-ship cruise lines, like Celebrity, are not worth considering.

Larger ships stop in all of the most popular ports. They also offer excursions like whale watching and dogsledding atop breathtaking glaciers.

Small Ships

Smaller ships are much more intimate, usually with fewer than 100 passengers.

Because of their smaller size, they can take passengers where they could not otherwise go, so these itineraries tend to spend more time in the wild backcountry of Alaska.

For example, it is not unheard of for the guests on smaller ships to visit Glacier Bay for two days and explore other areas by kayak.

Excursions on small ships include hiking in off-the-beaten-path areas, riding in Zodiak boats to get close to glaciers and wildlife, going flight-seeing, and kayaking and standup paddleboarding.

Things to Know Before You Go

The Alaska cruising season lasts from May through September and the itineraries are usually 7 to 12 nights.

To stretch your travel dollars further, choose sailings that depart at the beginning or end of the season (May or September).

It’s a good idea to arrive at the port city at least one or two days in advance of your cruise, especially if you need to fly a long distance to reach your port of departure. This will give you time to rest and get oriented before boarding the ship. Most cruise lines offer pre-cruise hotel packages.

Keep in mind that, depending on the location and month of travel, you can experience around 19 hours of daylight.

No ship is better than the other; they just offer different experiences for their guests.

When we have consultation calls with our clients, we ask the right questions so we can match you with the cruise line, ship and itinerary that is right for you.

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