Alaska is a land of incredible potential and a legacy of brave men seeing fortune and adventure here. Luckily, today we don't need to pack up a years worth of food and walk for thousands of miles through the wilderness to experience this. All we need to do is hop on a cruise ship and relax as we are pampered on board and seek adventure on shore. An Alaska cruisetour though is something that still needs research to make sure you select the right ship, ports, and activities that match what you and your friends are looking to do. Don't worry though, we've got some advice to help make it easy for you!
In our mancation survey, 26% of men selected an Alaskan Cruise as their top mancation pick. Unlike other vacation destinations though, doing a land and sea tour to Alaska is a bit more complex than simply saying, "Let's head north!" Here are some of the things that you need to know to help ensure that your Alaska cruise is a great experience.
Big Cruise Ship or Expedition Style Voyage?
Virtually every cruise line sails to Alaska during the summer months. This ranges from ships like Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas (138,194 GT with a capacity of more than 4,000 passengers) to smaller expedition-style vessels such as those on Expeditions Cruise line with only 62 passengers.
Pick the Right Alaskan Cruise Line
There are already lots of options for cruising in Alaska and it's about to get even more crowded. In the next couple years, Viking Ocean Cruises will also be joining the Alaska market in summer 2019 and Norwegian Bliss will also be coming to the market in summer of 2018. At 167,800 GT and a passenger capacity of 4,004, Bliss will be the largest and newest ship in Alaska when she arrives. In fact, she has been purpose built for this route and while she's still more than a year from being launched I'm told that one of her primary selling points is having fantastic observation lounges. This means that you can stay warm inside and not miss a single thing, rather than bundling up and standing on deck all day.
As far as what ship is right for you, it all comes down to the experience you want and how much you are willing to pay for it. If money was no object, I would love to do the Viking Ocean Cruises tour since I love the fact that it is a smaller and more intimate ship able to go places others can't and less crowding at the railings. However, there's something to be said for having a huge variety of dining options that you'd find on big ships from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess and Carnival. For a great balance though, Holland America Line offers a great product for Alaska that combines mid-sized ships, fantastic enrichment activities, and like Princess - excellent connections to extend your vacation experience with a stay at one of their Princess Lodges on a Alaska Cruisetour. This cruise tour combines a 7-day voyage with the option to hop on their private train and extend your trip with up to 8 nights on land exploring pristine wild lands, fishing, hiking, and exploring national parks including Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai.
For a mancation experience though, I think Holland America really shines here by packaging their land and sea Alaska cruise tours in an exciting way. They offer 16 different options in two main categories: Denali Land + Sea Journeys where you'll be traveling to their McKinley Chalet Resort aboard the McKinley Explorer for a chance to explore the park, and the Yukon + Denali Land + Sea Journey that also gives you an opportunity to relive the days of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Pick the Right Alaska Cruise Ports to Visit
There are two main routes that most cruise itineraries chose from and most people prefer the "Inside Passage". This gives cruisers an opportunity to go on the inside of Vancouver Island for an incredible view of Canadian wilderness on both sides of the ship as it passes through areas less than a mile wide. This is where the smaller ships can be a huge advantage. While some ports can accommodate large vessels, smaller towns simply can not. As a result, ships from Holland America Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, and Expedition have a huge advantage if you are looking to see stuff that few others can. That being said though, the sheer number of ports available for Alaskan cruising is astonishing and that makes it really important to do your research and make sure to select the right itinerary.
Here are some of the most popular Alaskan cruise ports and destinations ...
One thing you will notice as you examine specific itineraries for your cruise is that not all stops are "ports" where you can get off. For instance, many cruises visit Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park but you won't necessarily disembark there. Instead, the ship will slow down or stop so that passengers can admire the natural beauty and wildlife. In Glacier Bay for instance, National Park Service rangers will board the ship along with the ship's entertainment staff provide narration and enrichment activities as the ship cruises through the area.
- Tracy Arm Fjord - cruising
- Glacier Bay National Park - cruising
- Hubbard Glacier / Yakutat Bay - cruising (Hubbard Glacier is at the end of Yakutat Bay)
- Anchorage / Whittier
- College Fjord - cruising
- Frederick Sound - cruising
Many of these destinations provide similar opportunities for shore excursions that are perfect for an Alaska mancation adventure. These include: fishing charters, helicopter tours, jeep tours, ATV glacier tours, hikes, and opportunities to get up close and personal with eagles, bears, otters, whales, and other sea animals. While not for everyone, some ports such as Sitka offer the opportunity to go snorkeling in a dry suit so you can observe marine life such as crabs, sea anemones, sea urchins and giant kelp forests.
In ports, there are some awesome opportunities to relive the gold rush or go dog sledding. For instance, a visit to Skagway provides the chance to visit Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, tour a gold rush town, and even pan for gold! In Anchorage and Seward, you'll be able to celebrate the famous Iditarod sled dog race and it's historical importance as a mail route before airplanes made it obsolete.
Experience on Board the Ship
The experience onboard the ship is going to vary tremendously depending on which line you select for your Alaska cruise. However, with the large ship experience, you'll find the same amenities (and often similar cocktails and menus) that you would cruising in other areas. This means that you can do activities such as dining at a steakhouse, trivia games, night club etc. However, because most of the cruise will operate within US territorial waters, the casino will remain closed for most of the voyage. This is one reason why Alaska cruises cost more than a cruise of comparable length in the Caribbean.
Most of your time will be spent on deck looking at the land going by or looking for whales and other marine life in the waters around the ship. Certain ships such as Explorer of the Seas will have features like the FlowRider and their ice skating rink.
Most 7-Day Cruises are One Way ...
Most Alaska Cruises are booked as 7-day cruises that either return or depart from Vancouver or Seattle. You then have to fly home from the final port in Alaska or do a back-to-back cruise coming home. This means that you will need to factor in the added cost of two one-way flights and often it might be cheaper to book your air through the cruise line as a package. Make sure to do your research.