The Best Alaska Cruises

There are as many different cruise experiences as natural wonders in Alaska.
Ramsey Qubein
By Ramsey Qubein 
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

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A cruise to Alaska, “America’s final frontier,” is a glorious way to explore this enormous state. In many cases, it is the only way. Certain cities, like Juneau, are only easily accessible by air or sea, which makes a cruise a reliable and convenient way to get there.

The best Alaska cruises are great for multigenerational trips with grandparents, their children and their grandchildren. 

Whether you visit the Inside Passage or venture inward to Denali National Park, there is a cruise for every price point, desire and type of traveler.

Here are some of the best Alaska cruises based on what interests you most.

Best Alaskan cruise line for all-inclusive luxury seekers

Winner: Seabourn

Look to the traditional, all-inclusive luxury cruise lines that sail in Alaska during the summer months for these popular sailings. 

You’ll find stunning ships like Seabourn Odyssey with only 229 suite cabins, guaranteeing a small-ship experience with big-time amenities. Everyone can have the chance to get out and explore on Zodiac boats or other water sports equipment.

When you return to the Seabourn ship, everything is included, from onboard bubbles to all kinds of drinks. In addition, specialty restaurants, minibars and even gratuities are part of the package. That’s what makes Seabourn perhaps the best Alaskan cruise line for all-inclusive luxury seekers.

Other larger luxury ships with all-inclusive rates in Alaska include the 375-cabin Regent Seven Seas Explorer and Silversea’s 298-cabin Silver Muse.

Best cruise line for adventurers

Winner: Holland America

One of the best parts of an Alaska cruise is the outdoor adventure. Whether hiking a glacier, kayaking through the water, dog sledding, panning for gold or taking a panoramic helicopter ride, there is plenty to do.

Many cruisers tack on a land portion option, allowing travelers to head into Denali National Park or stay in local land resorts to learn more about the culture.

If you’re looking for the most adventure, these cruise lines take things up a notch as part of their excursion programs.

Holland America has quite a few ships sailing the Alaskan waters, making it one of the most experienced operators in the area, having operated there for almost eight decades. This spring and summer, you can sail on these Holland America vessels:

  • Eurodam.

  • Koningsdam.

  • Nieuw Amsterdam.

  • Noordam.

  • Volendam.

  • Westerdam. 

Sailings include seven- to 14-day itineraries and a host of land tours that can be added to the experience. In addition to Denali National Park, this is the only cruise line to take passengers into Canada’s Yukon Territory.

While excursions from the ship are the best way to get out and explore (it’s not as easy to stroll on your own atop a glacier, after all), some cruise lines are more invested in the state.

Holland America owns some hotels that it uses for pre- or post-cruise excursions, such as the 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort at Denali Square and Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center.

Runner up: Princess Cruises

Princess also has six regional ships, including its newest — Discovery Princess. The cruise line, which has been sailing in Alaska for more than five decades, specializes in land-based tours that can be added to a cruise. In addition, the company has many local hotels, including:

  • Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge.

  • Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

  • Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. 

Princess offers a “direct-to-the-wilderness” rail service, which means passengers can step off the ship and onto the train to head to their next adventure.

Like Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess is among the few companies with permission to sail in Glacier Bay.

Best cruises to Alaska for families

Winner: Disney Wonder

When taking the kids to a destination with so much to explore out in nature, you’ll want to give as much consideration to the onboard experience as you do to what you’ll do on land. Depending on age, some kids may have a shorter attention span than others.

Disney Cruise Line sends its Disney Wonder to Alaska so families can take advantage of its kid-friendly onboard activities, excursions, and full children’s program. On board, you’ll find pirate-themed deck parties and "Star Wars" events, among other activities. Other exclusive-to-Disney events include:

  • Menus themed around the movie franchise "Frozen".

  • A tea party with Disney characters.

  • A Pixar Pals party.

  • Character-themed events.

Disney does not trade youthful events for local highlights, though. This sailing will also take travelers to the Hubbard Glacier or Stikine Icecap, among other places.

Most ships in the region have activities for kids, but Disney excels in this regard. Other fun activities include Carnival’s Seuss at Sea program with Dr. Seuss characters on the Carnival Miracle, the Carnival Legend and the Carnival Splendor. There is also Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, with surf sessions using the FlowRider on the deck and a skydiving simulation.

Teenagers specifically may like The Beach House Teen Lounge aboard Royal Princess for ages 13-17.

Best Alaska cruise for those on a budget

Winner: Royal Caribbean

Consider sailing during the shoulder season if looking for the best deals. This can commonly be found at the beginning and end of the cruise season during April, May and September. The summer months make it more expensive due to higher demand since kids are out of school.

Another great option for finding a good cruise deal is to book an open-jaw cruise. These sailings start in one city but end in another and can lead to better deals, even during summer. You may also find better deals on older ships with fewer amenities.

Royal Caribbean says a roundtrip cruise for two people in an inside cabin (including taxes and fees) in June aboard the Quantum of the Seas would cost $1,956.

Alternatively, a one-way cruise in June for two people in an inside cabin (including taxes and fees) on the 22-year-old Radiance of the Seas would come to $1,126. That’s substantial savings for choosing a one-way cruise on an older ship over a roundtrip itinerary.

In the shoulder season, let’s look at another example from the cruise line. An April departure for two people in an inside cabin (including taxes and fees) on the Enchantment of the Seas would cost $1,215. The same cabin would go for $2,091 in July, a significant amount more.

This type of fare discount is not unique to Royal Caribbean, but on larger or older ships like Radiance of the Seas, you may find better luck scoring a deal. All-inclusive lines like Silversea or Seabourn are sure to price higher for the number of inclusions they offer.

Other top options

For a solo trip: Norwegian Cruise Line

One of the most important things to consider when booking a solo trip is avoiding the surcharge for a solo cabin—most cruise lines price cabins as double occupancy. 

Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the idea of a special area for solo travelers on its ships with pricing designed for one. Norwegian Bliss is one of their ships with these studio cabins meant for one person and a lounge where they can mingle with other single travelers.

There are also singles meetups and events. Norwegian also makes some cabins available for solo occupancy on select cruises if a single studio is unavailable.

On Holland America Koningsdam, which sails in Alaska, you will find a subset of solo cabins with pricing for one, too. There is no onboard lounge for solos, though. Also, this is the only cruise line to allow passengers to share a cabin with someone of the same sex they do not know and still pay the solo cabin rate.

For those seeking a unique experience: UnCruise Adventures

If you want to get out of your comfort zone and try something entirely new, several cruise lines will send you on the adventure of your dreams in Alaska.

A leader in this category is UnCruise, and just like its name says, it acts like the opposite of a traditional cruise. With boats mostly holding a capacity of 22 and 86 guests, UnCruise ships can go to places where the larger vessels cannot easily fit. You can even take smaller Zodiacs to venture into popular sites such as:

  • Endicott Arm.

  • Thomas Bay.

  • Blashkee Islands.

  • Behm Canal.

While these cruises lack the standard amenities such as restaurants, gift shops, entertainment shows and kids clubs, they make up for it in experiences you cannot match elsewhere and the lack of crowds found on larger vessels.

Other small cruise lines, such as Lindblad Expeditions, do similar itineraries. But with more than 40 years of history in Alaska, the company also offers an extra perk that will appeal to NerdWallet readers: earning or redeeming World of Hyatt points when booking a qualifying sailing.

» Learn more: The best cruise lines

For gadget and entertainment fans: Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas

With so much competition in the region, it’s hard to wow travelers beyond the natural scenery they explore on land. Yet, some cruise lines send some of their swankiest amenities and ships to Alaska. And these go beyond onboard spas and exciting entertainment shows or live performers.

Aboard Royal Caribbean, take advantage of the line’s signature gadgets like a robotic bartender that makes drinks on request and a ride in the jewel-shaped capsule that extends via a robotic arm above the ship for 360-degree views from 300 feet above the vessel. You can also test your surfing skills aboard the FlowRider.

With so many unusual onboard amenities, you may find it hard to get off the ship. This is also one of the biggest cruise ships to sail in Alaska. The tradeoff between lots of fun activities is sharing them with nearly 5,000 other people.

Other cruise lines go above and beyond for onboard entertainment, and we aren’t talking about the range of shows and live entertainment they offer. Norwegian Encore has:

  • Laser tag.

  • A race track that allows drivers to zoom around the ship.

  • An escape room.

  • Virtual reality skydiving.

  • Two water slides with sea-through sections along the edge of the ship.

These ships, too, are pretty large, however. Norwegian Encore has almost 4,000 passengers; Norwegian Bliss has just over 4,000.

The best Alaskan cruise line for every type of traveler recapped

No matter your budget, age or travel interest, plenty of cruise options ply the waters around Alaska. The one you choose will likely depend on your schedule.

By understanding what different types of cruises are available, you can more easily discover the best Alaskan cruise line to fit your needs.

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