From Glacier Bay to the Inside Passage, These Are the Best Alaska Cruises to Book Now

Including islands, Alaska has 33,904 miles of shoreline. The perfect way to see it all? By boat.

Hurtigruten ship in Alaskan fjord

Sail to Alaska on Hurtigruten’s battery hybrid-powered MS Roald Amundsen.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten

Roughly 1.5 million people visit Alaska on a cruise ship each year, according to the Cruise Line International Association Alaska. With more than 2,500 islands, mountainsides that tickle coastal waterways, a robust seasonal whale population (as well as the opportunity to spot moose, bears, and eagles, among other wildlife), and rich cultural traditions in truly remote communities, some only accessible by water, it’s easy to see why so many travelers decide to sail in Alaska.

Each summer, scads of ships cruise Alaska’s coastal waterways, ranging from 12-person expedition-style sailings to mega-ships with passenger numbers into the thousands. Some stick to a manageable six-day itinerary within the popular and more easily accessible southeast region, while others head out on epic three-week sailings that cross multiple time zones. Some are as rugged as the 49th state, and others are pure opulence.

That’s all to say: There is probably an Alaska sailing that will match your travel style and budget. Here are eight of the best Alaska cruises to consider.

How much do Alaska cruises cost?

 The Hubbard Glacier viewed from the water at daybreak

The best time to sail in Alaska—and see natural wonders like the Hubbard Glacier—is during the summer.

Photo by Shutterstock

Alaska cruises can cost anywhere from $500 to $7,500 per person for a five-night sailing, but total costs will depend on the size of the ship, length of the trip, and other factors like whether onshore excursions and food and beverage are included in the base rate.

Generally speaking, the larger the ship, the cheaper the initial price tag. Mega-cruises (with cruise lines such Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, and Holland America) can go for as little as $100 a night (so roughly $600 per person for a six-night sailing). These resorts at sea, however, are often not all-inclusive, so be sure to check the fine print before putting your credit card down. Passengers frequently have to pay extra (and usually at a premium) for things like specialty dining, alcoholic beverages, and off-boat activities. It’s also worth factoring in onboard features that cost extra like the spa and gift shop.

While small-scale operators have fewer dining and entertainment options onboard, they do have an edge over larger ships: better chances of seeing wildlife. The larger ships are often relegated to port towns due to their sheer size, but smaller ships can more easily navigate and visit remote areas for hiking and kayaking excursions. Because they’re not hurrying to get to a port on time, their schedules are looser than those of large-scale ships, so if a pod of orcas is spotted, they can idle and watch them a little longer. Some of the smallest boats hold between 12 and 100 passengers, and many of them are all-inclusive (or at least inclusive of almost everything except alcohol). That more intimate experience commands a higher nightly rate—anywhere between $250 and $1,500 a night.

The best time to cruise to Alaska

The best time to cruise in Alaska is generally between May and September.

The Alaska cruise season, like the 49th state’s summer, is all too brief. The vast majority of sailings, particularly those along the Inside Passage (the island-filled coastal waterway in the southeast portion of the state), occur somewhere between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That being said, there are some shoulder-season departures in April, May, September, and October.

The best time to visit also depends on your tolerance for the cold and for other travelers. Those shoulder-season trips are chilly (there’s a good chance you’ll see snow in places and will need to bundle up more), but there are significantly fewer tourists to do battle with during shore excursions. However, the peak season (July and August) is divine. The sun hardly sets, the landscapes (save for the glaciers) are verdant, and the waterways are choked with playful whales getting their fill before winter.

Best Alaska cruises to book

 A small white Alaska Dream Cruise ship on the water, with evergreens in background

It doesn’t get more authentic than an Alaska Dream Cruise.

Courtesy of Alaska Dream Cruises

1. Alaska Dream Cruise’s “Glacier Bay & Island Adventures”

  • Cost: From $4,895 per person
  • Days: 8 days
  • Departure port: Sitka, Alaska
  • End port: Juneau, Alaska
  • Book now

What makes Alaska Dream Cruises so special is the fact that it’s the only Indigenous-owned cruise company in the United States—and that heritage presents itself in an authentic way throughout the sailings. One subtle example of this: At the top of daily dining menus are Tlingit phrases, like Xáanaa atxá gaawú áyá, meaning “it’s dinner time.” On a larger scale, the sailings are usually the only ones to visit and get a lesson on the Glacier Bay National Park Huna Tribal House (a traditional gathering place for Tlingit peoples). And because the ships are Alaska Native–owned, they’re able to go to remote, tribally owned corners of the Inside Passage that non-Indigenous companies simply aren’t allowed to, like Hobart Bay. Other items on the agenda include exploring the pristine west coast of Chichagof Island, visiting the Tlingit community of Kake (site of the world’s tallest totem pole), and visiting a slew of tidewater glaciers.

If you’re looking to eschew the cruise ship behemoths for something more intimate, this is it—Alaska Dream Cruises’ Alaskan Dream holds only 40 passengers. And because it’s so small, passengers can weigh in on the daily itinerary, perhaps opting to skip a hike in favor of more time photographing the face of a glacier or watching juvenile humpback whales learn to breach. Meals and activities (including going for high-speed Zodiac rides, kayaking, and paddleboarding) are included.

Forested hills descending into the water around Kodiak Island with snow-capped mountains in the distance

Travel to the beautiful and remote Kodiak Island with HX.

Courtesy of Dan Palen/Unsplash

2. HX’s (formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions) “Inside Passage, Bears, and Aleutian Islands”

  • Cost: From $9,614 per person
  • Days: 19 days
  • Departure port: Vancouver, Canada
  • End port: Vancouver, Canada (this same itinerary is also offered in reverse)
  • Book now

Now that it has a couple of seasons in Alaska under its belt, HX (formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions) is not holding back. In 2024, the company is offering a 19-day sailing that starts in Vancouver, Canada, before working its way past the fjords, glacier-filled straits, and Indigenous villages of the Inside Passage. Unlike most other sailings that stay within the southeast, from here, the ship hangs a hard left and chugs along to Kodiak, an island community known for humongous brown bears and prolific crab fishing. Though it’s the second-largest island in the entire United States, it’s rare that cruise ships visit, mainly because it lacks the infrastructure for big ships.

Then it’s onward to the even less-visited Aleutian Islands (a chain of islands, 14 of which are volcanic, in southwestern Alaska), where guests visit the uninhabited St. Paul and St. Matthew islands and Unga Village (a ghost town), before crossing (and recrossing) the International Dateline, sailing through the Bering Strait (between the Pacific and Arctic oceans, separating the Russian Far East from Alaska), and eventually docking in Nome, the far-flung city best known as the finishing point for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. From there, guests are flown back to Vancouver, where their itinerary ends.

Perhaps as interesting as the itinerary is the fact that the vessel, the 528-passenger MS Roald Amundsen, is battery hybrid-powered. In addition to being a model for cruising sustainably, the MS Roald Amundsen features an observation deck, science center, three Nordic-style restaurants, an infinity pool, and hot tubs. In other words, it’s definitely a place you wouldn’t mind spending 19 days.

Lindblad Expedition ship near a blue glacier and larger gray rocky slopes, with cloudy sky

With Lindblad Expeditions, passengers will get up close and personal with nature.

Courtesy of Lindblad

3. Lindblad Expeditions’ Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

  • Cost: From $6,286 per person
  • Days: 8 days
  • Departure port: Juneau, Alaska
  • End port: Sitka, Alaska (this same cruise is also offered in reverse)
  • Book now

Many of the sailings to Alaska center on the state’s major ports of call, like Juneau and Sitka. There’s nothing wrong with those itineraries, but they do tend to focus more on touristy downtowns and less on the great outdoors.

While this Lindblad sailing does start and end in those cities (since most Alaska cruise passengers fly to the state to begin their sailing journey, it’s most convenient to embark in a large port near a major airport before heading to more remote destinations), the days in-between are adventure packed. Multiple times a day, guests are invited to disembark for a closer look at the true wilds of Alaska. That could entail going kayaking among bobbing bits of glacial ice in Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, or going for a Zodiac ride in Frederick Sound to view whales up close. Another option includes trekking on lesser-known forest trails and getting an explainer on tide pools along smaller islands. While Lindblad has a general idea of where the vessel will stop each day, itineraries are not set in stone and the crew is not afraid to mix it up if it means having a locale to themselves or if there’s a stellar animal encounter to enjoy—this is an expedition ship, after all.

Because Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic, there’s always a professional photographer onboard to help travelers best capture their trip, as well as naturalists and expert guides to put what passengers see on the voyage into a more informative context. Both the National Geographic Quest and National Geographic Venture make the sailing. The sister ships were purpose built to sail the North American coast and feature 50 rooms each, all with windows or portholes, private bathrooms, climate controls, and a TV, plus Wi-Fi connection.

The 12-person converted tugboat "Swell," with mountain slopes in background

Traveling on the 12-person converted tugboat Swell is a unique way to sail in Alaska.

Courtesy of Simon Ager/Maple Leaf Adventures

4. Maple Leaf Adventures’ “Alaska Supervoyage”

  • Cost: From $8,471 per person
  • Days: 12 days
  • Departure port: Vancouver, Canada
  • End port: Vancouver, Canada
  • Book now

The Inside Passage is popular for a reason. Here you’ll find remote islands dappled with stately spruce trees, dreamy fields of pink fireweed, and long stretches of undisturbed, rocky beaches. But if you motor a bit further, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by electric-blue icebergs, dizzying fjords, and dramatic, millennia-old glaciers. And, sooner or later, you’ll also meet communities of hardy locals. What’s appealing about this Maple Leaf Adventures itinerary is that it’s a good mix of Alaska’s natural landscapes and coastal cityscapes. Visits to bustling port towns like Sitka and Ketchikan are balanced with days spent entirely in the wilderness of Endicott Arm and Misty fjords.

Holding just 12 guests, the ship is one of the smallest sailing commercially in Alaska, so it’s able to tuck into areas the mega-ships can’t. And it’s a unique ways to spend 12 days—the Swell is a converted tugboat.

Pairs of kayakers holding paddles in two yellow kayaks near shore

In Alaska, NCL offers passengers countless off-ship activities to choose from.

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

5. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Alaska: Glacier Bay, Skagway & Juneau

  • Cost: From $619 per person
  • Days: 9 days
  • Departure port: Seattle, Washington
  • End port: Seattle, Washington
  • Book now

If we were to pick one mega-ship operator to see Alaska on, it would be Norwegian Cruise Line. If your idea of a good time includes loads of onboard amenities (like over-the-top spas, nightly theater productions, go-kart tracks, and a water park), this is the sailing for you. It’s also one of the more family-friendly lines sailing in Alaska, with kids clubs and programming specifically geared at youngsters.

Over the course of nine days, this sailing on the 1,976-passenger Norwegian Sun visits seven ports, including Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria (in British Columbia), and spends a full day puttering around the otherworldly beautiful Glacier Bay National Park. All in all, the sailing is affordable, and travelers can customize the land part of their itineraries to fulfill their Alaska wish list (at an added cost), by opting for excursions that include kayaking to the face of a glacier, going on a flightseeing tour to see brown bears feast on salmon, meeting sled dogs, shopping for Indigenous handicrafts, marveling at totem poles, and visiting local breweries and distilleries. Onboard, Wi-Fi, bar drinks, and specialty dining are free, but activities like the spa cost extra.

The town of Sitka viewed from the water with snowcapped mountains in the background

Let French line Ponant brings passengers to the charming city of Sitka.

Photo by Jnjphotos/Shutterstock

6. Ponant’s “Alaska, nature on a grand scale”

  • Cost: From $13,230 per person
  • Days: 13 days (11 nights onboard)
  • Departure port: Seward, Alaska
  • End port: Vancouver, Canada (this cruise is also offered in reverse)
  • Book now

Another itinerary that focuses on lesser-visited ports is French line Ponant’s 13-day trip starting in Seward, a fishing port town two hours from Anchorage. As the boat pulls out of the harbor, guests are invited to bring their binoculars to the deck to check the landscape for whales, which come to the food-rich waterways each summer to bulk up for their winter calving season. The first full day on the water is spent sailing around Prince William Sound where islets and icebergs are abundant, followed by a day at Tsaa Fjord in the captivating (and appropriately named) Icy Bay for glaciers. Next it’s off to Sitka, a former Russian colony that now has one of the largest totem pole collections in the world. From there it’s the little-visited Elfin Cove and Point Adolphus, two dreamy locations known for their rugged coasts and wildlife spotting opportunities. After a few more days in the Inside Passage communities of Skagway, Kake, and Petersburg, the sailing culminates in Vancouver.

These sailings take place on the 264-passenger Le Soleal, a high-end expedition-style ship that boasts a theater, gym, spa (with hammam), panoramic lounge, and pool.

The gray and white restaurant on Silversea's "Silver Nova" cruise ship, with tables, chairs, banquettes, ornamental trees, and large windows

Sail through Alaska in extremely high style on Silversea’s 728-passenger Silver Nova.

Courtesy of Silversea

7. Silversea’s Vancouver to Seward

  • Cost: From $3,650 per person
  • Days: 7 days
  • Departure port: Vancouver, Canada
  • End port: Seward, Alaska
  • Book now

What Silversea does well is creating an onboard experience that is luxurious and one-of-a-kind but doesn’t distract from the real star of the show: Alaska.

By day, the Silver Nova visits buzzing, historical port towns including Ketchikan, Skagway, and Sitka, where guests are invited to disembark and participate in an activity of their choosing, like leisurely bopping around the downtown area or getting spine-tinglingly close to brown bears on a flightseeing tour. Back on the vessel, after a gourmet meal and drinks, evening entertainment is viewing the deep fjords, glaciers, and abundant whales that make Alaska so magical. Spacious suites accommodate 728 guests. There’s also complimentary Pilates and yoga, a gym, jogging track, spa, observation library, and a slew of bars and restaurants.

What’s particularly convenient about this sailing is that it ends in Seward, making it easy to continue your Alaska vacation (a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve, anyone?) by road or rail.

A small UnCruise vessel with a whale breaching near it at left

You are bound to have impressive encounters with nature on an UnCruise voyage.

Courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

8. Uncruise Adventures’ “Wild, Woolly and Wow”

  • Cost: From $4,400 per person
  • Days: 8 days
  • Departure port: Juneau, Alaska
  • End port: Juneau, Alaska
  • Book now

Cruise vacations often have the reputation of being not very active. However, this UnCruise Adventures sailing is aimed at those who want an more heart-pumping immersion into some little-visited areas of the 49th state, like South Baranof Island Wilderness Area and Chichagof Island.

One day might involve kayaking in Patterson Bay followed by a brisk snorkeling session. Another could see guests hiking to a glacial lake or going for a skiff tour among icebergs. And another could involve biking in an area known for its healthy population of brown bears (if you dare).

These sailings take place on the intimate 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy, with cozy but comfortable cabins and unlimited activities and beverages.

This story was originally published in January 2023, and was updated on March 27, 2024, to include current information.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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