Alaska Cruises and Cruise Lines

Alaska Cruises and Cruise Lines - Choosing An Alaska Cruise Or Cruise Tour

Alaska cruises are virtually all 7 days, with a few exceptions

Alaska cruises are extremely popular, thanks to a landscape that presents breathtaking beauty and natural wonders on a grand scale. The Last Frontier’s majestic landscape is perhaps best viewed on Alaska cruises, especially for first-time visitors. When selecting your Alaska cruise there are some things you need to consider.

Find The Best Alaska Cruise Deals
Find the best cruise deals by using the search box at the upper left hand to do a general search for the best Alaska cruise deals, or to narrow down your search. The results are in order of lowest price. Do remember to browse the results for great deals on balconies and suites. When you see a "Bonus" button in the search results, click on it to see valuable extras. Bookings made online are booked on the cruise lines' computers, and payments are made directly to the cruise lines.

How Many Days?
Alaska cruises are virtually all 7 days, with a few exceptions. For a more in-depth experience you can choose an Alaska Cruise Tour, which adds a land portion to your cruise. Cruise tours are usually 10 to 12 days long, including the cruise, but there are tours as long as three weeks.

Roundtrip Cruises
These cruises depart from Seattle or Vancouver for a 7 day roundtrip cruise to Alaska. You will experience historic Alaskan towns such as Skagway and Ketchikan, and your cruise will also give you a chance to see some of Alaska's magnificent glaciers. Some ships offer the very popular "must-see" Glacier Bay, while others offer Hubbard Glacier, or Sawyer Glacier. Roundtrip cruises, especially the ones from Seattle, are the first to sell out.

..extend their cruises with an Alaska cruise tour that includes a visit to Denali by glass-domed train.One Way Cruises
Your second choice for 7 day Alaska cruising are the one way cruises from Vancouver to Anchorage (where ships actually dock in either Whittier or Seward) or vice versa. Ports of call are similar to those visited on a roundtrip cruise. Some ships offer Glacier Bay cruising, while others will let you experience Hubbard Glacier. Princess Cruises will also take you to the College Fjords. Note that compared to a roundtrip cruise there will be a one-way flight required either to or from Anchorage if you select one of these cruises.

Alaska Cruise Tours
Many passengers, especially repeat visitors to Alaska, opt to extend their cruises with an Alaska cruise tour that includes a visit to Denali by glass-domed train, stays in mountain chateaus, and wildlife tours. Alaska cruise tours combine an ocean voyage with a fully escorted stay on land, and the cruise lines have streamlined Alaska cruise tours so that passengers pay one price for two vacations – one at sea, and the other in the Alaskan interior.

Those of you looking for this kind of more in-depth experience of Alaska have the chance to combine your 7 day Vancouver to Anchorage cruise with a land tour of three to nine days. These cruise tours come in a in a wide variety and there are so many versions to choose from that even the experienced traveler might feel confused. Well, things are not quite that complicated. In selecting your land tour there are two things you need to consider: how many days you want for the land portion of your vacation and what part of Alaska's interior you want to see.

Mount McKinley, taken from the Princess Mt McKinley Lodge during our visitDenali National Park and Mount McKinley
By far the most popular destination in Alaska's interior, Denali covers more than six million acres of very diverse terrain and a complete sub-arctic eco-system. The highest mountain in North America, the 20,320 feet high Mt. McKinley, rises majestically over the landscape and is the center of attention. Wildlife in the park includes bears, Dall sheep, moose, and more. A 3-hour Natural History tour is included in many cruisetours and will give you a good overview, but you should consider a cruisetour that includes the longer 6-hour Tundra Wildlife tour. The Tundra Wildlife tour will take you much deeper into the park through the best wildlife viewing areas and to the best view of Mt. McKinley.

There are many optional excursions offered during your stay in the Denali and Mt. McKinley area. While these differ depending on the cruise line, a sample of excursions would be: whitewater river rafting, midnight sun golfing, helicopter flightseeing, horse trail adventures, back country hiking, jeep safari, sport fishing, kayaking, and nature walks.

The Kenai Peninsula and Alyeska
The Kenai Peninsula is a wonderful area where you can combine excellent sightseeing with many opportunities for recreation. It's location close to where your ship docks in Whittier or Seward makes it even more attractive as a leisurely place to experience Alaska. Optional excursions and activities generally include nature hikes, horseback trail rides, mushing and helicopter flightseeing, Kenai River sport fishing, saltwater fishing, Resurrection Bay wildlife boat tour, Kenai River scenic river float, Kenai Canyon river rafting, and kayaking.

Ports of Departure
Virtually all Alaska cruises depart from either Seattle or Vancouver. A few longer cruises depart from San Francisco.

In-Depth Alaska: Cruise + Tour = Cruisetour

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.
Research shows that most people planning a trip to Alaska want to see two places: Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park. You can get to Glacier Bay aboard a cruise ship and admire the national park’s stunning scenery from the comfort of your balcony stateroom. But to get to Denali (a.k.a. Mt. McKinley), you’ll have to get off the ship, lace up your hiking boots, and trek inland. That’s where a cruisetour comes in.

Cruisetours combine a cruise voyage with a fully escorted stay on land. The cruise lines have streamlined their product so that you’ll pay one price in exchange for two vacations ‘“ one at sea, and the other on land in the Alaskan interior.

You’ll also enjoy two completely different travel experiences. While at sea, you’ll gaze out at glaciers, fjords, and lots of marine life. While in the interior, you’ll see snow-capped mountains (on a clear day, you may want to “fly by” Denali, North America’s tallest peak), wildlife, and what some have called “the real Alaska.”

While a cruise offers travelers an excellent taste of Alaska, a cruisetour serves up the complete five-course dinner — the total Alaska experience.

Princess employs their own tour guides, owns their own fleet of comfortable buses, and operates private glass-domed railcars that hitch up to the Alaska Railroad for the journey between Anchorage and Denali. The rail journey alone is spectacular — on a clear day, you’ll spot Denali’s dome several times from along the rails.

Princess "Direct to the Wilderness" train service, taking you from the ship straight to DenaliIn total, a cruisetour will last anywhere from 10 days to three weeks. That includes the cruise portion of your trip, and you can choose to add your land stay either before or after you sail. Some cruisetours include two full days in Denali National Park, allowing you plenty of time to spot grizzly bears and admire the mountain scenery.

Travelers can explore Denali via 90 miles of semi-paved road that reaches deep into the park, or take to the skies and see Denali from an aerial perspective. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to stay in back country lodges or mountain chateaus, and you’ll likely spend at least one night in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

Some cruise lines offer close to thirty different cruisetour options. With so many variations available, it’s always advisable to speak to your cruise consultant about which option is best for you. Cruisetours also fill up quickly, so plan as far in advance as possible. The greatest number of cruisetour bookings occur in October and November — for the following year’s peak season — but it’s never too late to see what’s available.

Alaska is enormous. At 586,412 square miles, it’s more than twice the size of Texas, and cruise lines skirt only a small portion of the state’s 33,904 combined miles of coastline. For many, the real Alaska lies in the vast wilderness beyond the shorelines — and a cruisetour can take you there.

Expert Advice On Choosing An Alaska Cruisetour

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.
Selecting an Alaska cruisetour can be daunting for the uninitiated. With more that 50 cruisetours offered by the major players, how do you sift through the options to find an Alaska cruisetour that’s right for you? To find out, we sat down with Paul Allen, vice president of Holland America Line.

Q. Why should someone do a cruisetour in Alaska in the first place?

A. We do research all the time asking people what they want to see in Alaska. The two places that get mentioned the most are Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park. You can get to Glacier Bay on a cruise ship, but if you want to get to Denali, you have to get on a cruisetour.

Q. How does the cruisetour work? There’s a cruise and then there’s a tour. The cruise ends and what happens next?

A. You can do a cruisetour in one of two ways. You can travel on land and end up on a cruise, or you can travel on a cruise and end up on land. Some of the cruisetours have more cruise content than others. Some cruisetours are combined with seven-day cruises; others are combined with three- or four-day cruises.

Q. With so many cruisetours, isn’t choosing the right one a little daunting? Holland America Line alone offers close to 30 cruisetours, grouped under three types, and each of those are staged in different regions of Alaska. Some people, me included, don’t even have a good grasp on the geography of Alaska or the distances between destinations.

Mt. McKinley and Denali National ParkA. It is daunting, but it’s my mission to educate people about the distinctions and identify what’s important to people. Most want to see mountains, scenery, glaciers and wildlife. These are the most important motivators for most people. There are many opportunities to see these things all across the state.

Q. How do you begin to choose a cruisetour from the ones offered?

A. It really depends on what you want. The avid cruisers may want to go with the seven-day cruise combined with four to six days on land where they either go to Denali National Park, Fairbanks and Anchorage, or get all the way up to the Arctic Ocean. Or maybe they want to go to the Kenai Peninsula or stay at Alyeska Resort, a beautiful chateau property. All of these are possibilities that can be combined with the seven-day cruise.

On the other hand, if you really want to get that comprehensive Great Land experience, fly to Anchorage, go up to Denali, spend a couple of days there, travel to Fairbanks, and then from Fairbanks, go into the Yukon. Then travel down the Yukon 100 miles on our Yukon Queen II to Dawson, which is a great little town.

From Dawson, we’ve just developed excursions to Tombstone Park, which is just beautiful subarctic tundra. This is a chance for a very personal wilderness experience. You could be standing in Tombstone National Park with a dozen people in a backwoods wilderness trail where you’re going to have that ‘I’m surrounded by spectacular scenery and beautiful wilderness experience.’ You don’t always find a way to get that on other itineraries. We’ve provided that at Tombstone, near Dawson, and also at Kluane National Park, near Whitehorse.

You then continue to Skagway, where you board the ship and get a beautiful cruise into Glacier Bay, cruise back down the Inside Passage and get off the ship in Vancouver. You’ve hit Denali, Tombstone, the Yukon River, Kluane, Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage that’s the whole kit and caboodle of Alaska.

Holland America cruise ship in Yakutat Bay, AlaskaQ. What is your favorite cruisetour?

A. The one I just described. It is a great value, and at the same time, it has all those icons in it. It gives you the opportunity to really see the whole Great Land. If you’re the seven-day cruise type, then I recommend the tour all the way to the Arctic Ocean. I had a chance to get up to there last summer and come down the road between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks, and it was just spectacular.

Or alternatively, you might get off the ship after seven days and spend the night in Seward, then get Kenai Fjords National Park and do a marine tour with an incredible amount of wildlife experience. You move from there to Anchorage, spend two days in Denali, and then to Fairbanks.

Q. Why does Holland America Line offer a Double Day in Denali?

A. You need two days. These are natural wonders you are coming to see. You can see the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower just by showing up at the appointed time. To see grizzly bears and spectacular mountain scenery, however, you need to give yourself more time in the right places to maximize your chances of a great view. Time in the right places becomes the most important aspect of your tour. That’s why we offer more time in Denali. That’s also why we take you to other great wilderness locations where we spend a lot of time. You have the chance to see more wildlife and more great scenery.

Q. The McKinley Explorer luxury domed railcars seem so much more appealing than the motorcoach. How many of the tours use motorcoach versus the railcar?

A. All of our tours that go to Denali have two days of travel on the railcars. The ones that go into the Yukon also include motorcoach travel, and while the motorcoach doesn’t sound nearly as sexy, these are beautiful motorcoaches. And they’re also the only way that you’re going to get to that kind of remote wilderness and to get to a place like Dawson or Whitehorse. So if you’d like to go to Kluane National Park, home to five of the seven tallest mountains in North America, glaciers and spectacular wildlife, the only way you’re going to get there is in a luxury motorcoach.

Alaska Cruises: Shoulder Season Can Be Sweet, Top Reasons To Cruise Alaska Off-Peak

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

The first cruise ships sail to Alaska in May and the last ones depart in September. And though the weather can be unpredictable during the months that mark the bookends of the Alaska cruise season, shoulder season is a good time to visit for a variety of reasons, according Tania Hancock, tourism sales manager with the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I particularly enjoy the shoulder seasons,” Hancock says. “May and September are my favorite months, and of the two, September in particular, because I love the fall foliage. It’s a short season, but it’s an absolutely beautiful season. The tundra is red and orange and gold in Denali, and that backdrop to the wildlife is pretty spectacular. We also see a lot more wildlife in our shoulder seasons than in the middle of high season.

“The wildlife tends to come out more on cloudy days, when it’s a little bit cooler, maybe a little bit misty,” she adds. “We see a lot more of the bears, and a lot more of our moose and caribou. And certainly the same thing rings true in spring. Of course, the foliage is very different. It’s that beautiful bright spring green, and once again, it’s an amazing backdrop to all of the wildlife that you see in Anchorage and South Central Alaska and in the interior as well.”

The shorter daylight hours during May and September (as opposed to the nearly 16 to 18 hours of daylight in mid-summer) also means that you’re more likely to see animals. Midsummer, moose bed down underneath trees, out of sight of visitors. But in cooler weather, “we see them at 5 o’clock in the evening,” Hancock says, “as opposed to having to wait until 10 o’clock at night in the middle of June.”

And don’t think you have to run off to Denali to see moose and other wildlife. “The biggest misconception about Anchorage,” Hancock says, “is that it’s just like any other city in the lower 48, like a mini-Seattle, for example. What a lot of visitors don’t realize until they get to Alaska, is that Anchorage actually has a lot of wilderness and wildlife right in the city, and it is uniquely Alaskan. Without realizing how uniquely Alaskan the city, a lot of visitors will just breeze right through. They think they need to continue on to get to the real Alaska, but Anchorage is the real Alaska.”

Anchorage boasts a few thousand moose. And they can be just as spectacular as bear, Hancock says, plus moose are vegetarians, meaning that, unlike bear, they don’t consider cruise passengers part of the food chain. “When it comes to watchable wildlife,” Hancock says, “moose are definitely at the top of my list.”

Anchorage is situated more than 200 miles south of Denali National Park. On the clear days during shoulder season, you can see Mt. McKinley from Alaska’s largest city.

“Riding a bicycle or just walking along our Coastal Trail, which starts on 2nd avenue in downtown Anchorage, is a wonderful way to spend a few hours in my city,” Hancock says. “Once again, you’ve got views of gorgeous mountain ranges like Mt. McKinley, you’ve got a lot of wildlife opportunities and you’re right on the edge of the water.”

Alluring Alaska

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Cruising America’s ‘Great Land’ could just be one of your life’s greatest journeys. It was for me.

By sea, it is nearly 850 miles from Seattle to Ketchikan, at the southern tip of the Alaskan Panhandle. Nearly a decade ago, I endured the journey by ship, and I was ready to do so again. I came this time intending to spend the long summer days marveling at sublime snow-laden mountains, great rivers of ice, and the misty fjords between the Canadian border and the nutrient-rich waters that give the Inside Passage so much life. I came hoping to see whales, bears, eagles and other wildlife — and the mighty glaciers beyond Ketchikan. I wanted to fully immerse myself and learn something of this American outpost, which maps remind me, is separated at its far western border from Russia by a mere 56-mile stretch of sea. No matter how many times you visit Alaska, there is something about the majestic land that tugs at the traveler to return. And so I packed my suitcase with sweaters, wool socks, pants and boots, and set off with a friend to explore the Great Land.

Chulitna River in Alaska, photo taken on an excursion from the Princess Mt McKinley LodgeRemote Alaska
In the summer of 1890, 5,000 visitors cruised the Inside Passage, many of them traveling on the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. Summers today, Alaska can be downright crowded with cruise passengers, but there are still opportunities to experience its remoteness. If the thought of sharing Juneau with 10,000 other tourists on a busy day makes you queasy, you can always fly away from the crowds by seaplane or helicopter to a remote glacier or lose them on a lonely trail in the forest at Mendenhall Glacier.

I left Seattle shortly after 5 and traveled overnight through Puget Sound and up the Gulf of Georgia. Our ship was following the route of the early explorers. On the first full morning of our trip, we steered up Canada’s Inside Passage toward Desolation Sound, named by British Captain George Vancouver. The seasoned explorer must have been awed by the rolling landscape. The shore was wooded and green with spruce and hemlock forests, largely devoid of people and homes, but with a fair amount of commerce taking place on the water.

Four time Iditarod Champion Jeff King, the "Winningest Musher in the World"Ferries shuttled passengers across the wide Gulf of Georgia, from mainland British Columbia to Vancouver Island. Parcels of logs floated along the water’s edge, waiting to be transported to mills. Tugs pulled or pushed barges laden with supplies. Oyster farms inhabited quiet, pond-surfaced coves.

That afternoon we chugged along the Johnstone Strait, known as one of the world’s best areas for sighting Orcas, where we saw several pods of these killer whales surfacing as they fed.

The next morning, our captain detoured to Pringle Rock, where we watched harbor seals lazing on the rocky beaches. During our quiet journey along the desolate British Columbia coast, we saw bald eagles perched in their nests and others soaring overhead. We looked out on beautiful green forests crowning the rocky coast.

There were few signs of human life, an abandoned village here and there. This was the least populated coastal area that we would pass on our journey. The canneries that once bustled with activity here have been largely abandoned. With refrigeration, fishing boats can now store their catch on board until they reach the centralized processing plants. We sailed along Princess Royal Island, a wildlife refuge for the rare kermode bear, and continued making our way up the coast.

Jeff's friendThe next morning, we awoke to Misty Fjords National Monument. Glacially carved granite walls rose from the sea to heights of more than 3,000 feet. Thin wisps of clouds crowned the ridgelines, and my eyes followed waterfalls that tumbled from the clouds to such eerily still water that it seemed as if we were sitting atop glass.

We cruised through the fjords, motors barely engaged. We stood in silent awe. Some tried to capture the beauty on camera, but nothing short of being here could do justice.

We left Misty Fjords, sailing for Ketchikan, just 22 miles north. We were eager to stretch our legs and fortunate that our arrival in Ketchikan was not accompanied by rain. Whereas Seattle, considered to be rainy and overcast, receives slightly more than three feet of rain annually, Ketchikan is doused with more than 15 feet of the wet stuff each year.

Alaska’s “Rain Capital” was also known through its history as “Alaska’s First City,” for being the first Alaskan port of call for those traveling north on the Inside Passage, and “Salmon Capital of the World,” for its abundant salmon runs. The town had changed much since our last trip here. Shops selling gold, art and souvenirs lined the waterfront on land reclaimed from the harbor.

Alaska - breathtaking beauty and natural wonders on a grand scaleWe disembarked and walked through town to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. We toured four informative exhibits highlighting the region’s rainforests, native traditions, ecosystems and natural resources.

We planned to walk to Deer Mountain and hike up through the verdant forest we walked through seven years ago, but on the way, we passed the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. What stopped us was not the “90 minutes of excitement” promised in the brochure: “Rugged Woodsmen featured in chopping, sawing, climbing, log rolling, music and more!”

What stopped us were the rental bicycles parked out front. We paid $15 each for a half-day rental, donned a couple of helmets that were included in the rate and began pedaling to Totem Bight State Park, 10 miles away.

At Totem Bight, we followed a path by foot through ancient, green forests to a promontory of beachfront featuring an Alaskan Indian communal house and a collection of totem poles. The setting was beautiful, and the totem poles were engaging. After half an hour there, we straddled our bikes and headed back into town.

The trip left us not only invigorated but also in need of nourishment. After returning the bikes, we stumbled upon the Ketchikan Brewing Company. The bartender looked surprised to see a couple of tourists pass through the threshold of his bar, and he was: Although the brewery had been around for a few years, the pub had been open only for a few days. We were among the first customers.

We sampled Spruce Tip Ale, flavored with hand-picked, locally grown spruce tips; Black Bear Porter, a smoky, chocolate-flavored beer that gets its taste from roasted malts and barley; and Gateway Golden Ale, named for another Ketchikan moniker, “The Gateway City.” And even though we did not hike Deer Mountain, we had a glass of Deer Mountain Amber.

Caribou in Denali National ParkThe next morning, we cruised Frederick Sound, where we stopped for more than an hour to watch humpback whales surface and dive, fluking their massive tails. We continued to Stephen’s Passage and up into Tracy Arm, a steep-walled fjord more than 25 miles long that is regarded by some travelers as the most beautiful place in Alaska.

Our cruise took us to Skagway, where we strode the plank walkway of the main street. Shops selling souvenirs and gold have replaced the bars and saloons of 1898 when Skagway was a Klondike Gold Rush Town of 20,000 men and women eager to strike it rich.

We rented bikes and rode 10 miles to Dyea, an abandoned town at the trailhead of the Chilkoot Trail. Our ride along paved and gravel roads rose and fell along the shoreline, and we arrived in Dyea after an hour. In a gravel parking lot, a display depicted the blueprint of the ghost town. As we made our way down the forested and dirt streets (some now grown over), we tried to imagine what it must have been like for the green horns in search of gold.

They would have been required by the Canadian Mounted Police to transport one-year’s provisions over imposing Chilkoot Pass. The prospectors carried as much as 1,000 pounds on mules and horses, until reaching the trail’s most notorious stretch, the Golden Stairs, a 30-degree grade just below the summit.

Once there, they descended to Lindemann or Bennett lakes, where they built boats and floated 550 miles to the gold rush fields in Dawson City. They endured all of this in the hardened hope that they might strike it rich -or die trying.

When the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route railroad was completed in July 1900, Dyea faded into a ghost town. All that remains now is the façade of a storefront.

Coral Princess in Glacier BayThe next morning, we cruised into Glacier Bay. There are an estimated 100,000 glaciers in Alaska covering 29,000 square miles – an equivalent land mass of nearly four New Jerseys – and Glacier Bay National Park is the best place to see them. The glaciers here are remnants of the ‘Little Ice Age’ that began 4,000 years ago. In 1750, melting began. When Captain Vancouver sailed here in 1794, he found Icy Strait choked with ice. The glacier responsible was more than 4,000-feet thick, up to 20 miles or more wide and extended more than 100 miles. A century later, naturalist John Muir found that the ice had retreated 48 miles, and by 1916, the ice was 65 miles from Glacier Bay’s mouth. Such rapid retreat is known nowhere else in the world.

The rapid melting raises an interesting, if not disturbing, point. Glaciers and polar ice store more water than lakes and rivers, groundwater and the atmosphere combined. If all the world’s glaciers melted, half of the world’s cities would be inundated with water.

That night, we stood on the upper decks of the ship, awed by the majestic landscape and buoyed by bubbly champagne. The sky was streaked with pink. Two humpback whales were feeding nearby. It was immensely beautiful. On the shoreline, perhaps, 300 yards away, we could see four people sitting on a log. Their kayaks were propped beside them. I could not tell how far we were from the nearest town – Juneau is 65 miles from Glacier Bay – but their beachhead looked to be remote and desolate.

That is the beauty of Alaska. You can still find a place to yourself, an unoccupied beach to sit on. We had come to Alaska to see wildlife and natural wonders, and to experience the remoteness of this wild land. Our journey was ending, and as we boarded the flight to return home, we already knew we would return yet again to this majestic land.