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Best Cruise To Alaska: Planning The Perfect Last Frontier Trip

Planning an Alaska cruise can be overwhelming, with many options for ships, itineraries, and embarkation ports. When choosing an Alaska cruise, it’s best to consider all the factors and pick a priority. The decision will vary from person to person.

Is cruising the Inside Passage, exploring Glacier Bay, or venturing further north to Anchorage and Denali National Park important? For Seattle residents, embarking in the Pacific Northwest might be a significant factor. 

Since we reside in Vancouver, we book 90 percent of our Alaska cruises from the Vancouver cruise port for simple convenience.

HAL Westerdam approching Hubbard Glacier

However, the embarkation port is just one factor. Other decisions include:

  • Choosing a month to go.
  • Picking between cruise lines.
  • Selecting a ship size and whether to do a cruise or cruise tour.

We’ll help answer all these questions and more to aid in planning that bucket list trip to the Last Frontier.

Best Time To Cruise To Alaska

Knowing the best time to travel to Alaska is essential when planning a cruise. Again, everyone’s opinions and choices will vary, as some can only go when children are out of school.

The Alaska cruise season is short, typically running from May to September. However, Norwegian Cruise Lines offers itineraries from Seattle from mid-April to mid-October. 

Understanding weather patterns and comparing peak season to shoulder season can impact price and what to pack. Here are the averages temperatures for Southeast Alaska, where cruise ships go.

MONTHHIGHS/LOWS
May53F/36F
June60F/45F
July65F/48F
August65F/48F
September56F/43F
Average highs and lows temperatures for SE Alaska

Weather Patterns

Even in summer, Alaska’s weather is unpredictable, but there are some general weather patterns to keep in mind. April, May, September, and October tend to be cooler, with the latter months being the wettest. 

Expect temperatures around the 40s to 50s, and pack appropriate clothing, such as layers, raincoats, and warm outfits.

June, July, and August are warmer, with temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 70s. Expect a range of 20F less at night and on glacier viewing days.

Peak vs Off-Peak Season

Late June to mid-August is considered peak season for Alaska cruises, as children are out of school and the weather is warmer. Expect sold-out excursions, congestion in ports, and higher prices during these months.

However, peak season is the best time to see wildlife and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, boating, and kayaking.

Disenchantment Bay in May
Cruising through Disenchantment Bay in May

If budget is a factor, consider traveling in May or September. These months are considered the off-peak or shoulder season, and often, cruises are priced much lower. However, many opportunities exist to see bears and whales and enjoy the outdoors.

Overall, the best time to cruise to Alaska depends on each person’s preferences and budget. 

Embarkation Cities

The Alaska cruise embarkation port of choice may depend on whether a port is within driving distance of home. Individual cities offer different advantages and disadvantages, depending on personal priorities. Here are the choices for embarkation cities for Alaska cruises.

California

Princess and Carnival Cruises offer select Alaska cruises from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Alaska cruises from California are best suited to those who live nearby or want to explore the Golden State’s famous attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, and Disneyland. 

However, keep in mind that these cruises are longer, have more sea days, and sometimes encounter rough waters along the Pacific Coast.

Seattle Or Vancouver

Nieuw Amsterdam docked at the Vancouver Cruise Port
Nieuw Amsterdam docked at the Vancouver Cruise Port

Seattle vs. Vancouver is a widespread debate since they are a three-hour drive apart. Both cities offer easy access to the Inside Passage, one of Alaska’s most scenic areas. 

Seattle is a popular choice for US citizens as it only requires a domestic flight, often more budget-friendly than flying to Canada.

Conversely, Vancouver is closer to Alaska, cutting the cruising distance down by one day. This gives extra time to spend in ports. 

Vancouver departs, sails between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and provides a calmer voyage, an essential factor for those prone to seasickness.

Anchorage Or Fairbanks

Departing from Fairbanks or Anchorage is advisable when wanting to explore Alaska’s interior. These cruise and land tours range from 9 to 18 days and end in Vancouver, British Columbia.

We prefer the opposite route, starting in Vancouver and ending in Anchorage or Fairbanks. 

These cities are in the heart of Alaska, providing easy access to Denali National Park, the Alaska Railroad, and the Iditarod Trail. Exploring Alaska’s interior contrasts significantly with the coastal ports and offers more opportunities to see moose, bears, and caribou.

Embarkation depends on personal priorities and preferences.

Alaska Cruise Itinerary

Cruising near Margerie Glacier
Cruising near Margerie Glacier

One of the most important factors when planning a trip to the Last Frontier is deciding on the best Alaska cruise itinerary for your family. 

Here are some of the top itinerary options to look at:

Glacier Bay National Park Or Hubbard Glacier

One of the highlights of any trip to Alaska is seeing one of its tidewater glaciers. Tidewater glaciers are masses of ice that meet the ocean, as opposed to valley glaciers that have receded away from the water line.

Two popular choices are Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. 

The latter features 16 glaciers and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A park ranger boards vessels that cruise in Glacier Bay and narrates the journey through its waters.

Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park
Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park

Alternatively, Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. Often called the “galloping glacier,” this one is advancing and provides the most impressive calving action.

Both are home to a variety of wildlife, including humpback whales, harbor seals, and brown bears. 

Cruising In A Fjord

Cruising in a fjord provides a contrasting experience with steep granite walls and cascading waterfalls. One of the most popular fjords for cruising is Tracy Arm Fjord, home to two glaciers, Sawyer Glacier and South Sawyer Glacier.

Adjacent to Tracy Arm is Endicott Arm Fjord. It provides a straighter passage to Dawes Glacier, favored by mega-ships such as Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, and Norwegian Bliss.

Timing is crucial when planning a fjord experience. It’s best to avoid booking before the end of May, as ice often blocks the fjord, preventing vessels from reaching the glacier.

Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord
Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord

Cruise And Land Tour

Cruise and land tours go beyond the coastal ports to explore Alaska’s interior. The highlight of these tours is time spent in Denali National Park.

The five-to-six-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour provides an opportunity to see grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and the state’s national bird, the Willow Ptarmigan.

Guests can choose to start with a cruise or the land portion. Since the land portion is very busy, most people opt for a relaxing cruise at the end of the trip.

Picking A Cruise Line

When it comes to planning a cruise, picking the right cruise line for Alaska is crucial. With so many options available, choosing the one that best fits individual needs can be overwhelming. 

Some prefer a family-friendly line with kids’ programs for small children, while others want an intimate vessel catering to adults.

Vessel size will also vary, with smaller ships offering an intimate atmosphere and larger ones requiring more walking and being unable to dock in tighter spaces.

Seabourn Odyssey cruise ship leaving for Alaska
Seabourn Odyssey offers an intimate Alaska experience

Alaska Cruises For Families

Pick a cruise line that caters to families if you’re traveling with kids. Look for a cruise line that offers a variety of activities for children, such as onboard water parks, kids’ clubs, and family-friendly shore excursions.

The best family cruise lines include Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Cruising on the Disney Wonder allows kids and adults to meet their favorite Disney characters.

Both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cater to families with kids of all ages. Enjoy activities such as laser tag, bumper cars, racing cars, sky diving at sea, and much more during sea days.

An Adult Only Cruise

Adults without children might prefer an adult-only experience. While several cruise lines cater to this demographic, the best options are Holland America, Cunard, Viking, and Seabourn.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth anchored in Juneau
Cunard Queen Elizabeth in Juneau, Alaska

Celebrity Cruises is another good choice. While it has kids’ clubs, it sees fewer children than Princess, Carnival, RCI, and Norwegian. In 2026, Viking will start offering Alaska itineraries; their line is adult-only.

Expedition Cruises

Expedition cruise may be the perfect choice for those who want to explore Alaska’s wilderness and wildlife with fewer people. These cruises offer a more intimate experience, with smaller ships that can navigate Alaska’s narrow fjords and waterways. 

Some of the best cruise lines for expedition cruises include Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures, and Hurtigruten.

Although their vessels lack climbing walls, bumper cars, and kids’ clubs, they excel in the itinerary department. These lines often carry zodiacs and kayaks onboard to provide a direct ship-to-exploration experience.

Getting close to Hubbard Glacier
Getting close to Hubbard Glacier

Booking Tips And Tricks

Alaska is a popular destination, but due to its short cruising season, it can command high prices. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you save money.

Finding Deals And Discounts

Booking early is one of the best ways to get a deal on a cruise. Many cruise lines offer early booking discounts, onboard credit, or extra perks such as complimentary alcoholic drinks and Wi-Fi. 

We have flexible schedules, so booking last minute can save thousands on an unsold cabin. Bear in mind that we don’t always have a good choice of cabin location and sometimes go with a guarantee.

Shoulder season, which is typically May or September, offers discounted rates. During these months, prices are lower, the crowds are smaller, and the weather is also much cooler.

Finally, some cruise lines have promotions where kids or the third and fourth persons in the same stateroom sail free. 

Booking Shore Excursions

The 49th state is known for its bucket list experiences. Imagine dog sledding on a glacier in summer, watching brown bears catch salmon or raft next to a house-sized iceberg. These and other experiences are available in Alaska.

Two dogs from our dog sledding team
Two huskies from our dog sledding team in Juneau

There are many different types of tours, each offering unique ways to remember the Last Frontier. Here are a few tips to bear in mind when seeking the best shore excursions:

  • Book early: Popular excursions like flightseeing and dog sledding can fill up quickly. Bad weather frequently cancels Helicopter and flightseeing excursions, so have a backup plan in case this happens.
  • Read reviews: Before booking, read recent reviews from other travelers, as it gives a sense of what to expect and whether the excursion is worth the cost.
  • Consider the weather: Alaska’s weather can change quickly, so choose weather-appropriate excursions. For example, a hiking excursion may not be the best choice during the wet season when the trails are muddy.
  • Compare prices: Excursion prices can vary widely, so compare prices from different providers before booking. Some cruise lines offer excursions at a premium, so booking with a third-party provider can save money.
Boarding the White Pass & Yukon Route train
Boarding the White Pass & Yukon Route train in Skagway

Conclusion

When planning an Alaska cruise, consider the time of year to travel, as this will impact the weather and the availability of certain activities. Since I’m not fond of wet weather, I like to cruise in late May or early June for the driest weeks.

If wildlife sightings are a top priority, consider a cruise and land tour and travel in peak season for longer days when animals are more active.

Regarding the itineraries, the best glaciers to see are subjective because all glacier viewings are spectacular. One-way cruises often have two glacier viewing days, while roundtrip itineraries have one. Some vessels don’t view an ice field at all. 

We hope that this guide has helped you in your Alaska cruise planning. As we have discussed, many factors must be considered when selecting the best cruise, including the time of year, itinerary, budget, and opportunities to partake in bucket-list adventures.

Holland America cruise ship in Alaska, a whale and glacier