Tips to Make Your Alaska Cruise a Success

With its gargantuan glaciers, massive mountains and wow-worthy wildlife, Alaska is high on most traveler’s bucket lists. The coastline is a perfect setting for a cruise, and if combined with a land tour, can provide the total package for an epic exploration of the Final Frontier. From whales, eagles and bears to Gold Rush history and native Tlingit culture, Alaska has so much to offer. 

Are you considering a cruise to the Great Land? Here are few tips to make your own Alaska experience a success. 

Plan Early 

To ensure your dream Alaska cruise experience, it’s important that you start your planning process as early as possible. This will give you more options in terms of cruise line, destinations, shore excursions, cabin style, ship size and more. Summer is the most popular month, so if that’s what you have your sights set on, the earlier you plan, the better. For the best availability and pricing options, you’ll want to have your summer reservations secured by at least the end of January, if not before. If you’re considering a more exclusive experience, such as a small-ship cruise or adding in a multi-day fishing trip, book even earlier, up to a year in advance in some cases. For the May and September shoulder seasons, booking three or months in advance is generally sufficient. 

Make the Most of Your Time

Savvy Alaska travelers have learned that the cruise tour is the best value for your money, particularly if you’re hoping to see what the Final Frontier is like in its remote interior and along its craggy shoreline. A cruise tour does just that – adds a land tour to your cruise. And, some would say, it’s the only way to truly experience the grandeur of Alaska. 

That’s not to say a cruise isn’t sufficient. If you want to visit Alaska along the coastline, popping into port towns for local culture and dining a few times, and you’re hoping for a lot of relaxation time, the floating resort ambience of a cruise will fit the bill. 

If, instead, you seek Denali (Mt. McKinley), with its mighty rivers and vast tundra, as well as the moose, caribou, grizzlies, sheep and wolves who live there, then a cruise tour is right for you. If you seek local insights and really getting to know Alaskans and how they live, then a cruise tour is right for you. And if you want to see bigger, more interior cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, then a cruise tour is right for you. 

Overall, a cruise tour to Alaska is going to be the best value, both in terms of money and time, giving you the best of both Alaska worlds. 

Choose the Right Itinerary 

Depending on what you’re looking for in an Alaska cruise, there are a variety of itineraries from which to choose. 

The big decision will be the choice between the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska. The Inside Passage runs through the Southeast, or Panhandle, of the state, that runs from the Canadian border in the south to the start of the Gulf of Alaska in the north – just north of Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The waters are often calmer than the Gulf. Highlights of the Inside Passage include Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka. The Southeast area also includes the capital of Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park. There are glaciers, mountains, inlets, marine wildlife and more – a scenic treasure. The popular Inside Passage routes are usually seven nights roundtrip from Seattle or Vancouver.

The Gulf of Alaska in the southcentral portion of the state runs from north of Glacier Bay to the Kenai Peninsula, including Prince William Sound, the Cook Inlet, Anchorage, Alyeska Resort, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, College Fjord, Hubbard Glacier, Seward and Whittier. Gulf of Alaska itineraries are usually seven nights one way, northbound or southbound, from Vancouver to Seward or Whittier. You might also get to see a few Inside Passage ports, so research your options. 

As for the cruise tours, these typically combine a cruise with a three- to five-night land tour to Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks, a slightly longer Yukon tour, or a five- to seven-night tour of the Canadian Rockies. 

When to Cruise in Alaska 

Generally, the cruise season in Alaska is from mid-May to mid-September, with the peak season from mid-June to mid-July. Keep in mind that if you choose a cruise or cruise tour in May or September, these are considered the shoulder seasons and usually mean better deals and fewer people. You’ll also find more cabin availability at these times and have a wider choice of ships. 

As for the wildlife, the best time to spot animals onshore is late May and early June. Prime bear season, however, is not until late June and early July. If you’re hoping to fish, the angling is good during any month. Fall foliage is at its prime the first through third weeks of September. 

For the warmest temperatures, consider cruising mid-June to mid-August. The most Midnight Sun (long days) will occur three weeks before or after the summer solstice (June 21). 

Ready to cruise Alaska? Let’s chat. 


August 4, 2023

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