Whether you love wildlife, landscapes, history or adventure sports, an Alaskan cruise can be whatever you want it to be. From grizzly-spotting and dog-sledding to kayaking round glaciers, this pristine wilderness offers it all – and cruising is simply the best way to see it. Discover our pick of the best cruise lines that travel to this spectacular region.
Norwegian Cruise Line
There’s gold in them hills. At least, that’s what 19th century prospectors thought. The Klondike Gold Rush saw the sparsely populated Alaskan coastline inundated with 100,000 fortune-seekers, many congregating in the small town of Skagway. Just 900 souls remain there today, but they keep up the old boardwalks, built in the boom years, giving the place the eerie feel of a Spaghetti Western ghost town (visit the Red Onion saloon for a shot of whiskey). Norwegian Cruise Line’s Bliss is home-ported in Seattle for regular trips to Skagway and Juneau.
Best for…Natural Beauty
An intricate lattice of islands, coves and bays, stretching some 500 miles up the Alaskan coast, the Inside Passage offers shelter for shipping and world-class sightseeing for cruisers. Smaller vessels have always been the best way to experience this realm of mighty glaciers and snowcapped mountains – and Azamara’s Quest is one of the finest. And while your neck will be constantly craning to catch your next glimpse of natural beauty, don’t forget to look down – these are whale-watching waters, too.
Best for…Culture and Art
As this sparsely populated state welcomes ever more visitors to admire its amazing wildlife and landscape, there’s a danger that the authentic Alaska could fade from view. But Alaskan Dream Cruises is a family-owned company with local roots that go back generations. For an in-depth encounter with the region’s Native American tribes, their culture and art, look no further.
Alaska represents a roll-call of great American wildlife. From brown bears and bald eagles to bison and reindeer, they all roam this vast terrain. But what’s your best chance of seeing the lot? While Princess Cruises can’t guarantee that a grizzly will turn up on cue, their Denali Explorer itinerary gives you the best possible chance to see these magnificent creatures – and many others – in their natural environment.
Alaska isn’t just a place to see the sights. There are plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities on offer, too, and with Oceania Cruises you’ll get to try your hand at a favourite Alaskan sport. First, you’ll be flown high above the glaciers and icefields for a spot of “flightseeing”. Then you’ll meet a bunch of professional mushers to learn what it takes to control a pack of sled dogs. And then it’s your turn. Either stand up, take the reins and mush to your heart’s content, or sit back, let the experts do the work, and admire the scenery as you hurtle across those dazzling Alaskan landscapes.
Best for…Off the Beaten Track
Naturally enough, most Alaskan cruises focus on the Inside Passage. But when you consider that this is the largest US state by some distance, you’ll realise there must a whole lot more to see – and that’s where expedition cruising experts Silversea come in. Their 144-guest Silver Explorer ventures to the northern part of Alaska (and even parts of Russia) with an itinerary that’s guaranteed to take your breath away. You’ll encounter a vast array of birdlife, enjoy expert-led excursions into the heart of this untamed landscape – and if gets too cold, enjoy a long soak in a hot spring.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line have a long history in the region, offering a wide range of itineraries at very accessible prices. Their ‘Alaskan Explorer’ cruise takes in all the highlights you’d hope for: the capital city of Juneau, the majestic Glacier Bay, the colourful fishing town of Ketchikan and, of course, all that natural beauty along the way. In fact, this could be the perfect way to get all the family to Alaska without dipping into the kids’ university funds.
Alaska is all about the glaciers. Over huge spans of time, these moving mountains have sculpted the incredible landscape around them – and they are still there today, as jaw-dropping as ever. Spending two days in Glacier Bay National Park, UnCruise Adventures’ ‘Glacier Bay Small Ship’ cruise showcases the most amazing – and thanks to a fleet of kayaks, you can paddle right up close. The blue ice paradise that is the Dawes Glacier is worth the trip on its own, but add whale-watching, bear-spotting, skiff rides and an excursion to Tongass National Forest, and it begins to sound like the active cruiser’s trip of a lifetime.
You need to be at the top of your game to keep up with everything that Alaska can throw at you – and while a day’s trekking, kayaking or sledding is always a thrill, it might leave you in sore need of a little tlc. In that case, you’ll be glad you booked with Crystal Cruises. Their ‘Alaskan Grandeur’ cruise is a straightforward package, ticking all the obvious boxes and nothing more, but the real highlight is the 922-guest Crystal Symphony itself. Thanks to its spacious suites, fabulous restaurants and truly dreamy spa, you’ll be stepping aboard your own personal haven of floating luxury.
Even Nature’s wonders can’t keep junior cruisers entertained indefinitely, but book with Disney Cruises and a vast range of onboard activities will ensure the children stay happy once glacier-fatigue sets in. And it’s not all fun and games – Disney’s Junior Ranger educational programme will help them gain a deeper understanding of the sights they’ve seen.