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Alaska Cruise From Seattle: Should I Embark In The PNW?

Alaska is one of the most beautiful and majestic places in the world, and there’s no better way to experience it than by taking an Alaska cruise from Seattle. 

With its stunning tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and abundant wildlife, an Alaska trip itinerary offers a unique and unforgettable vacation experience.

While guests can embark on a cruise to the Last Frontier from California, Vancouver, and Seattle, I share the benefits of choosing the latter. 

Boarding the Ovation of the Seas in Seattle

Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is the perfect embarkation port for an Alaska cruise adventure. Known as the “Emerald City,” Seattle is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a great culture and rich history.

Planning a pre-cruise stay allows for exploration of its many attractions. Highlights include museums like the Museum of PoP Culture, Pike Place Market, and Space Needle before embarkation day. 

The Benefits Of Cruising From Seattle

Seattle is a great place to start if you’re planning a cruise to the 49th state. Here are some of the benefits of cruising from this Pacific Northwest city.

No Passport Required

One of the most liberating advantages of cruising from Seattle is that no passport is required for US citizens. As a closed-loop cruise, they only need a government-issued photo ID and birth certificate, freeing them from the hassle of passport applications and renewals.

However, it’s important to note that some cruise lines may require a passport. Having a passport is beneficial in case of emergencies and needing to disembark in a foreign port.

Domestic Flights For US Citizens

Another benefit of cruising from Seattle is that those living in the United States only require a domestic flight to get there. These flights are hassle-free, with later check-ins and no immigration requirements, and are generally more budget-friendly than international flights.

When comparing domestic flights to Seattle vs. Vancouver, Seattle’s tickets are up to 40% cheaper.

Seattle Has Two Cruise Terminals

Norwegian Bliss docked at the Bell Street Cruise Terminal in Seattle
Norwegian Bliss docked at Pier 66

Seattle has two convenient cruise ports: Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal (Pier 66) and Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91). The former is used by Norwegian and Oceania and is located downtown near the Pike Place Market.

Pier 91, used by Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, and most other major cruise lines, is further north of downtown.

Dividing the cruise guests between two ports on certain days helps to dissipate the crowds and line-ups.

Guests Can Cruise On A Mega-Ship

Vessels leaving Seattle don’t need to pass under a bridge. Large ships leaving Vancouver can only cruise at low tide under the Lionsgate Bridge in Burrard Inlet. For this reason, the larger and mega ships embark from Seattle for the Alaska season.

If you want a mega-ship for multi-generational families, choose Norwegian Encore or Bliss or Royal Caribbean’s Ovation and Quantum of the Seas. These ships feature family-friendly amenities, such as water parks, laser tag, kids’ clubs, and entertainment options for all ages.

Larger ships like Princess Cruises’ Majestic, Discovery, and Royal vessels also sail out of Seattle.

Majestic Princess in Juneau, Alaska
Majestic Princess in Juneau, Alaska

Pre-Cruise Stay May Be Cheaper

To save money on your Alaska cruise, consider staying in Seattle before your cruise departs. Many Seattle hotels offer special rates for cruise passengers, which can help you save money on your overall vacation.

Planning Your Alaska Cruise

Several factors should be considered when planning your Alaska cruise from Seattle to ensure a stress-free and enjoyable experience. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Choice Of Cruise Lines

Several cruise lines offer Seattle departures to Alaska, each with unique features and benefits. The most popular options include the Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America Line. 

Princess Cruises and Holland America Line have cruised to Alaska the longest. Their itineraries often include Glacier Bay National Park, a must-see for many passengers.

Carnival Cruises sail from Seattle rather than Vancouver, and their itineraries are often budget friendly. In 2024, Celebrity Cruises added an Edge-class vessel (the Edge) to Alaska for the first time. Cunard will move Queen Elizabeth from Vancouver to Seattle in 2025.

Two ships docked in Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91)
Two ships docked in Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91)

As mentioned, Norwegian offers two mega-ships from the Pacific Northwest, the Bliss and the Encore. However, the Joy will join them in 2025. Their observation lounges, with floor-to-ceiling windows at the bow, are ideal for glacier viewing.

Its competitor, Royal Caribbean (RCI), has two large ships for the 2024 season: the Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas. In 2025, the Anthem of the Seas will replace the Ovation. Norwegian and RCI are top picks for families cruising to Alaska.

Only the Oceania Regatta has a capacity of under 1,000 (670 max) for smaller vessels. There are lots of choices for mid-sized ships, such as HAL Westerdam (1964), Norwegian Sun (1936), or Carnival Spirit, which can carry 2124 passengers.

Large vessel options are plentiful, too. Select from Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class, Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus, Princess Cruises Royal-class, Carnival Luminosa, and much more.

Norwegian Bliss docked in Seattle
Norwegian Bliss docked in Seattle

Length Of Cruise

Previously, Alaska cruises from Seattle were typically 7 days. Recently, Norwegian has offered 9-to 10-day itineraries. Cunard, which moves its one vessel to Seattle in 2025, offers sailings up to 11 days.

Unique cruise lines like Lindblad, American Cruise Line, and Hurtigruten have extended routes up to 17 days.

Can I Do A Cruise And Land Tour From Seattle?

Cruise and land tours are a flexible option that combines a 7-day cruise with time on land. The land portion can range from two to eleven days, allowing guests to customize their trip to their preferences. 

Traditionally, these types of cruises were offered from Vancouver, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, but Holland America is now offering such itineraries from Seattle, providing even more flexibility to travel plans.

However, cruise guests don’t embark in Seattle. Instead, Holland America buses passengers across the border to Vancouver, the embarkation port, and then flies them back to SeaTac International Airport.

While longer cruises cost more money, they offer more opportunities for shore excursions and other activities in additional port stops.

A Royal Caribbean ship in Ketchikan
A Royal Caribbean ship in Ketchikan

Pre-Cruise Accommodations

Arriving in Seattle a day or two before embarkation is best, as flight delays and cancellations are common post-COVID. Deciding where to stay may depend on embarkation at Pier 66 or 91.

For embarkation at Pier 66, consider the following:

  • The Edgewater Hotel – This is Seattle’s only “on the water” hotel. It’s known for its rustic luxury and captivating views of Elliott Bay. Staying here allows easy access to the cruise terminal.
  • Seattle Marriott Waterfront – You can’t beat the location directly across from the cruise terminal. If you want convenience, this hotel delivers. It features modern rooms with balconies overlooking the water. It is steps away from popular attractions like Pike Place Market, Seattle’s Great Wheel, and the first Starbucks Coffee Shop.  
  • Four Seasons Hotel Seattle is an excellent choice for a luxurious stay. It’s a short distance from the port and offers stunning views of Puget Sound, a rooftop pool, and exceptional service.

Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91) has no hotels within walking distance. So, find one which requires a short taxi or rideshare ride. The top choices are as follows:

  • Homewood Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown offers spacious suites with kitchens. It’s less than 3 miles from the cruise terminal, providing easy access for embarkation.
  • Mediterranean Inn—This hotel features rooftop views of the Space Needle and is about 2.5 miles from Pier 91. It provides comfort with a touch of luxury, suitable for relaxing before a cruise.
  • The Edgewater Hotel – It’s about 3 miles from the terminal and perfect for a premium stay experience.

The Cons Of Cruising From Seattle

While there are many great reasons to cruise from Seattle, there are a few reasons not to, and it will come down to preferences.

Short Stops In Victoria, BC

Two Princess ships docked in Victoria, BC
Two Princess ships docked in Victoria, BC

One downside of cruising from Seattle to Alaska is that the stops in Victoria, BC, tend to be short, sometimes only four to five hours. These courtesy stops are to comply with the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act.

Most vessels dock at 4 or 5 pm, around dinnertime, and some guests decide to stay onboard since it isn’t possible to walk to downtown.

A four-hour stop doesn’t leave enough time to explore the beautiful city and experience its attractions fully. However, getting off and walking the pier or taking a short stroll to Fisherman’s Wharf is worthwhile.

Visiting the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC
Visiting the Empress Hotel in Victoria

Rough Seas

Cruising from Seattle to Alaska may involve encountering rough seas, especially when crossing the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. On Seattle departures, most vessels cruise Vancouver Island’s west side instead of the east side.

While modern ships are designed to handle these conditions, some travelers may experience seasickness during these segments of the journey. Pack a motion sickness patch, Dramamine, Sea Bands, or whatever works for you.

Alternatively, some guests sensitive to movement may choose a Vancouver departure instead.

It Takes Longer To Reach Alaska

Compared to cruises departing from Vancouver, cruises from Seattle to Alaska typically take longer to reach the northernmost state. 

Expect the journey to take an extra half day one way. While that may seem like a little, losing a whole day on a seven-day cruise takes away a day from exploring Alaska.

Pre-Cruise Visit

Planning a pre-cruise visit to Seattle is a great way to start an Alaska cruise journey. Seattle is a vibrant city with a rich history and culture and offers plenty of things to do and see.

Here are the top things we like to do and see when we visit Seattle.

Pike Place Market

No visit to the Pacific Northwest is complete without exploring Pike Place Market. Located near the waterfront, it’s a bustling market with a variety of restaurants and shops on different levels, selling everything from fresh seafood and beautiful blooms to handmade crafts.

Visiting the first Starbucks coffee shop in Seattle
Visiting the first Starbucks coffee shop

My inside tip is to purchase fresh flowers for the cruise and ask your steward for a vase to put them in. Across the street from the Pike Place Market, I found the first Starbucks coffee shop, a must-visit for a caffeine kick.

Space Needle

Seattle’s Space Needle is an iconic landmark seen near the waterfront. After an elevator to the top of the needle, we enjoyed panoramic views of the city and walked on its glass floor.

Alternatively, Seattle’s Great Wheel offers lovely views on the waterfront. We enjoy the ride and the fact we could see our ship in port from our gondola.

Museum Of Pop Culture

The MoPOP, or Museum of Pop Culture, is not just a museum but a celebration of popular contemporary culture. Its engaging and interactive exhibits bring to life the worlds of music, television, science fiction, and video games.

One of the museum’s highlights is a mesmerizing guitar sculpture that captures the essence of rock music. Another is the extensive exhibits on Jimi Hendrix, which celebrate his revolutionary impact on music.

Chihuly Garden And Glass

My favorite spot in Seattle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass. This unique museum showcases the works of glass artist Dale Chihuly and features a variety of stunning glass sculptures and installations.

One of Chihuly's glass sculptures in Seattle
One of Chihuly’s glass sculptures in Seattle

The venue has indoor and outdoor exhibits, making it ideal for exploring if it’s raining in the city. Since it sits below the Space Needle, visiting both in a day is a great idea.

Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is a fun venue to learn about the Pacific Northwest’s marine life. The waterfront venue has a variety of sea creatures, including otters, seals, and octopuses.

Wrap It Up

An Alaska cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, offering an itinerary that’s hard to beat. Imagine dog sledding on a glacier, panning for gold, or witnessing a tidewater glacier up close. These are just a few of the bucket list excursions that await travelers.

We hope this informational guide helps you decide whether embarking in Seattle, Washington, is the right choice for your family. 

No matter where you choose to embark, an Alaska trip is the highlight of all vacations. We visit Alaska yearly, and you’ll understand why after one trip.

A ship docked in Seattle, leaving for an Alaska cruise