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Best Alaska Cruise Lines For Families, Kids And Adults

If planning an Alaskan cruise feels overwhelming due to the many choices, this informational guide will assist with the process. So, whether cruising with children, sailing solo, or preferring an adult cruise, it’s best to pick an Alaska cruise line that suits individual needs.

While there are plenty of choices for seeing Alaska by cruise ship, some lines focus on the Alaska experiences and others on the onboard activities. Top picks for Alaska are Holland America and Princess, who have offers cruised to Alaska the longest.

Before booking a vacation, list the priorities. There are two ways to choose: focus on the Alaskan itinerary and select a vessel that sails there.

Two cruise ships docked in Ketchikan, Alaska

Alternatively, select a cruise line or vessel for its onboard experience, and the itinerary becomes secondary. This option is best suited to large generational families who want the best of both worlds.

Budgeting For An Alaskan Cruise

When trying to pick the best Alaska cruise for the whole family, sometimes the budget plays a significant factor. Unlike the Caribbean, where cruises are cheap and plentiful, the Last Frontier commands higher prices. 

First-timers to Alaska are often dismayed to learn that excursions also come with shockingly high prices. In fact, the total bill of shore tours could cost than the cruise itself.

Residents of the United States, find it cheaper to fly to Seattle than Vancouver for their embarkation port. To save money, choose to cruise in the shoulder season (April/May and September/October) when the kids are in school.

Booking an older vessel and an inside stateroom will help with a tight budget. Older ships like the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas, Sapphire Princess, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Spirit, and the Carnival Spirit sometimes have better pricing.

Sapphire Princess in Juneau, Alaska
Sapphire Princess in Juneau, Alaska

The Carnival Miracle provides a 10-day roundtrip itinerary to Alaska for those who live in California or nearby states. While it costs a bit more than a 7-day cruise, it allows seeing Alaska without flying.

While you won’t have all the bells and whistles of a newer vessel, the views of Alaska remain the same on an older ship.

Best Cruises To Alaska For Small Children

Sailing out of Vancouver, Canada, it’s tough to beat the experience on the Disney Wonder. The Wonder is a mid-sized vessel, small enough to cruise in tight fjords but large enough to offer plenty of activities onboard.

While Disney cruise line isn’t budget-friendly, they win in the kids’ activity department. There are four kids’ clubs that cater to children 3 to 17. Here are the highlights of a Disney cruise:

Disney-related Broadway showsMeet your favorite Disney characters
First-time showings of new Disney moviesPirate party
Mickey-shaped French toastDisney-themed cabins

Guests wanting some adult time to enjoy a specialty restaurant or chill out away from the kids, have that option too.

Norwegian Bliss in Seattle
Norwegian Bliss in Seattle

For older kids not into Disney, the Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas, or an Alaska cruise on the Ovation of the Seas are great options. These mega-ships leave from Seattle, Washington.

While much larger than Disney’s vessel, they offer mini golf, water slides, race car tracks, laser tag, arcades, and much more. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have teen areas. 

However, only Royal Caribbean offers babysitting services. Although, the Norwegian “Kids Crew” program offers group sitting services for those aged 5 to 12 years.

Alaskan Cruises Suitable For Teenagers

Choosing the best cruise to suit adults and older children can be challenging. Cruising roundtrip from Seattle, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean offers two ships per company.

Two Norwegian Breakaway vessels have a capacity of about 4,000 passengers, making them mega-sized ships. Teens should never be bored on these vessels with Ocean Loops water slide, Race Car track, Aqua Racer, video arcade, and laser tag.

A Quantum-class vessel docked in Ketchikan
A Quantum-class vessel docked in Ketchikan

Alternatively, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class vessels are slightly larger, with a capacity of 4,905 passengers. Adults can join the teens for some fun onboard with attractions such as bumper cars, iFly, Flow Rider, North Star, an arcade, and a climbing wall.

With a high capacity of passengers, the iFly and North Star book up quickly. However, the entertainment continues on land, depending on the budget.

In Icy Strait Point, teenagers love the zipline, which runs from the top of Hoonah Mountain to the coastline. Traveling up to 65 mph, the ride ends quickly, but they get to boost they rode the largest Ziprider in the world.

In other ports, the adventure continues with dog sledding, kayaking, and ATVing. The only restriction is the amount of spending money.

Best Alaskan Cruise Lines For Adults

Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, Viking, and Cunard, see fewer children. These lines are best suited to those who want more of an adult experience. The Queen Elizabeth is Cunard’s only ship in Alaska, sailing from Vancouver in 2024, and Seattle in 2025.

HAL Westerdam docked in Sitka
HAL Westerdam docked in Sitka

Holland America attracts an older crowd. So younger guests might want to avoid a huge Alaska mistake by avoiding them and picking one of the other three.

However, Holland along with Princess have the longest relationships with Alaska. So, they include an onboard naturalist, who will give talks and announce wildlife spotting throughout the journey.

For foodies, Alaskan food selections will include seafood favorite such as lobster, salmon, shrimp, and of course, baked Alaska. Some lines also offer a “best of Alaska” night, with many seafood choices.

Seabourn provides passengers with all suites on the six-star rated Odyssey. The ultra-luxury suites have luxury linens, double vanities, marble bathrooms, and many extras.

Alternatively, the 5.5-star Viking Orion offers one-way cruises from Vancouver to Seward and vice-versa, for those without a budget. These 10-day itineraries include six Alaska ports and everything included.

Viking Orion in Icy Strait Point
Viking Orion in Icy Strait Point

So, if you’re tired of being nickel and dimed on high-volume lines, sometimes it’s worth a splurge.

Best Cruise Itineraries

When planning an Alaska cruise, it’s essential to look at port times as well as glacier viewing days. As cruising north grows in popularity, Alaska ports can only accommodate a select number of ships.

So, Juneau, for instance, has ships arrive early (7 am) and leave by 1 pm, making it a short stop. After that vessel leaves, another comes and has a late departure. The best Alaska itineraries include a full day in port (8 am to 8 pm or something like that).

Juneau and Skagway require some ships to tender, cutting time on land. To maximize time in port, check the port schedule to make sure your preferred vessel docks.

Ovation of the Seas tendering in Skagway
Ovation of the Seas tendering in Skagway

When it comes to seeing glaciers, it’s no surprise that most travelers prefer to see Glacier Bay National Park. This UNESCO world heritage site offers more than one glacier viewing. However, only two large cruise ships a day can sail in Glacier Bay.

Holland and Princess, who have a long-time relationship with Alaska, sail to the UNESCO national park. As do Norwegian and Cunard. While the Cunard Queen Elizabeth leaves from Vancouver in 2024, it moves to Seattle in 2025.

Embarking in Vancouver, travelers can choose a one-way or return itinerary. By cruising to or from Seward or Whittier (near Anchorage), itineraries could include College Fjord, which is not reachable on a 7-day cruise.

On some journeys, ships cruise to Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier. Holland offers one-way cruises on the Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam. Princess uses the Grand, Sapphire, and the Majestic for one-way sailings.

One-way itineraries are also available on the Celebrity Summit, Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas, and Norwegian Jewel.

Radiance of the Seas in Tracy Arm Fjord
Radiance of the Seas in Tracy Arm Fjord

With time and budget, consider booking a back-to-back (14-days) for more glacier time and additional days in port.

Cruising in late April or the first week of May could score you a better itinerary, although cooler weather. I’ve taken three cruises in May, and they often included two glacier viewing days. For extra glacier time, take the excursion to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.

If booking with Norwegian Cruise Lines and stopping in Ketchikan, note that their vessels dock in Ward Cove. This location is far from downtown, necessitating a shuttle bus ride to reach the shopping area and tourist attractions.

Best Cruise And Land Options

Cruises with land tours are available from 9 days and upwards. These combine a 7-day cruise with time on land in Denali National Park. These options start or end in Vancouver. 

When choosing a cruise and land tour, it’s best to pick as long an itinerary as possible. The shortened 9-day one spends the majority of time on land transitioning on a bus and train from Anchorage to Denali and back.

Since the Holland America line has been sailing to Alaska for 75 years and Princess for over 50 years, these are the best cruise lines for an Alaska cruise and land tour.

Princess has the largest number of wilderness lodges. So, booking with them will include a stay at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, or Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge.

They also provide a “direct-to-wilderness” train service, seamlessly transitioning guests from cruise to lodge (or vice versa). Their domed rail cars offer uninterrupted views of the landscape during the journey.

However, Holland America offers another option not available on other cruise lines. Their exclusive package combines an Alaska cruise with a land tour through the Canadian Yukon. 

Mount Denali

After a few days in Denali National Park, guests follow the gold prospectors’ route to Dawson City and a stop in Whitehorse before flying back to Vancouver.

Master planners can plan their own land tour. They can save money by booking a cruise and adding a self-guided tour to Denali.

Initially, cruise and land tours were only available from Vancouver or Anchorage. Recently, Holland America introduced 10 to 13-day itineraries in 2019 out of Seattle. 

While these roundtrip vacations are advertised as starting and ending in Seattle, guests are actually bused to and from Vancouver.

Longer Alaska Cruises

If intending to make the journey to Alaska once and seeking an extended vacation, there are a few options. Booking a back-to-back from Vancouver allows for double the time in ports.

However, since most cruise lines repeat the same stops each way, try to find one that does a slightly different itinerary.

Alternatively, some lines offer up to 23-day cruises with different ports of call. Cunard Alaska itineraries sail for up to 12 days and include unique ports. I have been to Alaska with Cunard, and it was one of my favorite itineraries.

Ultra-luxury Seabourn has 14-day cruises and includes Misty Fjords National Monument. Their cruises include obscure towns such as Wrangell, Haines, Inian Islands, Alert Bay, and Prince Rupert.

Seabourn Odyssey cruise ship leaving for Alaska
Seabourn Odyssey leaving for Alaska

The Windstar Breeze offers a port-intensive 23-day cruise with only three sea days. Along with regular ports, guests visit Haines, Kenai, Wrangell, Valdez, Point Adolphus, Petersburg, and Prince Rupert.

Alternatively, Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen cruises beyond the Bering Sea. Fans of the “Deadliest Catch or Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour might like this trip.

Its 17-day roundtrip vacation from Vancouver stops at Wrangell, Geographic Harbor, Chignik, Kodiak Island, Nome, St. Paul, St. Matthew Island, Dutch Harbor, and Unga Village. This itinerary fits the bill for those who prefer to get off the beaten path.

Be aware that since this cruise sails around Dutch Harbor and through the Bering Sea, it may experience rough waters. Be prepared by using a motion sickness patch.

Expedition Cruises

Uncruise and National Geographic offer expedition-type cruises on intimate ships. These vessels aren’t about the amenities onboard. Instead, guests absorb themselves in the beauty of Alaska by boarding zodiacs or kayaks and getting a face-to-face experience with the wilderness.

These expedition cruises allow guests to get closer to glacial ice, feel the mist of a waterfall, and photograph harbor seals without needing a zoom lens.

In ports, naturalists take guests on hiking trails, where they’ll learn about the fauna and flora and what makes Alaska unique.

National Geographic cruises sail up to 15 days and include a day to Glacier Bay National Park. Their itineraries aren’t set in stone so they can adapt to changes along the way.

Best Alaska Cruises With Calmer Seas

Alaska sailings from San Francisco and Seattle tend to experience rougher waters. Vancouver departures sail the inside passage to southeast Alaska, which generally offers calmer seas due to the protection of outer islands.

Roundtrip itineraries from Vancouver often have smoother sailings than those than go one-way. However, choosing an itinerary that stops in Sitka will require your vessel to sail a portion in open waters.

Cruising the calm waters of Alaska
Cruising the calm waters of Alaska

Cruising in the shoulder season can also experience choppier seas. So, while prime summer may offer gentler waters, they also come with higher prices.

To avoid seasickness, choosing a mid-ship cabin on the lower decks is best. Ginger products such as tea, candy, and pills can help alleviate the symptoms. I always pack motion sickness patches which work well without making me tired.

Embarkation City

Each passenger may have a preferred embarkation port, depending on where they reside. Embarking in Vancouver might not appeal to someone living in Seattle.

Planning a cruise to Alaska can be lots of work with many choices. Decide what’s most important and start from there. It could be all about budget, or wanting a cruise line that caters to small children.

By doing your research, reading cruise ship reviews, and comparing itineraries, you’ll find the ideal vacation for your family.

Royal Caribbean ship in Alaska and Glacier Bay