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A Guide to Choosing the Best Months to Cruise to Alaska

Alaska is a breathtaking destination that offers stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife, and unique cultural experiences. One of the best ways to explore this magnificent state is by taking a cruise. However, choosing the right time to embark on an Alaskan cruise can greatly enhance your experience. In this article, we will guide you through the best months to cruise to Alaska, taking into account weather conditions, wildlife sightings, and popular attractions.

The Shoulder Seasons

May and September are considered the shoulder seasons for cruising in Alaska. These months offer several advantages for travelers looking for a more relaxed and budget-friendly experience.

During May, you can witness the arrival of spring in Alaska. The snow begins to melt, and wildlife starts emerging from hibernation. This is an excellent time for bird-watching as migratory birds return to their nesting grounds. Additionally, you may have a chance to see baby animals such as bear cubs or moose calves.

September marks the beginning of fall in Alaska. The foliage turns vibrant shades of red and gold, creating a stunning backdrop for your cruise. Moreover, September is an ideal month for whale-watching as humpback whales start their migration south.

Peak Summer Season

June through August is considered peak summer season in Alaska. These months offer longer daylight hours and milder temperatures compared to early spring or late fall.

June is particularly popular among travelers because it offers a balance between good weather conditions and fewer crowds compared to July and August. You can expect pleasant temperatures during this month with average highs ranging from 60°F to 70°F (15°C-21°C). June also provides ample opportunities for wildlife sightings including bears fishing along riverbanks or eagles soaring overhead.

July and August are typically warmer months in Alaska with average temperatures ranging from 65°F to 75°F (18°C-24°C). These months attract a larger number of tourists due to summer vacations. However, the increased crowds are offset by a greater variety of shore excursions and activities. You can take advantage of longer daylight hours to explore glaciers, go hiking, or enjoy kayaking in pristine waters.

Factors to Consider

When choosing the best months to cruise to Alaska, there are several factors to consider apart from weather and wildlife sightings.

Firstly, your budget may influence your decision. Shoulder seasons like May and September often offer discounted rates on cruises. If you’re looking for cost-saving options, these months may be ideal for you.

Secondly, consider the type of experience you want. If you prefer a quieter and more intimate cruise with fewer crowds, the shoulder seasons may be preferable. On the other hand, if you enjoy a bustling atmosphere with more onboard activities and shore excursions to choose from, peak summer season might suit you better.

Lastly, keep in mind that weather conditions in Alaska can vary greatly throughout the day. It’s advisable to pack layers of clothing that can be easily added or removed as temperatures change. Regardless of the month you choose for your cruise, always be prepared for rain and unpredictable weather patterns.

Choosing the best months to cruise to Alaska depends on your preferences and priorities as a traveler. Whether you opt for the shoulder seasons or decide on peak summer season, an Alaskan cruise promises awe-inspiring scenery and unforgettable experiences with nature’s wonders.

Consider factors such as budget, wildlife sightings, weather conditions, and desired level of activity when planning your Alaskan adventure. With careful consideration and proper preparation, you’ll have an incredible journey exploring one of nature’s most spectacular destinations – Alaska.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


alaska cruise best stops

Alaska cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

Erica Silverstein

Alaska may be one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it's rugged and can be tricky to get around. Explore the Last Frontier by cruise ship, and you can travel to Gold Rush towns, glaciers, Alaska Native heritage sites and natural areas brimming with wildlife in comfort, even luxury.

When planning an Alaska cruise, you have many things to consider: when to go for the experience you're anticipating, which cruise line is best suited to your travel style, the best Alaska cruise ports to visit and which shoreside activities you want to prioritize. It's not the kind of trip you want to throw together at the last minute — especially since the best fare deals typically go to organized travelers who book early.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

If you're eager to spot bald eagles in the wild, ride a dogsled atop an ice field or pan for gold after a hearty salmon feast, an Alaska cruise is calling your name. Dive into The Points Guy's Alaska cruise guide for all the planning tips you need for your dream cruise up north.

Why cruise Alaska?

Most people have similar reasons for cruising Alaska. They want to admire its rugged beauty, seek out wildlife (such as eagles, bears and whales) and learn about its native cultures and Gold Rush history. It's so far from the rest of the mainland U.S. that it's become a bucket list destination, especially for travelers looking to visit each of the 50 states.

One of the key reasons to cruise Alaska versus taking a land tour is to visit destinations along the Inside Passage that you cannot reach by road. Plus, many of the state's famous glaciers are best viewed from the sea.

If you want to see landlocked areas, such as Denali National Park, you can tack a cruise line-operated tour onto the beginning or end of your sailing for a seamless land and sea vacation. It's easier than fumbling with multiple train, bus, ferry and hotel reservations to cobble together the same trip on your own.

alaska cruise best stops

A cruise can also make an Alaska trip more affordable. Instead of taking a long and expensive flight to Anchorage or Fairbanks, you can choose a cruise that sails round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver (note, you won't be able to tack on a post-cruise land trip to Denali if you do this). Restaurant prices in Alaska can be high, but a cruise bundles meals, accommodations and transportation into one price that, with sales, can be cheaper than you'd think.

Related: Best Alaska cruise tips to help you make the most of your time aboard and ashore

When do cruises go to Alaska?

Nearly every major cruise line has a presence in Alaska from May through mid-September, with some offering sailings as early as April or as late as October. The season is short due to weather. Cold temperatures, icy waters and a long snowy season are not conducive to early spring and late fall cruises.

Alaska cruise weather can be chilly (in the 40s to 50s) first thing in the morning and at night. However, if it's a sunny summer day, temperatures can shoot into the 70s and even low 80s. It also rains a lot in Alaska; it's drier in the spring than in the summer.

When you want to go will depend on which activities you want to do, how you feel about cool weather and rain, and the price. Cruises at the beginning (April and May) and end (September and October) of Alaska's cruise season are generally a bit cheaper than those in June, July and August.

Related: Best time to cruise to Alaska

Best Alaska itineraries

Where do Alaska cruises even go? Most sail along the Inside Passage, a maritime route along the state's southern coast (and into British Columbia and Washington state) that weaves around the area's thousand islands. Some venture farther north into the Gulf of Alaska; these are often one-way cruises that begin and end at the ports near Anchorage.

Learn more about the best Alaska cruise itineraries for your next vacation.

Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is the most popular Alaska cruise route. Weeklong itineraries generally embark in either Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia — though some itineraries originate in Juneau.

Glacial ice carved this passageway long ago, and today, cruise ships and fishing vessels thread their way through the islets and channels to see some of the most spectacular natural sights in the world.

You'll find magnificent mountains (often snow-capped, even in the summertime), lush forests, waterfalls, fjords and calving glaciers. If it's marine life you've come to see, you'll find it in abundance, from whales and dolphins to sea lions and harbor seals. On land, you'll likely spy bears and Dall sheep while eagles, puffins and a host of seabirds circle above.

alaska cruise best stops

Many people trek to Alaska to commune with nature, but there's history here you shouldn't overlook. Shore excursions and onboard lectures will explain the cultures of the Indigenous peoples of Alaska, as well as more recent inhabitants from the Russian community in Sitka and the fortune-seekers who moved to Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s.

Popular Inside Passage ports of call include Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Haines and Skagway. Most cruises will visit three or four ports of call.

Additionally, you'll have one day spent cruising the Inside Passage and one focused on "scenic cruising," where you can enjoy the landscapes but won't go ashore. This is not nearly as boring as you might think since you'll see incredible sights like Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve or Hubbard Glacier .

One nice thing about the Inside Passage is how calm the water is because you're sailing between land masses. If you worry about seasickness, an Inside Passage trip is the best Alaska cruise itinerary versus a sailing where your ship transits rougher, open waters.

Related: The best Alaska cruises out of Seattle for every type of traveler

Gulf of Alaska

If you book a Gulf of Alaska voyage, you'll also enjoy exploring parts of the Inside Passage and its ports that could include a mix of Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Ketchikan, Haines and Icy Strait Point.

You'll have up to two days of scenic cruising, in addition to sailing the Inside Passage. Because Gulf of Alaska cruises sail farther north, scenic destinations may include College Fjord, in addition to Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier.

alaska cruise best stops

Generally, these one-way sailings travel from Seward or Whittier (the cruise ports closest to Anchorage) to Vancouver (or vice versa). Most itineraries are seven nights, but you'll find a handful that are longer.

For these itineraries, you'll need to fly into or out of Anchorage and take a train or bus to/from the cruise departure ports, which can take an hour or two. You can book the transportation on your own or through your cruise line.

Gulf of Alaska sailings — especially those in late August and September — can encounter rough seas in the gulf portion of the voyage. Be prepared if you're particularly prone to seasickness.

Related: The best Alaska cruise for every type of traveler

Longer sailings from the West Coast

Finally, you'll find some San Francisco round-trip itineraries — usually 10 or 11 nights long — as well as longer sailings between San Francisco and Vancouver. These cruises are best suited to travelers who love days at sea.

You'll have four sea days (for example, two days from San Francisco to Juneau) plus a day of scenic cruising at a spot like Tracy Arm (Twin Sawyer Glaciers), Endicott Arm, Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay National Park. The waters before you enter the Inside Passage can be calm, rough or anything in between, depending on when you go.

Ports on these longer sailings may include Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point and Victoria, British Columbia.

You may also find one-way repositioning cruises between southern California ports (Los Angeles and San Diego) and Vancouver at the beginning or end of a ship's Alaska cruise season.

Related: The best Alaska cruises for couples


Cruise lines understand that not all of Alaska's best sights lie along the coast. Denali National Park and the city of Fairbanks are well inland. And some coastal highlights, like the Kenai Peninsula, aren't typically visited on a seven-night cruise. So the cruise lines created their own "cruisetours": vacations that combine a weeklong cruise with a two- to seven-night bus tour.

alaska cruise best stops

On a cruisetour, you'll sail a one-way Gulf of Alaska cruise, so your cruise starts or ends in Alaska. Depending on the tour itinerary you choose, you might visit Seward and the Kenai Peninsula, Alyeska, Talkeetna, Anchorage and Fairbanks — as well as spend one to three nights in Denali National Park.

Some lines also offer Alaska cruisetours that venture into Canada's Yukon, including a few Holland America tours that combine half a cruise with a cruisetour that starts or ends in Skagway.

Your tour may include a ride on the scenic Alaska Railroad . Some activities are included in the cost of the cruisetour; other outings can be booked like shore excursions depending on your interest and budget. If you're hoping to see the northern lights, booking a cruisetour in September might be your best bet to see the aurora on a cruise vacation.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Best Alaska cruise lines

Most big-ship and luxury cruise lines send at least one cruise ship to Alaska every summer. Some of the best Alaska cruise lines are Holland America and Princess because they have especially long histories in the region and offer cruises, as well as cruise and land tour combinations, on multiple ships each season.

If you want a more active trip in less touristed areas, a great choice would be a small-ship expedition line, including Alaska specialists such as Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise Adventures.

Ships in all price ranges sail a variety of itineraries, so don't let budget stop you from visiting. If luxury is what you're after, you can find lines that will go overboard pampering you on your journey north.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

Best cruise lines for extended trips to Alaska

If you want to cruise Alaska but also see some of the interior and enjoy a stay in a lodge or hotel, go for a cruisetour package from either Holland America or Princess Cruises. Both have fantastic itineraries that take passengers not only to the Inside Passage, but also Anchorage, Denali National Park, the Yukon, Kenai Peninsula, Talkeetna and Fairbanks. Princess even owns a handful of its own lodges.

alaska cruise best stops

Best Alaska cruises for families with kids

Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean all have extensive kids clubs aboard their ships that cater to all ages, from babies to teens. Little kids will adore meet-and-greets with beloved characters onboard Disney cruises or hanging with Dr. Seuss characters when sailing with Carnival. Older kids will love the rock climbing walls, video game stations, sports courts, go-karts and laser tag on Royal Caribbean and NCL ships.

Related: Which cruise ship cabin category should your family book?

Best cruise lines for adventure-seekers

alaska cruise best stops

Active travelers may prefer expedition-style voyages on smaller ships that include more time for adventurous activities, such as hiking in the Tongass National Forest, wildlife and glacier viewing from Zodiac rafts or kayaks, or even overnight camping. These ships often feature complimentary shore excursions, kayaks and bikes for guest use and onboard scientists and naturalists.

If you've got active teens who have an interest in nature and the environment, an expedition voyage could be exactly what will keep them engaged and off their devices. Just expect the majority of your shipmates to be older adults.

Look to UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises, Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions for the best adventure cruises.

Related: Pros and cons of small-ship cruising in Alaska

Best for multigenerational groups

Sailing with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and kids? Try Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Princess Cruises. These cruise lines, especially on their newer ships, offer something for everyone — as well as a higher caliber of onboard dining than on the cheapest cruises.

Kids can hang out in the youth lounges while parents hit the spa or try a wine-tasting class. Everyone can come back together for dinner and evening entertainment or onboard activities suitable for all ages.

Best for couples and big celebrations

The luxury cruise lines are your best bet if you're a couple and enjoy spacious suites, gourmet food, pampering (many luxe lines hire butlers to cater to every passenger) and the opportunity to meet other like-minded cruisers. The personalized service and all-inclusive nature of luxury voyages may also be attractive to anyone celebrating a milestone, such as an anniversary, big birthday or retirement.

Look at Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea and Viking.

Related: 8 luxury lines that'll make you rethink everything you thought you knew about cruising

Things to do in Alaska

Alaska cruises offer a wide range of activities in port, with options for active travelers, wildlife lovers, history buffs and shoppers. Whether you're traveling with young kids or require more sedentary recreation, the Alaska cruise ports won't disappoint.

Related: Best shore excursions on an Alaska cruise

Wildlife tours are available in every port. Hop a bus, kayak, boat or plane to look for bears, eagles, whales, sea otters and other wildlife. Note that moose don't regularly show up in the Inside Passage; you'll need to head farther north to find them.

Book a fishing trip to try your hand at catching salmon or halibut, or go out crab fishing for a glimpse into that type of work.

Active travelers can explore Alaska by sea kayak or canoe, hike on glaciers and through rainforests, zip line, bike, ride an ATV and even snorkel (you'll need a dry suit). You can even opt for a round of golf at the course in Haines.

alaska cruise best stops

In Alaska, sightseeing doesn't only take place on the ground. Floatplane and helicopter tours take you around scenic areas like Misty Fjords or land you on a glacier, perhaps for a dogsledding or hiking adventure on the ice. If you prefer to stay grounded, you can find informative trolley tours of ports like Skagway.

Alaska cruises provide plentiful opportunities to learn about native Alaskan culture. You can get a taste of the Gold Rush life by trying your hand at panning for gold, attending a salmon bake or visiting a dogsled camp. A hike on the Chilkoot Trail or ride on the White Pass Railway lets you follow in the footsteps of the miners who came to seek their fortunes. Cap your day by trying out locally brewed craft beers.

Shopping abounds, and you can buy everything from diamond jewelry to T-shirts and other souvenirs. You'll need to look carefully for Alaskan-owned stores selling local handicrafts, but they're worth seeking out.

Related: 15 Alaska cruise mistakes you never want to make

Best Alaska cruise ports

The best Alaska cruise ports are also the most crowded because no matter which type of itinerary and cruise line you select, you'll likely visit a mix of the same ports. The immediate port area will be filled with tourist shops and eateries. If you want to see nature at its finest, you must book a tour or venture farther afield.

If you want to see some of Alaska's most rustic and charming villages or stick to wild places, book a voyage with a line like Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise that visits destinations like Baranof Island, Chichagof Island, Petersburg and Wrangell.

alaska cruise best stops

Ketchikan is known for three things: Native Alaskan (Tlingit) totem poles, Misty Fjords National Monument and the city's distinction as the "salmon capital of the world." The town has more standing totem poles than anywhere else in the state; see them at the Saxman Native Village and the Totem Heritage Center. Access the Misty Fjords by kayak, floatplane or scenic cruise. Fishing excursions are plentiful here, too.

Ketchikan is where folks go to see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, with athletes wielding axes and saws in traditional lumbering activities. It is also the jumping-off point for a Bering Sea crab fishing tour.

Alaska's capital city is interesting because no road leads from here to the rest of the state. It's located at the base of Mount Juneau, and you can only get there via boat or small plane — even residents have to bring their cars to Juneau via ferry. Home to Mendenhall Glacier, this is a popular port for hikes by, kayak tours to and helicopter landings on the glacier.

For a view of the city and cruise port, take a ride in the sky on the Mount Roberts Tramway. Various wildlife-viewing trips (whale, bears and more) and visits to dogsled camps and salmon bakes leave from Juneau.

alaska cruise best stops

If you're interested in Alaska's Gold Rush history, Skagway — 90 miles northwest of Juneau — is a port you shouldn't miss. In fact, it's the gateway to the Klondike and Dawson's mining district in Canada's Yukon territory, where prospectors searched for gold in the late 1890s. The historic district still has a Wild West feel, though that's been a bit commercialized for the modern era. This port can get crowded in summer when several ships can call on the same day.

Skagway is an easy port for independent travelers who want to explore the town or go for a hike on their own. It's most famous as the terminus for the White Pass Railway into the Yukon.

alaska cruise best stops

Sitka is as much a working fishing town as it is a tourist destination. Sitka's Russian heritage also sets it apart from other Alaskan ports on your cruise itinerary. See St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral with its onion dome and the Russian Bishop's House.

Before the Russians came, the Tlingit people settled here. You can learn about their history and culture at the Sitka National Historical Park and Sheldon Jackson Museum of native Alaskan art. Wildlife enthusiasts may want to visit the Alaska Raptor Center or go bird- and bear-watching.

The population of Haines remains less than 2,000, according to the United Status Census Bureau, and it isn't yet as touristy as some of the other Alaskan ports, such as nearby Skagway. It's known for great fishing (salmon, halibut and trout) and an eagle preserve — because eagles know where the best fish can be found.

Animal lovers and kids tend to enjoy a visit to the Kroschel Center for Orphaned Animals here. For a special tour, go bear-watching at twilight.

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point is notable among Alaska cruise ports because the area and its attractions are all native Alaskan owned. Most port and tour staff hail from Hoonah, Alaska's largest Tlingit village. The port is set on Chichagoff Island, which is known for its large bear population. Wildlife lovers have plenty of opportunities to search for whales and eagles here; adventure-seekers won't want to miss the ZipRider, with its course of six zip lines.

Scenic cruising

Most Alaska itineraries include some "scenic cruising," where your ship sails past incredible natural sights. You'll rarely leave the ship during these sail-bys (unless you happen to be aboard certain expedition, luxury or small ships that offer the chance to get on board a skiff to get closer … but, even then, you're still viewing these sites from the water).

alaska cruise best stops

Onboard naturalists generally narrate what you're seeing, so head to the observation lounge (or tune to a broadcast on your in-room television) to learn about some of the top sights featured on scenic cruising days.

Top scenic cruising destinations in Alaska include Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve , Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm (Twin Sawyer Glaciers), Dawes Glacier at Endicott Arm and College Fjord.

When to book an Alaska cruise

The best time to book an Alaska cruise is when a cruise line first opens bookings on that sailing, often more than a year in advance. You'll have your pick of itineraries and cabins — balcony cabins are popular in this scenic destination — and often the best fares.

Because Alaska has such a short season with a limited number of ships and is a dream trip for many, cruises are in high demand and people plan early.

alaska cruise best stops

If you wait to book, you're not entirely out of luck. Cruise lines often run sales in the fall or in the early months of the year (a period known in the cruise industry as " wave season "). You can take advantage of discounted fares, free upgrades or complimentary add-ons, such as Wi-Fi, gratuities, restaurant meals, beverage packages and tours. Some of the most desirable cabins might be sold out; being flexible about your sail date or itinerary can help.

In general, waiting until the last minute is not the best idea, unless you live in Seattle or Vancouver and don't need to book flights. While some less preferred sail dates or cabin categories may be available a few months out, spurring cruise lines to drop rates, you might have trouble finding affordable airfare and pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodations that do not consume your cruise savings.

Related: When is the best time to book a cruise?

What to bring on an Alaska cruise

When it comes to packing for an Alaska cruise, your mantra should always be: dress in layers. On the same day, you might be warm in town but chilly on your tour to a glacier. If you plan on hiking, kayaking or riding on a dog sled, you'll need the appropriate activewear.

Definitely pack for rain; consider skipping the umbrella and instead bringing a wide-brimmed waterproof hat, rain jacket, rain pants and waterproof shoes or boots.

This is also the trip for a camera with good telephoto lenses and binoculars. For more on what to bring on an Alaska cruise, check out our Alaska cruise packing list.

Bottom line

An Alaska cruise is a memorable experience. The beauty of the land and its immense history; the thrill of seeing bears, moose and bald eagles; and the mysteries of the surrounding marine life will astound you. It's a trip worth taking the time to plan and doing right — because who knows if or when you'll make it back to the Last Frontier.

Thinking of booking a cruise? Here's some more advice:

  • The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
  • 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
  • 15 ways cruisers waste money
  • 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
  • What to pack for a cruise

Top Alaska Cruise Ports

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alaska cruise best stops

The Best Alaska Cruise Ports and Itinerary for You

Last Updated on November 4, 2023

Thinking about setting sail for Alaska? Not sure which itinerary to choose? This article is all about the highlights and best Alaska cruise ports to help you decide which Alaska Cruise itinerary is best for you.

Great news to get started – you really can’t go wrong here as all the Alaska ports of call are interesting and unique and all are surrounded by life affirming natural beauty .

I’ve worked in the Alaska cruise industry since the late 90s and visit all of these ports frequently. I even lived in two of them. I’m also a travel advisor and help people plan their Alaska cruises. I’m excited to share my insider knowledge with you!

This article will covers a lot, feel free to use these links to jump around and find what you need quickly.

Which cruise line is best for Alaska?

  • Should I do a round trip inside passage or one way cruise to Alaska?
  • Is it better to do an Alaska cruise from Seattle or Vancouver?

Is it better to do Denali on my own or through the cruise line?

  • When is the best month to take an Alaskan cruise?
  • Scenic Cruising – is Glacier Bay better?
  • Icy Strait Point/Hoonah
  • Other ports (Wrangell, Petersburg, Victoria, Anchorage/Whittier/Seward)
  • What to pack for an Alaskan Cruise

What about the ferry?

Related : The best hike in every Alaska cruise port

A large white cruise ship docked in Ketchikan, one of the best Alaska cruise ports, with a pilot boat near it and mountains in the background

I recommend choosing the cruise line that has the itinerary you like best or the type of experience you’re looking for. Nearly all big ships in Alaska offer the same shore excursions , so no need to have that be the reason to make a decision.

If you already have experience with a cruise line that you love, I recommend sticking with that. However, if you’re a first time cruiser, here are some things to consider when choosing your cruise line for Alaska:

  • Small ships often have round trip cruises that depart from ports in Southeast Alaska. Small ships can go to places big ships can’t and are usually all inclusive. If you’re looking for an experience that will take you to places outside of port towns and away from crowds, look at UnCruise, Lindblad (National Geographic) and Alaska Dream.
  • Princess and Holland America have a long history in Alaska and bring some local touches on board such as local food and local Alaskans to do programs on the ship. They also have more permits for Glacier Bay than some of the other big ships. There will be less children on both of these cruise lines, though they still have programs for children and teens on board.
  • Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have more families on board, and more features on board the ship like climbing walls, go kart racing and waterslides.
  • If you’re looking for a luxury experience, look at Seabourn or Silver Sea

Should I take a round trip Inside Passage cruise or a one way cruise to Alaska?

The next step need to decide if you’re going to do a one way cross gulf cruise (named because it crosses the Gulf of Alaska) or round trip from Seattle or Vancouver BC , which goes through the Inside Passage and returns to Seattle or Vancouver. Small ships generally run between towns in Southeast Alaska, usually Juneau, Sitka or Ketchikan.

If you are doing a cruise only (no land tour), I recommend doing the Inside Passage only on a round trip cruise. It’s more straightforward and usually less expensive to fly if you do a round trip from the same port. It also means you travel in mostly protected and calmer water.

I recommend the cross gulf (one way) trip if you are also adding a land portion of your trip to other parts of Alaska , such as Denali National Park, Anchorage or Fairbanks. If you’re not planning a land trip, or just want to keep it simple, then a round trip cruise will be best for you.

Is it better to take an Alaska Cruise from Seattle or Vancouver?

This is one of the questions I get frequently from my readers and clients. Both Seattle and Vancouver are wonderful cities to sail from and spend an extra couple days if you have it. Usually the answer to this question comes down to logistics.

One way cruises to Alaska will always either start or end in Vancouver. Why? Because of the Passenger Vessel Services Act, foreign flagged ships (all the big ships) cannot take people from one American port to another. So, if you are doing a one way cruise, you will start in Vancouver and end near Anchorage (either Whittier or Seward) or the other way around.

Round trip cruises may go from either Seattle or Vancouver. I would recommend making the decision based on logistics such as which city is easier to get to (for most Americans that is Seattle, for most Canadians, Britons and Australians that’s Vancouver) or which itinerary works best for your schedule.

This is another question I am frequently asked and as a person who has been to Denali many times on my own as well as works as a tour director bringing people to Denali as part of their cruisetour, I know a lot about doing in both ways.

The cost is going to be similar whether you do Denali on your own or through the cruise line. Often people are under the impression that it’s more expensive through the cruise line but that is not usually the case for an equivalent experience (tent camping on your own is cheaper for sure and cruiselines do not offer tent camping cruisetours!).

The bottom line is that cost is not the primary factor to consider here. Instead I recommend deciding this based on how many days you have and if you just want to see Denali as opposed to seeing other places in Alaska off the cruise ship.

If you have less than five days for land and primarily want to see Denali, then I recommend booking through the cruise line. If you have more time and want to see some other places, then you could book it on your own. Booking it on your own is more logistically complicated, but you can go places that might not be offered on cruisetour itineraries.

Jennie, wearing black pants, black boots and a button up shirt is smiling and pointing to the Denali National Park sign

When is the best month to take an Alaskan Cruise?

The Alaska cruise season runs from early May through late September. Some companies offer cruises slightly earlier or later than this, but this is the heart of the season. I do not recommend doing an Alaska cruise in April or October.

The best month to take an Alaskan cruise is May or June. Early season is the least rainy time of year in Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage (it’s still quite rainy so be prepared for that !). It is also a bit less busy and crowded in ports.

July is the most popular time for cruising in Alaska and it is still the height of summer with long days. Whale watching and fishing are both excellent in July and August.

August and September are much rainier, but you can get some good deals at this time of year. If you don’t mind bundling up with some hot drinks while watching the rain and getting the full Inside Passage experience then September is the time for you! September is a good time to plan a last minute cruise as there is often space available on ships.

Related : What is the best month to visit Alaska?

Scenic Cruising – Is Glacier Bay better than other scenic glacier cruising?

Mountains and a glacier are reflected in the water which has lots of little pieces of ice in it on a visit to Glacier Bay national park

There’s no question that Glacier Bay National Park is absolutely stunning. However, there are plenty of other glacier cruising areas that are every bit as beautiful, just different. Most Alaska cruises have a day of cruising near a glacier but it’s not always Glacier Bay.

If you’re looking at a cruise itinerary that does not include Glacier Bay, you can be confident that you will have an amazing experience. Don’t let that on it’s own stop you from booking. Small ships sometimes dock at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay (see more on this at the bottom of this article), but big ships do not go ashore in the park. Park rangers come aboard to share about what you’re seeing and experiencing. Other possible glacier cruising areas include:

  • College Fjord – Cross gulf cruises (one way from Whittier or Seward to Seattle or Vancouver BC) sometimes call at College Fjord, a spectacular collection of tidewater glaciers, narrow fjords and towering mountains.
  • Hubbard Glacier – located near Yakutat, this glacier is huge! In fact, this is the largest glacier that big cruise ships visit. It is not in a narrow fjord, but the glacier itself, the icebergs and massive mountains behind more than make up for this
  • Endicott Arm/Dawes Glacier – another stunning iceberg filled bay in view of the Dawes Glacier
  • Tracy Arm – located near Juneau, Tracy Arm is a local favorite and an impossibly long and gorgeous fjord. The glacier is not huge but the setting is stunning. Locals will tell you Tracy Arm is more beautiful than Glacier Bay!

No matter where your ship sails for glacier viewing, it is sure to be absolutely stunning.

Juneau – Best Alaska cruise port overall

A life like statue of a humpbackwhale breaching surrounded by a fountain in Juneau Alaska

In my opinion, Juneau is the best Alaska cruise port overall . This is not because the others are not fantastic, because they are! Juneau has the most options for literally every traveler and this is why I put it right at the top of the list.

In addition to the stunning natural beauty that every Alaska cruise port has on offer, Juneau has options for exploring around town on your own, many wonderful shore excursions including whale watching and fishing , a fascinating excursion to Mendenhall Glacier and fantastic hiking and other outdoor activities . In addition to shore excursions organized by your ship, you can also easily explore Juneau on your own by going for a hike, shopping around town or taking the wonderful Juneau food tour to get an insider and local perspective on Juneau’s delicious food scene. Juneau has a bus system that you can use to get around. Ketchikan (below) is a very, very close second, but Juneau’s many hiking trails that you can get to easily from the cruise ship dock edge it into the number one spot for me.

A cruise ship in a channel between mountain ranges on a cloudy day

Nearly every cruise calls at Juneau, so look for a cruise that gives you the maximum amount of time there to see as much of this wonderful town as possible.

Juneau Highlights

  • Mt Roberts – you can take the tram from downtown or hike the trail to the viewpoint. I recommend taking the tram and then expanding your hike from there to higher and better views of the mountains and water around Juneau
  • Mendenhall Glacier – you are likely to see other glaciers on your trip, but the Mendenhall is a stunning glacier feeding into a lake, with plenty of hiking trails, a gorgeous waterfall and an opportunity to learn about how climate change is impacting Alaska’s Glaciers at the excellent visitor center
  • Whale sculpture – easily walkable, the gorgeous and completely lifelike whale sculpture is not to be missed!
  • Downtown local establishments like the Alaska Hotel and Bar, Heritage Coffee and Amalga Distillery
  • Hiking – there are several trails you can get to from downtown, such as Mt Roberts, Perseverance Trail and Mt Juneau and others a short bus ride away, or at the glacier
  • Whale watching – Juneau (along with Ketchikan and Sitka) are good options for a whale watching trip
  • Kayaking – along with Haines, Juneau is a great place to take in a kayak trip

Learn more : Best things to do in Juneau

Ketchikan – Overall Runner Up and Best for Unique Experiences

A house screen and two totem poles on a wooden structure with light blue, black and red paint at Saxman Totem park in Ketchikan, one of the best alaska cruise ports

Ketchikan is a very close second for me for the top spot as the best Alaska cruise port! Juneau gets a slight edge from me as I mentioned above for the number of hiking trails that are easy to get to from the cruise ship dock. Like Juneau, Ketchikan is relatively easy to get around on your own and has a bus system that takes you to most places.

Ketchikan also has excellent shore excursions, particularly to Misty Fjords National Monument , and it’s a great place for fishing trips. Ketchikan also has lots of opportunity to learn about and experience Alaska Native Culture, including the many totem poles around town and nearby.

Ketchikan is also home to some quirky and really fun experiences like the Deadliest Catch Tour and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

This is an excellent Alaska cruise port for shopping , with delightful Creek Street and the streets surrounding it offering up more local art and gifts than many other ports (Juneau is also good for this, ask a local where to go!). Make sure to visit Crazy Wolf Studio , which is Alaska Native owned and features Native art from across the northwest coast. In addition, I highly recommend the Captain’s Lady , with lots of locally made items as well as Ray Troll ‘s studio.

Ketchikan Highlights

  • Walking around and exploring the shops of Creek Street
  • Totem Poles – take in the impressive art of these elaborate and beautiful poles of the northwest coast around town or at Saxman or Totem Bight
  • Take a boat tour to Misty Fjords National Monument
  • Check out the Deadliest Catch tour and learn about Alaska’s crab fishing industry
  • Take in the fun and impressive Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
  • Go fishing – salmon and halibut fishing are both excellent out of Ketchikan
  • Hiking – if it’s a rainy day, try the Rainbird Trail to explore the rainforest, and if the sun is out and you’re up for a challenging hike, head up Deer Mountain

Learn more : Best things to do in Ketchikan

Skagway – Best Hiking

A steam engine coming around a corner with a train in the remote mountains of white pass near Skagway alaska. There is a sign in the forest next to the tracks that says Denver Glacier Trail and Denver - Skagway 5.5 miles

Skagway is a tiny town with a very busy cruise port! This is as far north as cruise ships go in the Inside Passage (some continue north from here across the Gulf of Alaska to Seward or Whittier while others turn south here to return to Seattle or Vancouver). Skagway was put on the map by the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and has a colorful history. In fact, the entire downtown is a national park !

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was built during the Gold Rush and remains today as a tour for visitors and I will tell you that in my opinion (many agree with me!) this is the best shore excursion available in Southeast Alaska ! There are several options for the train: you can take a round trip summit excursion right from the cruise ship dock, or you can go one way by train and one by bus giving you additional views of this stunning location. You can also do a hike from the train getting dropped off at Denver or Laughton Glacier as part of a tour.

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad gives you the unique opportunity in Southeast Alaska to get up into the mountains and inland and see a completely different climate . There are good chances to see bears and goats on this trip too! Overall I highly recommend this if you only do one shore excursion…make it this one!

Skagway also has lots of great history to explore and several excellent hikes that leave from downtown and you can easily walk to.

Skagway Highlights

  • Ride the White Pass and Yukon Route historic railroad – do NOT miss this!
  • Walk around downtown , also known as Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and learn about Gold Rush history
  • Take a hike to Lower Dewey Lake, Smuggler’s Cove, or Lower Reid Falls

Learn more : Best things to do in Skagway

Haines – Best Weather and Kayaking

The Haines Alaska small boat harbor with many boats docked inside a breakwater. Across the water are high mountains with snow and some clouds around them on a partly sunny day

Haines doesn’t have a lot of cruise ships that call in its port, but it does have some. You can also visit Haines by taking a shore excursion when your ship calls in nearby Skagway. However you get there, Haines is worth a visit for plenty of reasons.

In addition to the scenery that every Alaska town has on offer, Haines is positioned to have the best weather in Southeast Alaska, making it ideal for outdoor activities like kayaking! When I say best weather I mean less rain than most other ports (except Skagway) but it doesn’t have the wind that Skagway has. In any part of Southeast Alaska you need to be ready for rain, any day, all year, but Haines gives you a better chance of a dry day than most.

Kayaking is unique in Haines because you can take a tour for sea kayaking or you can kayak in Chilkoot Lake, giving options for every preference and every skill level in a kayak. This is a wonderful place to try kayaking for the first time!

Haines Highlights

  • Kayaking – either sea kayaking of lake kayaking, both are available
  • Jet Boat tour of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve – the beautiful Chilkat River is home to a large concentration of bald eagles and a jet boat tour is the perfect way to experience the beauty of the river and see eagles diving for fish
  • Walk around Fort Seward – historic Fort Seward is today a large greenspace surrounded by lodging options and home to the delicious Port Chilkoot Distillery
  • Check out the quirky Hammer Museum – just exactly what it sounds like!
  • Walk around the harbor – all Southeast Alaska towns have a bustling harbor filled with fishing charters, commercial fishing, locals, tour boats and more. Haines has a particularly scenic harbor against the mountain backdrop

Learn more : Best things to do in Haines

Sitka – Best Alaska cruise port to explore on your own

alaska cruise best stops

If you like to explore on your own, Sitka is the port for you! Sitka has far fewer ships than many other ports so it’s fun for an independent minded traveler to explore. Most likely your ship will dock a few miles outside of town, but there’s a free shuttle downtown that goes every 15 minutes while a ship is important and it’s easy to zip around. You can also link up with Sitka’s bus system (called The Ride) to get to trailheads and other areas.

Sitka’s beautiful setting on Baranof Island combined with an intriguing history of Tlingit history and modern culture with Russian and American rule make it an interesting place to visit.

Sitka Highlights

  • St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral – the best remnant of life in Sitka when it was the capital of Russian America is this gorgeous cathedral downtown
  • Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House – don’t miss this stunning House Screen on a clan house downtown
  • Castle Hill – great views of Sitka are found from the place where Alaska was formally transferred from Russian to American rule in 1867.
  • Sitka National Historical Park – commemorating a battle in 1804 between Tlingit people and the Russians, you can learn this history as well as see another impressive collection of totem poles
  • Whale watching – this is another fantastic place for a wildlife cruise. I once saw a brown bear swimming between two islands from a wildlife cruise here, it was incredible!
  • Fortress of the Bear – another way to see bears is to visit this bear sanctuary where you can (safely!) get close to brown bears and learn about their lives in Alaska
  • Hike the Harbor Mountain Trail – hikers will love this gorgeous rainforest trail with incredible views

Learn more : Best things to do in Sitka

Icy Strait Point/Hoonah – Most unique Alaska cruise port

Gray ocean and dark mountains surrounding it on a mostly cloudy day near Icy Strait Point, one of the best alaska cruise ports

Icy Strait Point near the town of Hoonah is a unique port in Southeast Alaska. Icy Strait Point was converted from a cannery for cruise ships by the Huna Totem Corporation and is Huna Tlingit owned and operated. The vast majority of employees are Huna Tlingit who live in the town of Hoonah.

At Icy Strait Point you can explore the museum in a historic cannery, walk the nature trails, eat delicious seafood and book one of the many tours offered. Tours include whale watching, trips to look for bears around Chichagof Island, ziplining and off road adventures. If you have the chance to go, don’t miss out on this truly unique Alaska cruise port, there’s nothing like it anywhere else!

Other Alaska cruise ports

If you’re traveling on a small ship, your ship may call at Wrangell, Petersburg or go ashore at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park. These are all wonderful and intimate ports with lots to see and do. Learn more here about Wrangell , here about Petersburg and here about Glacier Bay .

A view of Wrangell Alaska from the Mt Dewey Overlook. You can see several harbors in the town below through the trees and water and mountains in the distance.

Even though it isn’t in Alaska, many cruises which start or end in Seattle stop in Victoria. If your ship calls at Victoria, read all about my suggestions for making the most of a short port call there.

If you’re embarking or disembarking in Whittier or Seward, you’ll be flying in or out of Anchorage. If you’re looking to spend a few extra days exploring, read more about all the wonderful things to do in Anchorage here .

What to pack for an Alaskan Cruise?

I have a whole post about what to pack for Alaska , including if you’re taking a cruise! Head over there for all the details, but the MOST important things to have and bring from home are an excellent rain jacket and waterproof comfortable walking shoes or boots !

If you are coming from a hot climate, make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes. Temperatures in Southeast Alaska and along the Inside Passage are generally in the 50s and 60s in the summer. It is possible to have much hotter days but definitely be ready for some chilly and damp days, even in the middle of summer!

You’ll also want to make sure you have sunscreen because when the sun does come out it’s INTENSE during Alaska’s long summer days. You can find sunscreen everywhere, but if you like a particular brand definitely bring it with you.

Alaska ferry upper deck with two tents and many deck chairs, passing through a narrow channel

You might have heard someone refer to the Alaska ferry (Alaska Marine Highway) as a local’s cruise or a cheaper cruise and I want you to know that is not accurate. I cringe whenever I read or hear this. The Alaska ferry is absolutely wonderful, but it’s public transportation and that is how it’s used by Alaskans. It’s also more expensive than people expect (often more than a cruise) and there are lots of hidden costs, such as getting a small cabin and eating in the cafeteria. If you’re interested in taking the ferry to or within Alaska, it’s an amazing experience, but it’s very different from a cruise! Learn more in my complete guide to riding the Alaska ferry here and my DIY traveler’s guide to having a blast on a cruise here .

Final Thoughts

Cruising is a fantastic way to see the coastal towns, glaciers and wildlife of Alaska, since distances are large and many communities and places are not accessible by road. And you get to wake up in a new stunningly beautiful place every day without having to repack. Go with whatever itinerary and ship makes sense for your family and you’ll have an amazing time.

Related : Guide to Planning a trip to Alaska , Alaska on a Budget

Up close to a tidewater glacier with blue and white towering ice and icebergs in the water. Snowy mountains are in the distance. Text reads: the best alaska cruise ports

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alaska cruise best stops

Alaska Cruises: Everything You Need to Know for a Perfect Bucket-List Adventure

alaska cruise best stops

An Alaska cruise is high on many travelers' bucket lists. From ports that offer diverse culture and history to thousands of miles of breathtaking coastline, calving glaciers, towering mountains and wildlife in every direction, America's last frontier has a lot to offer all types of travelers, including cruisers.

But booking an Alaskan cruise can be complicated. There are numerous factors you need to consider for a cruise to Alaska, including the best time of year, costs, itineraries, which line to choose and which destinations matter most to you. Then there's the unpredictable Alaska weather on top of it all.

To help you make sense of it all, we've rounded up everything you need to know about cruising Alaska, the 49th state.

On This Page

The best time to cruise alaska: crowds, weather and cost are all factors, alaska northern lights cruises: when to go and what to consider, alaska cruise cost: amenities and time of year make the difference, alaska cruise lines: from holland america and royal caribbean to small ships like silversea, alaska cruise itineraries: the inside passage, gulf of alaska and more, alaska cruise ports: historic towns and big nature in spades, alaska cruise tips for the perfect cruise experience.

alaska cruise best stops

We hear it all the time: “When is the best time to cruise Alaska?” Well, it depends. The Alaska cruise season typically runs from late April through early October. High season falls between June and August.

The cost of an Alaskan cruise, of course, rises during high season and will be less expensive before and after those months during shoulder season.

June, July and August are the warmest months in Alaska. Highs range from the 60s to 70s in most of the state. However, July and August can be rainy.

Wet weather aside, late summer months bring the best chances of seeing wildlife on expeditions. These months are also your best bet if you want active fishing trips on a shore excursion.

alaska cruise best stops

You're in luck if you're hoping to see whales on your Alaska cruise , as the majority of the cruise season coincides with whale season. Humpback whales can be found in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and are some of the most frequently spotted, though you may also see orcas and gray whales as well.

Your overall best bet for whale watching in Alaska is May through September.

Prices for Alaskan cruises are lower in April, May and September. Crowds will also be smaller. Due to unpredictable weather, though, there’s a risk of shore excursions being cancelled -- especially boat and helicopter tours.

May is one of the driest months in the Inside Passage, but you may still find snow on the ground (which is great for scenic photos, but less ideal for hiking).

September offers the best possibility for cruisers to catch the Northern Lights in Alaska . They are generally visible across the state, so any itinerary will likely do, though you'll have the best show in less populated areas like Denali National Park . You'd also do well to look at the moon cycles, as a full moon can drown out the Aurora Borealis.

If you are cruising in Alaska during the Northern Lights season, note that the Gulf of Alaska is choppiest in September and not recommended for travelers who get seasick. Also, certain sections of the access road to Denali National Park may close in September due to snow, so check your itinerary if that's your preferred Northern Lights viewing spot.

alaska cruise best stops

An Alaska cruise costs anywhere from $500 to $8,000 or more during high season. Cheaper fares can be usually found on mainstream lines like Royal Caribbean and NCL, while Cunard, Disney and Seabourn will be more expensive.

In other words, Alaska can be one of the more affordable bucket-list destinations to reach by ship, especially when compared to other remote cruise destinations like Antarctica and the Galapagos.

You'll need to set aside a good chunk of money to spend on shore excursions when you're in Alaska . They can be incredibly expensive when compared to experiences in the Caribbean or Mexico.

If you're happy with a couple of historic tours and a guided hike, you could likely budget $500 or less per person for shore excursions in Alaska. But if once-in-a-lifetime Alaska experiences like helicopter rides and flightseeing in Ketchikan are more your speed, you'll need to triple that amount -- or more.

You'll find the best deals on an Alaska cruise by looking for sailings during shoulder season months: late April, May and September.

alaska cruise best stops

Holland America and Princess are the biggest mainstream lines for an Alaska cruise. But you'll also see Alaska itineraries from Carnival , Disney , Norwegian (NCL) and Royal Caribbean , which gives you an array of price points to consider.

Luxury cruises to Alaska on smaller ships can be a great option for those looking to pair remote wilderness with a bit of pampering. Your best high-end bets are Oceania , Regent Seven Seas , Seabourn , Silversea and Windstar .

If you’d like a small ship cruise to Alaska, but crave a bit more adventure, expedition cruises might be more your speed. Check out lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad and UnCruise Adventures , which focus on immersive nature and wildlife experiences. The vibe onboard these ships is also more personalized due to their limited capacity.

alaska cruise best stops

You’ll want to carefully consider Alaska cruise packages and itineraries as the scenery, price and length of time all vary considerably. The best Alaska cruises manage to combine epic nature with local flavor, and the following options all offer that mix with some variation.

Alaska Inside Passage Cruises: Calmer Waters and Big-Ticket Destinations

An Alaska Inside Passage cruise typically lasts seven nights, embarking and returning to Seattle or Vancouver . It's one of the most popular and common itineraries for Alaska cruising.

The Inside Passage is a sheltered waterway between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland that extends north to Alaska. It's known for calm waters and excellent scenery (often including Glacier Bay ).

Embarking and disembarking in Seattle or Vancouver can make air travel easier and cheaper than one-way Alaska cruises, which require flights to smaller, more expensive airports in Alaska.

An Alaska cruise from Seattle will visit the Inside Passage but tends to favor the open (and frequently bumpier) Pacific Ocean. Sailings from Vancouver tend to traverse more of the Inside Passage and spend a full day sailing this scenic region.

The main ports of call on Alaska Inside Passage cruises are Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Ketchikan, but some ships stop in spots like Icy Strait, Haines, Wrangell or Petersburg; sailings from Seattle must call on a Canadian port, typically Victoria or Prince Rupert.

Gulf of Alaska Cruises: Denali National Park, Kenai Peninsula and More Beautiful Scenery

Alternatively, Gulf of Alaska cruises are typically seven-night, one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier, the gateway ports for Anchorage and northern destinations in the state.

Gulf cruises also serve the many land-based tour offerings that visit Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula , and overland destinations like Fairbanks and Talkeetna.

Cruises through Alaska's gulf also tend to pass through the Inside Passage, with typical stops including Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Some will also call on more off-the-beaten-path ports like Icy Strait Point and Haines.

Almost all Gulf of Alaska cruises visit to Hubbard Glacier and spend some time scenic cruising in College Fjord.

Expedition Cruises: Get Up-Close-and-Personal With Nature

Cruisers can opt for more in-depth wilderness itineraries on smaller expedition lines like UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions. These cruises in Alaska focus more on nature and wildlife, rather than the big-name ports.

The advantage of small ships is that they're more nimble than big ships, putting destinations like the Alaska Native village of Kake, the Wrangell Narrows and other tiny inlets within reach.

These ships can also more easily follow aquatic wildlife (within legal limits). Many expedition cruises to Alaska also employ Zodiac rafts and offer kayaks and hiking trips to bring passengers closer to glaciers and creatures.

Longer Alaska Cruises: A Chance to Explore More of the State

A handful of cruise lines -- mostly small ship and luxury lines like Cunard, Seabourn and Windstar -- offer Alaska cruises ranging from nine to 14 days in length (generally departing from Vancouver). Mainstream lines have also started offering longer cruises to Alaska from southern West Coast ports like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Repositioning Cruises: From Alaska to Asia in One Trip

Major lines offer sailings in May and September between Asia and North America as lines shift their itineraries. These transpacific journeys frequently include a full Alaska sailing plus stops in Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan after the ocean crossing.

alaska cruise best stops

Ketchikan, Alaska: Scenic tours of fjords and amazing fresh seafood are all close at hand in the historic Alaskan town of Ketchikan . Check out Creek Street, which was once the city's red-light district, and is now lined with funky stores and restaurants overlooking canoeists and leaping salmon.

Ketchikan is also the gateway for Tongass National Forest, Misty Fjords and Totem Bight State Park. But be prepared: It's one of the rainiest cities in the U.S. and proudly boasts a "rain gauge" on its main cruise dock.

Juneau, Alaska: Expecting to see glaciers on your Alaska cruise? Well, you're in luck in Juneau . You can kayak, canoe or hike to Mendenhall Glacier from town on your own or as part of guided tours.

If you'd like an assist with your outdoor adventures, the Mount Roberts Tramway climbs 1,800 feet above Juneau for gorgeous views. Those who'd prefer man-made experiences can check out honky-tonk at the raucous Red Dog Saloon or dip into any of the microbreweries and distilleries all over town.

Skagway, Alaska: Skagway is a gold rush town where 19th-century history is everywhere. Today, a train ride along the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad follows the staggeringly photogenic pass that gold-seekers took on foot to the Canadian border.

In Skagway proper, take a gold rush history tour or spend your own gold at the various local shops, breweries and restaurants.

Sitka, Alaska: Sitka is a unique cultural melting pot with descendants of Alaska Native peoples and Russians both leaving their mark on town. Remnants of Alaska's Russian heritage include St. Michael's Cathedral and the Russian Bishop's House while the Tlingit community's clan house and totem-filled park are also in town.

The Alaska Raptor Center is another highlight and heals injured birds of prey like eagles.

Tracey Arm Fjord, Sawyer Glacier, Glacier Bar and College Fjord: A key part of any Alaska itinerary is the scenery itself, and there's plenty of it on most itineraries outside of ports of call. In addition to the Inside Passage, ships may visit Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier , Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay or College Fjord, all of which are perfect spots for those envy-inducing pictures you'll be taking.

alaska cruise best stops

Consider an Alaska Cruise Tour

Want to get an even bigger taste of Alaska's natural wonders? Consider a cruise tour. One-way Gulf of Alaska itineraries are the best option for Alaska touring, as they begin or end in Alaska.

On either end of your sailing, you can tour on your own or book a cruise tour that combines a cruise and a land tour, which usually runs three to seven nights.

Popular destinations include Denali National Park (for wildlife viewing) or Talkeetna (best place for Denali views and cool eats). Cruise tour land packages are also available to spots like Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and Canada's Yukon Territory.

Spring for a Balcony Cabin on Your Alaska Cruise

While you might not be sunning yourself to a stunning shade of bronze on an Alaska cruise, you and everyone on board will want to take in the scenery. That makes having your own balcony a prime piece of real estate, especially near Denali National Park, portions of the Inside Passage or Tracy Arm Fjord. This is particularly true on big ships.

Alaskan Weather Is Unpredictable

alaska cruise best stops

Temperatures in Alaska can change considerably from one destination to the next. That includes warm days, where even being near a glacier or a passing cloud (or socked-in rain) can make things chilly.

Dress in layers of clothing so that you can peel off (or add on) slowly as the thermometer dictates. You will want to pack a bathing suit and a very warm fleece jacket -- and you'll likely wear both at different times.

Waterproof clothing, from jackets to shoes to pants, is never a bad idea for combating the Alaskan weather.

Seasick Prone? Beware and Plan Carefully

Seas in Alaska are choppiest on Gulf of Alaska itineraries where waters are open. Alternatively, Inside Passage cruises in Alaska tend to be calmer as the waters are protected.

If you're intent on a Gulf of Alaska cruise, book a northbound route so you'll cruise the Gulf at the end of the trip when you have your sea legs. If you get seasick easily, also think twice about round-trip cruises from Seattle that spend days cruising in the open ocean.

Be Prepared if Hiking or Trekking in Alaska

alaska cruise best stops

A waterproof backpack with bug spray, bear spray, bottled water and snacks is practically a necessity in the State. Come prepared, and always check trail conditions with locals or tourist information centers first before setting out.

Bug Spray Is a Must for Anyone on a Cruise to Alaska

The mosquito is often jokingly referred to as the state bird, and for good reason: the ubiquitous little pests are everywhere, and love to take a chunk out of well-fed cruisers primarily at dawn or dusk.

Check out our list of the [10 Must-Pack Items for an Alaska Cruise]((/articles.cfm?ID=1255) for more information on packing necessities on your Alaskan cruise.

Avoid the Cruise Crowds and Travel During Alaska's Shoulder Season

To minimize joining the masses during high season, consider a shoulder-season sailing (in late April, May or September), or select a ship that embarks midweek. Saturday and Sunday cruise departures tend to be busiest during the summer months, particularly for families with children.

Consider the Size of Your Ship if Alaska's Scenery Is Important to You

Some ships will have naturalists onboard, particularly in Glacier Bay. Conditions can sometimes prevent ships from reaching the glaciers, particularly in Tracy Arm Fjord.

That's especially true of large ships, so consider a small ship for cruising to Alaska, like UnCruise or Silversea, if those glaciers are high on your must-see list.

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  • Which Alaska Cruise Itinerary is Best?

If you’ve decided to cruise to Alaska, you may be wondering which Alaska cruise itinerary is best? And that’s a great question, but it’s not easy to answer.

The good news is that if you decide to book a cruise to Alaska you will definitely have plenty of opportunities to see magnificent glaciers, spot incredible wildlife, and experience some amazing outdoor adventure no matter what itinerary you choose.

Every Alaska cruise will include stops in vibrant towns and cities with rich histories from their indigenous cultures and their gold rush past, there’s no way you can leave your cruise to Alaska unsatisfied.

What makes the best itinerary for an Alaska Cruise?

Here are some important things to keep in mind when choosing the best Alaska cruise itinerary.

  • The best itinerary for an Alaska cruise allows plenty of time to explore Alaska.
  • Some cruise itineraries have a very short amount of time on shore in each town. And we think the best itinerary is one that maximizes the amount of time that you actually get to spend in Alaska.
  • Look for a Cruise that give you plenty of time to explore when you are off the ship. You came to see Alaska, after all.
  • Cruises that have more time in port are typically a one-way cruise, not a round trip. A one-way Alaska cruise itinerary may stop at more ports of call, and have fewer days of cruising. Which will give you more time to explore Alaska.
  • A one-way cruise will also allow you to add on a land tour before or after your cruise. Once again, this gives you more time to actually explore Alaska.
  • You can book a “cruise tour” operated by one of the big cruise companies like Princess or Holland America, to places like Talkeetna , Denali National Park and Dawson Cit y. You can also book the land portion of your trip independently with a self-drive tour before or after your cruise.

What Alaska Cruise has the best Glaciers & Wildlife?

Alaska’s glaciers and Wildlife is what most visitors to Alaska want to see. The good news is that almost every Alaska cruise itinerary will include glaciers and wildlife.

Marine wildlife such as whales, harbor seals and sea lions may be seen from your cruise ship. You will likely have to take a shore excursion to encounter bears or moose on your cruise.

Almost every cruise in Alaska will visit one, if not all three, of these amazing glaciers; Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier and Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm.

Wildlife on Alaska Cruise

Hubbard Glacier vs Glacier Bay vs Dawes Glacier – Which one is best?

Hubbard Glacier is the largest calving glacier in North America , and one of the few tidewater glaciers in the world that is still advancing. It has been advancing for more than 100 years.

Hubbard Glacier is in Disenchantment Bay, a narrow bay at the end of Yakutat bay. Hubbard Glacier is 75 miles long (125 Km) and 7 miles wide (11 Km). It is so large it stretches from Wrangell St-Elias National Park in Alaska to Kluane National Park in Canada.

Glacier Bay has a number of large tidewater glaciers including Margerie Glacier and Johns Hopkins Glacier. Margerie glacier is 21 miles (34 km) long and 1 mile wide. Glacier Bay was completely full of ice in the 1700s making one giant glacier. But the last several centuries have seen the ice retreat leaving a 65 mile fjord, with many smaller glaciers.

Dawes Glacier is south of Juneau and is part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area. Dawes Glacier is at the end of Endicott Arm and is a very actively calving glacier. If your cruise ship doesn’t cruise by Dawes Glacier, it’s possible to take a day tour in Juneau that visits the Tracy Arm-Ford Terror Wilderness Area.

Discover an Amazing Alaska Itinerary

From 4 nights to 14 nights you’ll find an Incredible Alaska Itinerary!

The Two Best Alaska Cruise Itineraries

Inside passage itinerary.

The Inside Passage Itinerary is the most popular cruise itinerary to Alaska. This itinerary typically includes Alaska’s most visited ports of Ketchikan , Juneau and Skagway . The majority of the Inside Passage Cruises start in Vancouver, but it is possible to find cruises that begin in Seattle and even San Francisco.

Inside Passage Cruise Itineraries are often 1 week and include a couple of days of cruising at the beginning and end of the journey. Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway are all very different ports with their own interesting list of things to do.

It is possible to do a one way Inside Passage Cruise and combine it with a land tour. This combines the relaxation of a 3 or 4 day cruise with the adventure of getting off the ship for a couple of days to explore. We offer a tour through our partnership with Knightly Tours that combines an Inside Passage Cruise with a journey to Dawson City, Yukon . This tour can start in Vancouver and end in Dawson City, or Vice Versa.

There are a number of different length cruise itineraries, and the longer you choose, the more of Alaska you will get to discover. Some of the smaller ports of call include Icy Strait Point, Sitka , Haines and Wrangell and are far less visited, retaining their small town, Alaska charm.

Cruising by glaciers such as, Dawes Glacier, Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier, is almost always part of the cruise itinerary.

Gulf of Alaska Itinerary

The Gulf of Alaska Itinerary typically starts or ends in Seward or Whittier (Anchorage). If you see Anchorage on the Itinerary, the port of call is actually Whittier. A small town on Prince William Sound an hour drive south of Anchorage (or a 2.5 hour train ride on the Alaska Railroad ). Whittier is unique because it is reached via a 2.5 mile tunnel that alternates between cars and train traffic.

Seward is 127 miles south of Anchorage in the Kenai Peninsula, but can also be reached with the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage.

A Gulf of Alaska Itinerary will also include a trip through Alaska’s Inside Passage, however, it may have fewer ports of call at Inside Passage towns unless you book a cruise itinerary of longer than 7 days.

The Gulf of Alaska itinerary is ideal for those looking to explore Alaska before or after their cruise. It’s very easy to add 4 days, 7 days or even 10 days of exploring mainland Alaska either with a cruise tour that is part of your cruise itinerary or independently. 

6 Day Pre Alaska Cruise From Fairbanks to Anchorage

6 Day Post Alaska Cruise From Anchorage to Fairbanks

8 Amazing One Week Alaska Itineraries

33 Luxury Alaskan Lodges, Hotels and Resorts

So which Glacier is best to visit on An Alaska Cruise?

The honest answer is that all of them are incredible. But they also all have their unique features. So it’s up to you to decide what is most interesting to you?

Hubbard is the largest Glacier you can see from a cruise ship, and that in itself is impressive. It’s also rapidly advancing, so that means there is plenty of calving activity, which is a major attraction for many visitors. Seeing a massive, multi storey, chunk of ice break-off and come careening down into the ocean is definitely something you’ll remember from your Alaska vacation.

Hubbard Glacier has another impressive feature…It’s backdrop of the Wrangell St-Elias National Park & Kluane National Park in Canada. From the water you can see 5 of the 10 highest peaks in North America , including Mt. Logan (Canada’s Highest Mountain, and second only to Denali in North America).

Glacier Bay’s main advantage is that visitors will not just see one amazing glacier, but many. There are 8 major glaciers in Glacier Bay that still reach the water but over 1000 total glaciers in the National Park. Many of these glaciers have receded into the mountains (known as hanging glaciers) so there is less chance of seeing glacier calving activity, but it’s certainly still possible. Glacier Bay is also a great place to see marine wildlife and pass by floating icebergs.

Dawes Glacier is at the end Endicott Arm and is everything you think of when picturing a massive Alaskan glacier. Dawes Glacier is also famous for it’s very active calving, making it a very exciting glacier to visit.

What makes the visit to Dawes Glacier unique is the journey down the 30 mile Endicott Arm , which is has both beautiful natural scenery and a great chance to see wildlife both in the water and along the shores. Endicott Arm is a breeding site for harbor seals , making it very likely you will encounter them on your cruise. There are also steep granite walls and beautiful cascading waterfalls.

Hubbard Glacier at Sunset on Alaska Cruise Itinerary

What Alaska Cruise Itinerary Would I Choose?

Look, I don’t think you can make a wrong decision in coming to Alaska by cruise or by road. It’s such an incredible state, that the only wrong choice is to not come at all.

But if forced to choose an Alaska Cruise Itinerary , here is what I would choose…

Vancouver to Seward with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point.

There I said it. Now is this the most original itinerary ever? No. But it’s absolutely going to give most visitors to Alaska a wonderful taste of this great state. It also allows for adding a weeklong land tour before or after your cruise . And I would certainly do that.

If I only had a week and was OK with a shorter cruise, I would consider our Inside Passage and Dawson City combo. This cruisetour meets my requirements for plenty of time off the ship and seeing the sights. And few places in the north have as much history to share as Dawson City .

Northbound Inside Passage Cruise with Dawson City

Dawson City with Southbound Inside Passage Cruise (includes Glacier Bay)

Best Alaska Cruise Ports

If I had to pick the three best Alaska cruise ports, it would be Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau. Yes, they are the most popular, but there is a reason for that. They all offer a different atmosphere and unique list of things to do. Each town also has an incredible history to share.

For raw beauty, Juneau is hard to beat. With its scenic waterways, lush rain forests, its high mountain lakes and the 1,500 square-mile Juneau ice fields.

Juneau isn’t just for sightseers alone, there is a vast array of things to do here. Including; excellent gift shops, theatres, restaurants and bars, including the famous Red Dog Saloon.

Red Dog Saloon in Juneau Alaska

Juneau is also famous for Mendenhall Glacier , an easy to access glacier that sprawls between mountains for before showing its ice face across Mendenhall Lake. There is also the Goldbelt Tram , an aerial tramway that takes visitors to the 1800 ft level of Mount Roberts. There is a restaurant, gift shop, theatre and hiking trails at the top. Juneau is also close to many nearby attractions, including Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve .

Skagway Alaska

Skagway is the northernmost point in Alaska’s Inside Passage, at the far end of Lynn Canal. It 1898 It was the gateway to the Klondike gold fields. Streets once filled with gold-crazed stampeders are now just as busy with thousands of visitors arriving by cruise ship every day!

Skagway is where you will find one of Alaska’s most popular attractions, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad , known as the “Scenic Railway of the World. This is more than a train, it is a ride through history.

Skagway is also the home of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park , which commemorates the gold rush stampeders of the Klondike by preserving the historic buildings and trails of the Gold Rush era. We also include Skagway in our ultimate RV route to Alaska .

Ketchikan is often the first city visited in Alaska by Cruise Ship when heading up the Inside Passage from Vancouver. This small town really comes to life in the summer with the influx of cruise visitors.

Ketchikan is unique in that it’s original streets were boardwalks built right over the water. Misty Fjords National Monument to the east of Ketchikan is a beautiful natural landscape with soaring 3000 ft cliffs that can be viewed by boat tour or float plane. Ketchikan is famous for having the world’s largest collection of totem poles.

alaska cruise best stops

Haines is situated at the upper end of the Inside Passage in North America’s longest and deepest fjord. It is only 14 miles south of Skagway, but there is no road between the towns, so ferry’s must be used to commute between the two. Haines is in the Chilkat Valley and is home to one of the highest concentrations of Bald Eagles in the world. Tours on the Chilkoot River offer amazing opportunities to view both bears. Including brown and black bears and the elusive spirit bear.

Haines is one of the few Inside Passage towns that is reachable by road. The 159-mile Haines Highway connects to the Alaska Highway 100 miles north of Whitehorse at Haines Junction .

Seward is a charming coastal town in the Kenai Peninsula, 127 miles south of Anchorage. It is one of Alaska’s most scenic towns. Seward is the “Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park”, which is typically explored on one of the world-class boat tours that tour the stunning scenery and abundant wildlife of the National Park. As the first or last port of call for many cruise passengers, it’s recommended to add a day or two of activities in this beautiful town.

Nearby Exit Glacier is part the only part of the Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by road.

Seward Alaska

Sitka is one of Alaska’s most historic towns. It was the headquarters for the Russian-American Company which colonized and exploited their new found possession of Alaska.

Sitka was then the site of the historic transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867. It then became Alaska’s first capital and remained so, until 1906 when it was moved to Juneau.

Sitka has a beautiful landscape on the  west side of Baranof Island. Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano that looks like Japan’s Mr. Fujiyama, dominates the horizon.

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point is a unique Alaskan cruise destination. It is on Chichagoff Island, 1 mile from the native village of Hoonah and near Glacier Bay National Park. Icy Strait Point is owned and operated by the Huna Totem Corporation, the only privately owned cruise ship port in Alaska.

Because the area was built solely to cater to cruise passengers, there are a number of activities amazing activities including bear viewing, flightseeing over Glacier Bay National Park, exploring the native village of Hoonah, or riding the incredible Zip Rider, one of the largest zip lines in the world.

Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert is in British Columbia Canada, but many cruises stop here on the way to Alaska. It is mostly visited by smaller cruise ships, but there is still the occasional large ship (1500+ passengers) that stops at Prince Rupert. It is one of the deepest, natural ice-free harbors in the world.

Prince Rupert has a commercial port that sees as much activity as the Vancouver port. Because it is a Rail terminus, many of the goods that enter Canada from Asia arrive in Prince Rupert.

The indigenous community has flourished in this area for 10,000 years and have a proud and strong history to share with visitors.

What is the best Cruise line to Alaska?

It’s probably impossible to say what the best cruise line to Alaska is, as everyone will have a different definition. Some may choose the most luxurious cruise line, while others the most affordable. Many people want to cruise on the giant ships with 3000 passengers because they have the most onboard entertainment, while others search out small intimate ships with less than 500 people that can visit smaller ports.

So there is no definitive answer on what is the “Best Cruise Line to Alaska.” But here are a some of the major cruise lines that provide Alaska Itineraries.

Large Cruise Lines to Alaska

  • Princess Cruises – Princess is one of the oldest cruise lines serving Alaska and not only do they have a full line of cruise itinerary options, they also own five lodges in mainland Alaska. They can provide any type of Alaska cruise or land tour you are looking for.
  • Holland America – Has been operating in Alaska for decades and brings a level of expertise that is unmatched. They are able to offer seamless Alaska Itineraries from the Inside Passage to Denali National Park.
  • Royal Caribbean – is the second largest cruise line company in the world (second to Carnival Corporation) and is one of the major players in the Alaska cruise industry. They offer top notch ships for their Alaska Cruises.

Small Cruise Lines to Alaska

  • UnCruise – For 25 years they have been providing small ship cruises to Alaska for those looking for a different type of adventure.
  • Seabourn Cruises – Combine small ships and luxury and you have Seabourn Cruises.
  • Windstar – Some of the most unique small ships that sail anywhere. Windstar Cruises is high-end cruising at it’s best.

FAQs – Alaska Cruise Frequently Asked Questions

Can i take a cruise from anchorage.

No, cruises don’t leave from Anchorage. However, many cruise itineraries will list Anchorage as the starting point or ending point. Those cruises will actually use the port of Whittier and then either bus or train passengers to or from Anchorage. Whittier is 1 hour south of Anchorage by road and 2.5 hours by train.

Which Alaska Cruise Itinerary has the best scenery?

The Inside Passage is a stunningly beautiful area to cruise through. The good news is that almost all cruises to or from Alaska will cruises through the Inside Passage at some point. Even cruises that cross the Gulf of Alaska will take the Inside Passage to reach Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco.

Which Alaska cruise is best to combine with a land tour?

Gulf of Alaska Cruise are better to combine with a land tour of Alaska. This is because these cruises depart/end in Seward or Whittier (Anchorage) and they are closer to Alaska’s biggest mainlaind attractions: The Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park

When is the best time to Cruise to Alaska?

Let’s be honest, if you have the opportunity to take a cruise to Alaska, you should. There is a reason it is such a popular cruising destination. However, if you have the luxury of choosing when you can go, I would recommend late May or early June.

The weather in Alaska tends to be better (less rain and more sun) but it’s also beautiful because the mountains are still draped in snow, providing a even more spectacular backdrop. The temperatures will probably be lower than in July, but not by a lot. Click here to learn more about the best time to go to Alaska.

It is possible to see the Northern Lights from a cruise in late April or early September. It’s not likely, but it is possible. Fall starts early this far north and as the days get shorter, there may be enough darkness to see the dancing aurora borealis. But don’t get your heart set on it. If you really want to see the Northern Lights, you should head further north in winter. Find out more about the northern lights here.

Can I see Denali from a cruise?

Yes and No. you won’t see Denali from your cruise ship, but you can book a tour with your cruise line that will take you to Denali National Park. Whittier is the closest cruise ship port to Denali National Park, and you can take the Alaska Railroad from Whittier to Denali National Park. It’s a long train journey and most train itineraries will have you stop for a night in Talkeetna before continuing on to Denali.

So yes, you can arrange to see Denali from your cruise, but you will need to book a Gulf of Alaska cruise that starts or ends in Whittier or Seward.

To see pre and post cruise tour options visit our Tours Page

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Best Alaska Cruise Ports - A Full Guide For Discerning Travelers

Best Alaska Cruise Ports

When you’re booking the Alaskan cruise of your dreams, it’s important to look for the best Alaska cruise ports. With so many cruise ships in the area, there are many options. You’ll want to focus on the itinerary that offers the best shore excursions and sights for the kind of adventure you wish to have.

With plenty of Alaska cruise stops, there’s no reason why you can’t get the ultimate experience. Exploring more about the best cruise ports in Alaska will ensure that you’re informed every step of the way.

A tour we think you'll love

alaska cruise best stops

Icy Strait Point – A Must-Stop Destination For Adventure Seekers

At the height of the Alaska cruise season, you’ll find that a cruise line will anchor offshore of Icy Strait Point, which may also be referenced as Hoonah, Alaska. From there, you can tender directly into Ice Strait Point in order to explore some of the best of what Alaska has to offer.

With the tours offered by Icy Strait Point Excursions , you can:

Take a wilderness tour and brown bear search

Enjoy whale watching

Embark on a fishing adventure

Kayak the waters of Port Frederick

If you want to go off the beaten path, this is one of the best cruise ports to look for.

Kayak Trip In Alaska

Discover The Hidden Gems Of Ketchikan, Alaska

When you’re talking about Alaskan dream cruises, Ketchikan is a must-stop because of how unique it is. The town is also fully equipped for tourism, featuring four large docks for massive cruise ships to pull up to.

There are Native American totem poles throughout the city, which is what many of the shore excursions focus on.

You can walk most of the city, and there are plenty of shops to wander in and out of. Top shopping in this port includes jewelry, totem-related souvenirs, and salmon.

Ketchican, Alaska Cruise Port

Explore The Unforgettable Charm Of Juneau, Alaska

Juneau is one of the more popular Alaska cruise ports because it doesn’t require a tender. It also has a beautiful location on the Gulf of Alaska and offers close proximity to Glacier Bay.

You can choose to embrace the culture or go on an adventure while you’re in this city. Some of the top adventures include:

Glacier Gardens Rainforest

Mendenhall Glacier

Whale watching on Glacier Bay

You can also choose to wander through the city, take a tour (and taste) of the Alaska Brewing Company, and do some shipping.

Juneau, Alaska

Experience The Majestic Beauty Of Skagway, Alaska

One of the best Alaska cruise ports is Skagway, and virtually all of the cruises will take you here. It’s got a dock, so you won’t have to worry about a tender.

This city is rich in the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. You’ll find various saloons, a vintage locomotive museum, and more to explore.

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this city is the ability to take the White Pass railroad and cross over the Yukon Suspension Bridge. While this is an all-day excursion to go there and back, it’s well worth it for the panoramic views.

Skagway Alaska Cruise Port

Whittier, Alaska – Eventful Memories In A Hidden Gem

Whittier is featured as one of the top Alaska cruise ports for a few reasons. First, it’s less than two hours away from Anchorage. Second, it’s a popular place for a cruise line to either embark or disembark from.

Here, you’ll find a lot of outdoor adventures to immerse yourself in, such as hiking and kayaking. You may also want to explore some of the historic sites, such as:

Prince William Sound Museum

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

There are also various boat tours that offer you another perspective of Whittier.

Whittier, Alaska - Portage Glacier

Seward, Alaska – A Must-Visit Destination

Seward is a popular area because it is in the Gulf of Alaska. This is a place where you’ll dock. You’ll find a number of fjords in the area, and there are plenty of boat tours that will help you get close to them. You can also opt to take a helicopter or seaplane over them.

This is a popular town for fishing. Common fish you’ll catch include Chinook salmon, Halibut, Rainbow trout, Northern Pike, and Pacific Ocean perch.

Seward, Alaska

Experience The Untouched Beauty Of Sitka, Alaska

Sitka continues to be a popular place for a cruise to Alaska to include. Depending on the size of the cruise ship, it will either tender or pull right up to a dock. There are quite a few things to do in this city, including:

Alaska Raptor Center

Sitka National Historical Park

Baranof Castle State Historic Park

While you can choose a shore excursion here, it’s also notable for being easy to walk around. That allows you to explore the town on your own. Consider tasting some of the halibut or chowder. You’ll also find quite a bit of street food around town.

Sitka, Alaska

Looking At Alaska Cruise Stops

When you are exploring an Alaskan cruise, it pays to look at the Alaska cruise itineraries in detail to see where the stops are along the way. With so many cruise lines, you’ll find options that vary significantly in terms of cruise length, embarkation city, and more.

Cruise Length

Most of the cruise lines offer 7, 10, and 14-day itineraries for you to choose from. Some will also allow you to extend before or after to take a tour that is more extensive, such as the Princess ones that offer a land tour by train with their lodges.

Alaska Cruise Line

Embarkation City

Many cruise ships will leave out of Seattle or Vancouver. This is a matter of preference based on where you want to leave out of. Americans will typically find airfare into Seattle more affordable than Vancouver.

Alaska Cruise Lines From Seattle Or Vancouver

Size Of The Cruise Ship

Princess, Holland America, Norwegian, and other cruise lines will help you explore the best Alaska cruise ports. Pay attention to the size of the ship, as they may or may not be able to cruise into Glacier Bay National Park. Some of the bigger ships also have more things to do and more restaurants offered, which can enhance your overall ship experience.

Cruise Ship - Royal Princess

Alaska Cruise Ports

Consider which ports are most important to you. Some will give you the option of Whittier or Seward but not both. Additionally, along the Inside Passage of Alaska, the cruise will offer scenic cruising to certain areas, such as Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm.

Alaska Cruise Port

Time Of Year

The Alaska cruises are typically offered from May through September. While July and August are the busiest months to go, one of the best times to go is in May when it hasn’t gotten too hot. It’s when you’re likely to see more wildlife.

Alaska Cruise Season Runs From May Through September

Discover The Unforgettable Charm Of Icy Strait Point

When you’re on Alaska cruises, you don’t simply want to venture off on your own within the ports of call. Instead, you want to immerse yourself in the history and culture of the area.

Icy Strait Point, Alaska, is an amazing place to visit, and at Icy Strait Point Excursions, we’ll show you how you can do more than take a tour. We’re a family-run tour company that can help you spot brown bears, see whales in their natural habitat, and so much more.

Start exploring the adventurous tours we have to offer. With our help, you’re sure to have the best Alaska cruise itinerary possible!

Whale Watching At Icy Strait Point Alaska

Wilderness Tour and Brown Bear Search

This Alaskan wilderness and bear search tour is offered on Chichagof Island, a one-of-a-kind location with the highest population of bears per square mile of any place on Earth. Depending on the season, catch the bears coming out of hibernation and looking for food; or later on in the season when the bears are mating and eating grasses on the tidal flats. Older males fight each other for dominance and mating rights with the females, who at times are not receptive and force the male to give chase. This is truly an experience for the books, and cameras.

alaska cruise best stops

Guaranteed Whale Watching Tours in Icy Straits

Join us for the best show in town, a 3-hour whale watching excursion (includes transportation time and approx 2.5 hours on the water) which begins when you board the bus that departs from the Icy Strait Point Excursion Hub, just a short 5-minute walk from your cruise ship. Travel just 1.5 miles through the picturesque landscape of Hoonah, Alaska. On arrival at the Hoonah Harbor, it's “All aboard!” and you’re off for the waters of Icy Straits and the ultimate whale watching experience. The area near Icy Strait Point, with its proximity to Point Adolphus and Glacier Bay, is home to one of the largest summer populations of humpback whales found in Alaska and the whale watching is second to none.

alaska cruise best stops

Saltwater Fishing Adventure

Join local maritime hero Captain Billy, a locally raised Tlingit of Hoonah, Alaska on this unforgettable fishing adventure. His knowledge of area waters is unsurpassed and his desire to share it with you is second to none! Southeast Alaska and Icy Strait in particular, is home to some of the best halibut and salmon fishing around. The biggest halibut on record was caught inside Icy Strait! Hoonah is just a stones throw from Icy Strait so no time is wasted getting to the fishing grounds and the hooks down!

alaska cruise best stops

Kayak Adventure

Your Kayak experience will take you into the peaceful waters of Port Frederick. Enjoy the serenity that can only be had while quietly gliding across the waters near Icy Strait Point enjoying the beautiful Alaskan scenery. Wildlife such as; eagles, seals, sea lions, Sitka black tail deer, whales, and even a bear on the beach are possible sightings. Take a journey into this serene kayak adventure on Icy Strait for an unforgettable experience!

alaska cruise best stops

Whales, Wildlife & Drones

This whale watching tour is personalized, as it takes out a maximum of 14 guests at a time. This allows for a great crew to guest ratio, ensuring your experience is personal. The areas we search near in Hoonah near Icy Strait Point and Point Adolphus are known Humpback whale feeding grounds. Josh has captained in this area for many years and knows the area well! He know how to find the whales! Add in the communication he has with other captains on the other boats, and it's a perfect whale finding system!

What really makes this tour unique is the Drone imagery. Drones are able to see below the water surface and broadcast live video back to the boat. View pods of orcas effortlessly gliding under the waves, on rare occasions, see humpback calfs playing with their mothers, on rare occasions, the amazing phenomenon of "bubble-net" feeding by groups of humpbacks is seen. Your personal view of the whales is not repaced with drones; just supplemented! You will experience seeing and hearing these amazing animals with your own eyes and ears, and then we take you to the next level with our displays onboard.

alaska cruise best stops

Freshwater Stream Fishing

Professionally guided stream fishing excursions on the hidden edge waters of Chichagof, Island.

Icy Strait Birding & Nature Experience

Come experience the birds and nature of Chichagof Island, near Icy Strait Point! Every trip is an adventure in this lush rainforest where Brown Bears outnumber humans. While we love delivering stunning target birds like Varied Thrushes, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Bald Eagles, and Steller’s Jays, we aren’t just about birds on this tour. You will be led by an expert birder and naturalist who will set the stage by sharing the human and geological history of the area. You will then get to see how the birds, fish, mammals, plants, forests, rivers, and climate all weave together to create this lush, vibrant ecosystem!

Forever Karen

Which Alaska Itinerary Is Best: Planning The Perfect Cruise

Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Planning an Alaskan cruise can be challenging. Who should you sail with, which ports to visit and which Alaska cruise itinerary is best? In this guide to cruising Alaska , I’ll compare the itineraries so you can find the one that works for you.

That decision depends on many factors, like if you’re cruising with children, whether you’re prone to motion sickness, the length of your journey, and whether you prefer small ships or larger vessels.

No matter which Alaska itinerary you choose, the voyage will captivate you with its rustic towns, beautiful national parks, and indigenous cultures.

Cruises to Alaska sail from late April to early October, with July and August being the prime months. With so few weeks to sail, you should book early, so you research ports of call and decide on shore excursions.

In contrast to a Caribbean cruise, an Alaska cruise can experience vastly different weather.

Choosing The Best Alaska Cruise Itinerary For You

Here are some factors to consider when deciding on an Alaskan cruise.

  • How much time do you have? Most cruises are seven days, but you can see more on a longer itinerary. If you’re on a budget, there are cruises under seven days, but they don’t generally visit a glacier.
  • Some cruises don’t visit a glacier or fjord. If that’s important to you, find one that goes to Glacier Bay National Park, Hubbard Glacier, or one of the fjords.
  • Do you have a preferred debarkation port? Many Americans prefer to fly to Seattle because it’s a domestic flight.
  • Do you want to see Denali? If so, you’ll need to book a cruise tour.

Denali National Park, often included on a cruise and land tour

  • If you prefer big ships, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line’s mega-ships only sail from Seattle , Washington.
  • Is it essential to cruise with fewer children? If so, choose a cruise line that caters to adults. Alternatively, select a sailing in the off-season when the kids are in school.
  • Do you suffer from motion sickness?
  • Do you want a roundtrip itinerary or prefer a one-way, which cruises further north?

Inside Passage Alaska Cruises For Motion Sickness

If you suffer from motion sickness, picking an Alaska cruise can be tricky. Ideally, you’ll want to select one that sails the inside passage.

Disney Wonder in Vancouver

Most inside passage cruises depart from Vancouver, British Columbia, but you may find a few sailings from Seattle, Washington.

Those residing in California might want to fly to a northern embarkation port than take a roundtrip itinerary from San Francisco.

Since cruising the Pacific Coastal often experiences rough seas, a shortened cruise from Seattle or Vancouver is preferable to one from the southern United States. However, you’ll have to add an airline ticket.

Once you’ve chosen a sailing, select a mid-ship stateroom on one of the lower decks. Newer ships may experience less motion than older vessels. Travel with motion sickness patches and Bonine tablets.

Motion sickness patches

Since cruise lines build new vessels with the latest technology, their stabilizers can minimize the motion of rougher waters.

Not only do inside passage cruises offer smoother sailings, but they are more picturesque too. 

Since you sail between Vancouver Island and the mainland, you’ll enjoy views of smaller islands and lush rainforests.

Best Cruise Itineraries To See Alaska Glaciers

Glacier Bay Vs. Hubbard Glacier , that question gets asked again and again. There’s no right or wrong answer here. It really depends on the experience you’re looking for.

Glacier Bay National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, and for a good reason. The national park exudes a natural beauty that’s hard to describe.

Cruising in Glacier Bay

An itinerary to Glacier Bay includes multiple glaciers such as John Hopkins, Margerie, Lamplugh, and Grand Pacific. 

Your captain will decide which glaciers to approach, and that decision may be dependent on weather, ice, and time.

Select cruise lines such as Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Cunard have a naturalist onboard. Throughout the trip, they will give lectures on the glaciers, flora, fauna, and Alaska ports.

If you want a naturalist, make sure you book with a line that provides one.

Only two large cruise ships a day can enter the park and must be accompanied by a park ranger. The scenic cruising lasts hours and often includes a commentary on the landscape, wildlife, and history. 

Princess Cruises, Holland America, and other selected lines offer these coveted itineraries. In contrast, a  cruise to Hubbard  in Disenchantment Bay allows you to see North America’s largest calving glacier.

Close up of Hubbard Glacier in May, during an Alaska cruise

How immense is Hubbard Glacier? It’s seven miles wide and won’t fit in a photograph.

Unlike most North American glaciers, it’s advancing, providing the best calving action. Its colossal face drops apartment-sized icebergs into the bay, creating small tidal waves.

As the ice breaks off the terminus, the wall reveals stunning blue and aqua shades.

Is The Fjord Experience A Better Option?

Cruising through a fjord is quite different. The narrow passage has steep granite walls, often filled with mist and shadowed sunlight. 

Those granite cliffs adorned with moss boast cascading waterfalls as high as 1,000 feet. If you prefer to cruise a fjord, College, Tracy Arm, and Endicott are your choices. 

The moss-filled cliffs of Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska

While College Fjord offers multiple glaciers named after famous colleges, it’s only available on a one-way itinerary to the Gulf of Alaska.

Both Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm are further south and included in itineraries from Vancouver, Seattle, and California.  Tracy Arm Fjord  contains two glaciers at the end of the 48 km fjord.

Larger cruise ships only have access to South Sawyer Glacier, as North Sawyer or Sawyer Glacier has retreated, making the passage too narrow.

In late April and early May, ice often blocked the passage of cruise ships. So, if you’re planning an Alaska cruise in the month of May , choose a sailing at the end of the month.

Adjacent to Tracy Arm, Endicott Arm provided a straightened route to Dawes Glacier. Like Tracy Arm, it can have ice early in the season.

Radiance of the Seas cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Vessels that cruise to Tracy Arm or Endicott Arm usually do so on the day they dock in Juneau. 

Since the city and fjords are part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area, it makes sense to visit both on the same day. 

However, you’ll have a shortened stop in Juneau by including both on the same day. 

One-way itineraries and very selected cruises include TWO days of cruising to a glacier(s). It may take some searching to find them on a 7-day cruise.

Return Or One-Way, Which Itinerary Is Best?

If you reside in Seattle or Vancouver, you may lean toward a roundtrip cruise itinerary which requires no airfare. Although, a return Alaska cruise can only sail so far before returning to its embarkation port.

Cruises that go one-way, or Gulf of Alaska cruises, sail further north but require a flight to get home. These one-way cruises may include College Fjord, Valdez, Kodiak Island, and either Seward or Whittier.

Cruising through College Fjord

If you want to sail further but don’t want to fly, a 14-day back-to-back cruise allows you to see College Fjord, Prince William Sound, and spend a day in Anchorage before making the return journey.

But, most of these Alaska itineraries repeat the same cruise ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Repositioning cruises that sail between Vancouver and Asia follow the Gulf of Alaska route and provide stops in Alaska, Japan, and other Asian nations.

Should you choose a one-way itinerary, it’s best to add on a land tour.

What Are My Options For Land Tours?

While many cruise lines offer cruise and land tours, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises do it best.

Holland recently celebrated 75 years of sailing to Alaska, while Princess has offered itineraries since the 1960s.

Princess has five wilderness lodges; Copper River, Mount McKinley, Denali, Fairbanks Riverside, and Kenai Wilderness Lodge.

Traveling to a Denali lodge on a domed railcar

Their domed railcars provide a ship-to-lodge transfer with unobstructed views of the pristine landscape.

Holland America, like Princess, has a domed luxury train called the McKinley Explorer. It takes guests to the McKinley Chalet Resort, a gateway to Denali National Park.

The park encompasses six million acres of wilderness, home to unique Alaskan wildlife. If you want an Alaska itinerary with a chance to see wildlife, you must visit Denali.

Cruise and land tours start at 9 days and go up to 18 days, with an option to begin or end in Fairbanks or Anchorage.

The longer itineraries visit more places such as Kenai, Talkeetna, Alyeska (Girdwood), Copper River, Whitehorse (Yukon), and Dawson City (Yukon).

Selected itineraries combine the Canadian Rockies with an Alaska cruise. These packages include luxury accommodations at the Fairmont Hotels in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada

After visiting first-class destinations such as Moraine Lake and the Columbia Icefields, you board the Rocky Mountaineer Train for an unbelievable rail journey to join your cruise ship in Vancouver.

This itinerary checks off many bucket list places from Anchorage to Lake Louise, Alberta.

Do Smaller Ships Have Better Itineraries?

Cruising on a small ship has advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s best to decide what works for you. Small vessels can dock in towns not accessible by larger ships.

The Seabourn Odyssey in Vancouver

Luxury cruise lines like Seabourn, Viking, or Windstar Cruises often offer these itineraries. Pricing may be a significant factor in choosing itineraries with these cruise lines.

If you opt to go on a small vessel, you’ll benefit from a longer itinerary with more unusual ports of call.

On an extended journey, you could visit Valdez, Prince Rupert, Kodiak Island, Wrangell, Petersburg, Point Adolphus, or Kenai.

These itineraries provide an intimate experience and may include shore excursions that travel into more remote wilderness areas.

In contrast, mega-ships like the Norwegian Bliss and RCI’s Ovation of the Seas are about the onboard experience, not the itinerary. If you’re looking for the best cruise line to Alaska and traveling with kids, the ship may be more critical than the itinerary.

A cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park, a couple of sled dogs and St. Michael's Cathedral in Sitka

Best Alaska Cruise Itineraries For Port Days

When reviewing the port days, most vessels stop at Juneau (the capital), Ketchikan, and Skagway. Should you choose a cruise longer than seven days, there will be more stops.

Most seven days itineraries have three port days, although a few have four. Quantity isn’t necessarily better. The best cruise itineraries provide the longest hours in Alaskan ports.

So, if you opt for more ports, you could end up with port spots of just four or five hours.

Should you book a Norwegian ship, your vessel with dock in Ward Cove, outside Ketchikan. You will need a shuttle to reach downtown, which cuts into your port day.

Let’s examine the most common ports and see which ones appeal to you.

Juneau, The Capital

Being the capital city, Juneau offers the greatest selection of tours and excursions. If you haven’t had your fill of glaciers, hop on a  shuttle to see Mendenhall Glacier, part of the Juneau Icefields.

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

If the salmon are running, black bears often stroll Steep Creek in search of a tasty meal.

Operators often package Mendenhall with a whale-watching tour. In May, humpback whales migrate to Alaska to feed, and tours will guarantee sightings.

For those without a budget,  dog sledding on an icefield and flightseeing by helicopter are top shore excursions. 

Book early because these bucket list adventures sell out more than six months in advance.

Two sled dogs on an Juneau sled dog tour

In town, you’ll want to stop by the Red Dog Saloon, which has the iconic saloon doors. Its most famous drink on the menu is a “duck fart.”

If you’re hungry, head over to Tracy’s Crab Shack, where the lineup is long, and the prices are high. But you’re in Alaska, so you have to eat King crab!

As the salmon capital of the world, anglers can test their skills at catching fish in Ketchikan Creek. Ketchikan has an interesting history revealed at Dolly’s House Museum on Creek Street.

Built on stilts, Ketchikan’s Creek Street provides a lovely stroll on a warm day. Its shops and boutique are one-of-a-kind and not the same chains found in other cruise destinations.

Be warned because Ketchikan is one of the rainiest cities in North America, with an average rainfall of over 141 inches! 

Creek Street on a wet day

So, pack a waterproof jacket (even in summer) because the sunshine may come in liquid form.

The top tour picks in Ketchikan go to the Misty Fjords floatplane excursion and the  crab tour on the Aleutian Ballad.

Typical to fjords, the Misty Fjords National Monument contains steep cliffs surrounded by the lush Tongass Rainforest.

Alternatively, the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour allows you to ride on a vessel featured in the “Deadliest Catch” TV series.

Sitting at the end of Lynn Canal, Skagway offers a fascinating history of the Klondike Gold Rush. Much of the tours center around the Gold Rush and what it took to build the Yukon railroad.

The  White Pass narrow-gauge railway , Skagway Float Tour, and Gold Rush Salmon Bake all focus on the get-rich prospectors who traveled north searching for gold.

Traveling over a wooden trestle on the White Pass & Yukon Route train

Families might enjoy panning for gold, visiting the dog musher’s camp, or taking to the trees on a zip-lining excursion. 

If you prefer to forego a shore excursion, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and local museums document the history of the Gold Rush.

Like Skagway, Sitka is another town with a great history. When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the transfer occurred at Sitka (the capital of Alaska at that time). At Castle Hill, you can see where the American flag was raised for the first time.

St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka

Sitka is home to St. Michael’s Cathedral, the first Orthodox Catholic Church in North America. While it may seem ordinary on the outside, the inside contains some extraordinary religious artwork.

So, if you want to see wildlife, Sitka is the better choice. The  Fortress of the Bear refuge rescues orphaned bears, and the Alaska Raptor Center houses injured birds of prey and returns them to the wild when possible.

Sitka is also home to a large population of otters. Once almost hunted to extinction, the protected species has grown in numbers, and you can enjoy them on an otter tour.

Icy Strait Point

Located on Chichagof Island, Icy Strait Point is the ideal stop for those who love nature. Unlike the other ports, there is no real town here. Hoonah, a native village, is a mile away.

While the Huna Totem Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line are still developing Icy Strait, this port best suits those willing to pay for excursions. Wheelchair users won’t find this port very accessible.

The ZipRider in Icy Strait Point

While Icy Strait Point offers many things to do, the tours are unique. For thrill-seekers, Icy Strait features one of the largest ZipRiders globally. 

Alternatively, it’s one of the best places to go whale watching because of its location close to Glacier Bay National Park.

Best Itineraries To See Alaska Wildlife

Alaska cruises don’t offer any guarantees of seeing wildlife. While whales are prolific during the Alaska cruise season, you’ll want to keep your binoculars handy to look for them.

Cruise ships sail in the deepest waters, and whales feed close to land. Viewing from a large vessel is different from taking a smaller boat tour.

So, regarding wildlife, consider selecting an itinerary with these towns to increase your odds of spotting big game.

Whales –  Juneau and Icy Strait Point offer the best places to see whales on a tour. You may see harbor seals, sea lions, and eagles too.

Harbor Seals  – Tracy Arm Fjord in late May/early June or Hubbard Glacier.

Bald Eagles  – The Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour in Ketchikan (you’ll enjoy them in a natural setting) or the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka.

Bald eagle seen on the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour in Ketchikan

Caribou  – Denali National Park.

Bears  – Steep Creek at Mendenhall Glacier when the salmon are running, a bear-watching tour on Chichagof Island, an excursion to Katmai National Park, and the Fortress of the Bear in Sitka. 

Also, keep the binoculars handy in Glacier Bay as bears often scour the shoreline for food.

You don’t usually see bears early in the season. They tend to stay in the higher areas when they come out of hibernation. Later in the summer, they move to lower ground to feed.

Sea Otters  – An otter tour in Sitka offers the best chance to see these playful creatures.

When’s The Best Time To See The Northern Lights?

If seeing the northern lights is on your bucket list, it’s essential to know that if you travel during the optimum time, there’s no guarantee to see them.

The Aurora Borealis is unpredictable, but here’s what you can do to increase your chances of observing it.

Book an itinerary late in the season, like late September and October, and add on a land tour. If land tours aren’t available, consider planning your own land itinerary.

On land, travel inland to Denali, Fairbanks, or an area away from light pollution. Then, check the Aurora Borealis forecast online to see the best chance for viewing.

Choosing the best Alaska cruise itinerary and cruise line comes down to personal choice. What’s right for one person may be different from the correct one for you.

Some may prefer a longer cruise on an expedition vessel like UnCruise or National Geographic. You may be limited in time and need a smoother route.

Don’t overthink it; go with what feels right. Once you arrive in Alaska, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to visit.

A cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

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alaska cruise best stops

10 Best Places To Visit In Alaska

See Holland America Line's ten picks for places to visit in Alaska and best Alaska cruise stops. Get to know the Great Land and book Alaska cruises.

Everyone wants to know the best places to visit in Alaska, but there’s no best answer. Alaska is a vast wilderness that’s steeped in history and dotted with rustic outposts. It’s an incredible place, a true bucket-list destination from the shimmering glaciers to Denali, the Great One. It all depends on what you want to see.

Here are some of our favorite Alaska cruise stops and sights, in no particular order from our nearly 75 years of experience in the Great Land. If you’re already convinced, learn more about our Alaska cruises.

Visiting Alaska’s Best Cruise Stops

1. glacier bay national park & preserve.

Out of all the Alaska cruise stops, Glacier Bay is unbeatable. There are glaciers, fjords, streams, rivers, and animals enjoying it all. Holland America Line is an authorized concessioner of Glacier Bay and has more options for cruising Glacier Bay than any other cruise line. We have won  Best in Alaska Awards from Cruise Critic, TravelAge West, AFAR Traveler's choice and many more  because we know the region so well and our ships are perfectly sized for a more personal experience.

Park Rangers board the ship to give insights. John Hopkins and the lengthy Margerie Glacier name some of many sights within this natural wonderland. Find Glacier Bay cruises.

Juneau is unbelievably scenic, snuggled between pristine waters and snow-capped peaks. Home to 30,000 residents, Juneau makes the list of best places to visit in Alaska because it is quite unusual for a state capital. It’s only accessible by airplane and boats, has its very own 85-mile-long icefield, outdoor activities galore, and it’s teeming with wildlife. How many state capitals can say that? Plus, it is a fantastic base for exploring Southeast Alaska and holds a lot of history and Tlingit cultural influence. Experience Holland America’s  "Best of Juneau" Shore Excursion  to decide for yourself.

3. Denali National Park

No best places in Alaska list would be complete without a mention of the Great One, the shining jewel of Alaska’s interior. Haloed in clouds and covered in thick ice, Denali is the continent’s highest peak and a breathtaking sight, especially when it is pink with Alpenglow. But this sometimes-shy mountain isn’t the only reason to visit  Denali National Park —there are miles of pristine rivers and tundra, plus caribou, moose, grizzlies, and wolves at its base.

Check out  Alaska Land+Sea Journey cruise tours to Denali  to explore this best Alaska cruise stop.

4. Ketchikan

Ketchikan is stilted on the banks of the Tongass Narrows and nicknamed Alaska’s "First City" because it’s often the first cruise stop to explore before the scenic Inside Passage. A mere three miles long and only three blocks wide, a bustling waterfront, hiking trails spidering into the forest, and incredible fishing make  Ketchikan  one of the best Alaska cruise stops.

Onion-domed cathedrals as vestiges from Russian influence and views of Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano make  Sitka  one of the best places to visit in Alaska. Situated on Baranof Island, Sitka is surrounded by Alaska’s lush forests and crystal waters. But as the former capital of Russian America and home of the Tlingit people, Sitka is one of the best cruise stops in Alaska to get to know the state’s history.

Best Alaska Glaciers To Visit

Glaciers made the Alaska we know and love today. Whether they’re retreating, “galloping,” or feeding a fjord with ice floes, glaciers are a must-see on every Alaska cruise. Though it’s a hard choice, as every glacier has its merits, here are a few of the most popular:

6. Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier  is massive, stunning deep blue, and the longest tidewater glacier in North America. Beauty and size alone would make it worthy of a “best places in Alaska” list, but it has another distinction—unlike most other Alaska glaciers, it’s growing. It is nicknamed the “Galloping Glacier” because of its fast advancing ice margin—up to seven feet in one day.

7. Harvard Glacier

Cruising  College Fjord  brings the famous 1899 Harriman expedition to life. The glacier-filled waters amazed the scientists and naturalists on the expedition. But the Harvard Glacier, the second-largest tidewater glacier in the Prince William Sound has perhaps the most dramatic face at one-and-a-half miles wide.

8. Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau offers plenty of activities and a great, easily accessible visitor’s center. This one makes the best places list because it’s so darn charismatic and approachable. Look at those deep crevasses! Hike or bike nearby trails to this river of ice or even dog sled on it.

Best Alaska Scenic Cruising

9. tracy arm inlet.

The beauty of Tracy Arm Inlet is difficult to capture with words. As you cruise the emerald waters of this narrow passage, you’re flanked by glacier-covered mountains and surrounded by coastal temperate rainforest. Twin Sawyer Glaciers at the terminus fill the inlet with ice chunks, a favorite resting spot for sea otters and chubby seals. Learn more about seeing the best of the  Tracy Arm Wilderness Area .

10. Inside Passage

Widely considered one of the best cruising routes in the world, the calm waters of the  Inside Passage  feature stunning landscapes, artic-blue glaciers, Misty Fjords National Monument and Alaska's iconic wildlife. This expansive network of waterways is hundreds of miles long and encompasses many of our favorite ports and Alaska cruise stops. It is definitely a best place to visit in Alaska!


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