If you’re looking for the best cruise line for Alaska you may not realize just how many choices you have.
There are 75 cruise ships sailing to Alaska over the next couple of years. And these ships represent 21 cruise lines. Some are big and some are small. Some are luxurious and some are budget-friendly. It’s no wonder this question gets asked so much.
Choosing the best cruise line for Alaska is like trying to pick your favorite child. Ok, that’s not quite right. It’s more like asking someone “What’s the best car?”. Is there really a correct answer to this question? You can ask 10 people and get 10 completely different answers.
How we determine what is “best” can be drastically different just based on taste and preferences. So, that is what we will address in this article.
There’s been a resurgence of voyages to America’s last frontier lately. And with more cruise lines offering cruises to Alaska the increased competition is great for travelers wanting an exciting getaway from the lower 48.
Related: What is the best cruise line for you?
Do you want to get up close to some amazing glaciers? Do you want to see wildlife like whales, bears and bald eagles? Do you want to spend more time on land doing adventurous things? Do you want to just enjoy the views from your stateroom’s balcony?
The answer to these types of questions will determine which line is your best fit.
After all, every cruise line has their own specialty and caters to a certain kind of traveler.
If you’re planning a cruise to Alaska, I hope you realize there isn’t a “bad” option. But in this article we will dive into the different cruise lines that offer cruises to Alaska and try to help you determine which cruise line is best for you. After all, this is your vacation you are planning, so it doesn’t matter if someone else thinks you’re vacationing wrong.
The Alaskan season is short
You only have a limited window for taking a cruise to Alaska. The season runs from April/May through September/October. The very beginning and end of the season are usually the times you can get the best deals as well. While June and July are right in the middle of peak season, it’s also when you are most likely to see the some wildlife.
Don’t be surprised if it rains during your cruise, especially if you go during the peak season, but that’s just part of Alaskan weather. It rains about 200 days out of the year in this region of the world. This sometimes means shore excursions will get canceled or postponed, so always have a backup plan.
Two main cruise itineraries for Alaska
Inside Passage: This cruise typically begins in Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, Canada and travels up the Inside Passage, stopping at various ports along the way. Ports of call may include Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park, and Sitka.
An inside passage itinerary gives you a great overview of Alaska, seeing most of the important ports of call and some great scenery along the way. The downside is that it’s typically a round-trip sailing and can be repetitive on the way back.
Gulf of Alaska: This cruise is typically one-way and departs from Vancouver or Seattle in the south or Anchorage (Seward) in the north. The cruise follows the Gulf of Alaska and ports of call may include Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier and College Fjord.
An advantage to this itinerary is that you get to see more ports of call, including the inside passage, and have more time in ports as well. However, this also means you will have to take care of some of the flight logistics as you will have to fly from a different airport than you flew into.
Viking Ocean offers many one-way 10-night sailings that allow passengers to spend more time in ports. Some begin in Seward and head south and some start in Vancouver and head northward. A major advantage of these one-way trips is that you can experience more Alaskan ports. So these types of itineraries are best if you want a destination heavy journey.
Departure ports in Alaska
Depending on where you live the embarkation port might determine which cruise line to Alaska is best.
Here are the current cruise ports sailing on Alaskan itineraries over the next couple seasons and which cruise lines sail from them. The number next to each cruise line indicates how many sailings they offer from that port.
- Anchorage: Celebrity (18), Holland America (36), Hurtigruten (6), Norwegian (55), Princess (56), Regent Seven Seas Cruises (16), Royal Caribbean (19), Seabourn (4), Silversea Cruises (37), UnCruise Adventures (14), Viking Ocean (23), Windstar Cruises (5)
- Juneau: Seabourn (15), UnCruise Adventures (259), Windstar (1)
- Ketchikan: UnCruise Adventures (43)
- Los Angeles California: Carnival (3), Oceania (7)
- San Francisco: Carnival (20), Princess Cruises (27)
- Seattle: Carnival (100), Celebrity Cruises (37), Holland America (80), Norwegian Cruise Line (224), Oceania (20), Priness Cruises (81), Royal Caribbean (81), UnCruise Adventures (4)
- Vancouver: Celebrity Cruises (58), Disney Cruise Line (18), Holland America (135), Hurtigruten (24), Norwegian Cruise Line (48), Oceania (7), Princess Cruises (157), Regent Seven Seas (18), Royal Caribbean (91), Seabourn (38), Silversea (41), Viking Ocean (25), Windstar Cruises (7)
Only certain cruise lines can visit Glacier Bay
Glacier Bay National Park consists of 3 million acres of land and over 1,000 glaciers, many high in the mountains. Seven of these are known as tidewater glaciers that are slowly receding down the majestic mountains, and four of them are actively calving icebergs (when large chunks of ice break off) into the bay.
It is a magnificent thing to witness from a cruise ship. In fact, most of the tourists that visit Glacier Bay National Park each year are cruise passengers. But there is a limit as to how many cruise ships and which cruise lines can visit the bay.
A concession plan announced in 2019 limits the visits of cruise ships to two ships per day. Cruise lines must be granted permission from the park authorities to carry passengers to this region. Currently, these include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Uncruise Adventures, Viking Ocean, and a few others. This agreement will be in effect until 2030, so if you want to make Glacier Bay a part of your cruising experience you can look to book with one of these cruise lines.
Holland America Line and Princess Cruises make up a large part of cruise itineraries sailing to Glacier Bay.
Your cruise ship will spend 9-10 hours in Glacier Bay, during which a park ranger will be onboard to offer insights and answer question along the way.
Ship size limitations
Bigger does not mean better when it comes to cruise ships sailing to Alaska. Larger cruise ships with a gross tonnage of 150,000 or greater cannot dock at certain ports because of their size. In fact, certain fjords and passageways are inaccessible to some of the mega-ships.
If you’re sailing on one of these larger ships just realize that you may have to skip some of the smaller ports or will have to travel further on land to get there. For instance, Norwegian Bliss (a 167,000 gross ton ship) docks at Ward Cove when visiting Ketchikan. This is about 7 miles north of the downtown Ketchikan area,
Royal Caribbean offers some of the largest ships to the region as well, with two Quantum-class ships (Quantum and Ovation of the Seas) sailing to some of the larger ports in Alaska like Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka. These ships carry over 4,000 passengers at double-capacity so it also means some of the tours taken through the ship may be fairly large groups.
If you’re wanting to visit some of the more quaint and less tourist-traveled areas of Alaska a smaller cruise ship will be a better choice.
But if you want to spend more time on the ship and just want the highlights of an Alaskan cruise then one of the larger ships would make sense.
As you can see, individual preference plays a large role in determining what is the “best cruise to Alaska”.
The best cruise lines to Alaska compared
Two of the most well-known cruise lines to Alaska are Holland America and Princess Cruises, and we will start with these two lines first.
Most Proven cruise line to Alaska
When it comes to longevity, Holland America is the cruise line that tops everyone else. For over 75 years now, Holland America Line has been transporting passengers along Alaska’s coastline and has the awards to prove its commitment to its passengers.
Holland America offers sailings to Alaska on 7 different cruise ships which range in size from the 1,400 passenger Zaandam to the Pinnacle-class Nieuw Amsterdam which holds 2,600 passengers. These mid-sized ships offer a nice blend of comfort and maneuverability.
If you prefer a more traditional cruise style that is laid back and full of seasoned travelers this may be the cruise line for you.
The line currently sails to Alaska from three different cruise ports: Anchorage, Seattle, and Vancouver, with Vancouver offering the most sailings.
And if you really want to experience Alaska in all its glory, Holland America has a 28-day sailing in June of 2024 that departs from Seattle. This particular itinerary sails all the way up the coast and above the arctic circle, allowing passengers to see remote places like Nome and Little Diomede Island. This is in addition to making calls at Prince Rupert, Haines, College Fjord, Anchorage, Homer, Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Juneau, Tracy Arm, Sitka, and Ketchikan.
Best Alaska cruise for a land and sea combo
Another veteran of Alaskan sailings, Princess Cruises has been navigating these waters for over 50 years. But one of the biggest perks of cruising with Princess is the Alaska Lodges they provide with their land tours. These 5 lodges and hotels are strategically located near the best attractions in Alaska in places like Fairbanks, Mt. McKinley, Kenai, Copper River and Denali National Park.
Princess Lodges is actually a part of Princess Cruises so you can get your cruise and land portion of your trip all under one roof. Plus, the company offers incredible trips around the Alaskan landscape with Princess Rail Tours that travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks. These trains offer the largest domed windows ever made for a rail car, so you can enjoy the view and some yummy food at the same time.
So if you want more than a cruise to Alaska and would like plenty of time on land as well, Princess offers some fantastic packages.
With seven cruise ships that sail to Alaska, Princess offers more sailings to this region than almost any other line.
Princess also offers a ton of two week voyages to Alaska as well. There are currently 55 14-day cruises being offered with the company through next year. These sailing are on the ships Sapphire Princess, Majestic Princess, and Royal Princess. The last two are Royal-class vessels that I really love sailing on, and are perfect for an Alaskan sailing, although might be a bit big for some with a 3,600 passenger capacity. This cruise departs from Vancouver and stops at 11 ports including College Fjord, Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, and twice at Glacier National Bay, just to name a few.
This is also one of the few cruise lines that sails out of San Francisco on two of the line’s smaller ships, Ruby Princess and Crown Princess.
Read our review of a cruise to Alaska on Majestic Princess here.
Best Alaska cruise lines for families with teenagers
It’s hard to keep everyone happy. And if you’re traveling with a family of various ages you might want to consider a cruise on one of the mega ships that can keep everyone entertained, even teenagers. Here are a couple of cruise lines best for families.
Royal Caribbean International is known for innovation in cruise ships that are built with families in mind. Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas are two Quantum-class vessels with the company that sail to Alaska, mostly departing from Seattle. These 4,100 capacity ships offer amenities like bumper cars, laser tag, a sky-diving simulator, and even an escape room.
Royal Caribbean also has world-class entertainment on its ships and are a great option for families with diverse ages.
Besides these larger ships, Royal Caribbean also offers Alaska cruises on some of its smaller ships like Brilliance of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, and Radiance of the Seas.
But this isn’t the only line with mega-ships sailing to America’s last frontier.
Norwegian Cruise Line also sails some of its 169,00 gross ton Breakaway-class vessels to Alaska. Norwegian Bliss, Encore, and Joy are all mega ships with Norwegian and each have a go-kart track on board. This in addition to a ropes course, an impressive virtual reality arcade, laser tag and more.
So while you’re taking in the awe-inspiring sights around the ship, your family can be enjoying all kinds of onboard activities on the ship. It’s a win-win.
The three Breakaway-class ships mentioned above all depart from Seattle.
And if you want a smaller ship with Norwegian you can check out the 11-nighter on Norwegian Sun that also sails out of Seattle.
Best Alaska cruise for families with young children
You don’t have to travel with kids to take a Disney cruise to Alaska. In fact, many love to cruise with this line just because of the excellent service and food. The crew are trained to practically read your mind and can usually remember your favorite drink order before you even tell them.
But if you do happen to have young children, it’s hard to beat Disney Cruise Line.
Instead of a pirate-themed deck party you will notice a “Frozen” theme on an Alaskan journey. Menus will be slightly different from Caribbean cruises as well, and will include local cuisine like salmon and venison.
For some kid-free time there are some adult-only areas on the ship.
The 2,700 capacity Disney Wonder is the current ship sailing on Alaskan itineraries. It sails round-trip out of Vancouver, Canada and offers 5 and 7 night itineraries with an 8-day and 9-day as well. Most sailings are 7-nights. I listed the options below.
- 5 nights: 1 cruise sailing to Glacier Viewing (Stikine Icecap), Ketchikan
- 7 nights: 15 cruises sailing to Glacier Viewing (Stikine Icecap), Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan
- 8 nights: 1 sailing to Glacier Viewing (Stikine Icecap), Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan
- 9 nights: 1 sailing to Glacier Viewing (Stikine Icecap), Skagway, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, Sitka, Ketchikan
Best budget-friendly cruise lines to Alaska
Some of the most affordable options might surprise you. There are 4 cruise lines we need to put in this category. Two of them are Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. But Holland America and Celebrity Cruises also make the list.
Even though Holland America and Celebrity consider themselves to be premium cruise lines some of their older ships offer some of the lowest rates you can find.
While the time of year plays a large role in how much your cruise will cost, take a cruise on an older ship to save even more money.
Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas has some sailings for as little as $320 per person for an interior cabin (without taxes and fees), and Norwegian Jewel and Spirit are currently $399 at the low range.
Celebrity Millenium is an older ship with the line but offers some sailings for around $400 as well and does both northbound and southbound one-way itineraries.
How about Holland America? For about $400 per person you can find sailings on Volendam and Noordam for 7-night voyages. Even the 2016 Koningsdam has some September itineraries for just over $400 per person for an interior stateroom. It’s yet another reason that Holland America drives a pretty hard bargain when it comes to amazing Alaskan cruises.
One thing to note is that cruises to Alaska cost more than destinations like the Caribbean. Things like port fees will cost more as well, but we think it’s well worth the trip.
Best small ship cruise line to Alaska
When it comes to small ship comfort done right, we really love Viking Ocean. Every Viking Ocean cruise ship is nearly identical. The 930 passenger ships are 47,500 in gross tonnage and are the perfect size for an Alaskan sailing.
There are currently two Viking ships sailing to this region: Viking Orion and Viking Sea.
Not only are the ships fantastic, with incredible thermal suites in the spa, heated floors in the bathrooms, and elegant Scandinavian design, but the company really emphasizes getting the most out of each destination. It’s called “The thinking man’s cruise” for a reason, as the line does a great job in educating its passengers with some of the best experts in their field.
Oh, and did I mention that this is an adult-only cruise line?
Only one-way sailings are offered with Viking cruises to Alaska. You can choose to start in Seward or Vancouver for an 11-day voyage that has an itinerary that looks like this: Scenic sailing through the inside passage, Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Yakutat Bay (Hubbard Glacier), Valdez, and Seward.
You can also extend your cruise with some land tours with 5 to 6 extra nights in Denali, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks.
Oceania Cruises is another good choice for small cruise ships to Alaska, especially if you’re a foodie. Most of the line’s sailings to this area are on the ship, Regatta, which is a 30,000 gross ton vessel with a capacity of only 656 passengers.
Regatta offers sailings out of Vancouver, Seattle, and Los Angeles with 7-night to 13-night itineraries. There are both round-trip and one-way sailings with Oceania so there’s a lot of variety of options there as well.
Unlike Viking, Oceania not only allows children onboard but has an Alaska Youth Explorer program suited for children between 5 and 12.
Both Viking and Oceania are mostly all-inclusive, but not entirely. The next cruise lines in our list include just about everything you can imagine.
Best Alaska cruise for ultra luxury
For the ultimate luxury cruise to Alaska you have a couple choices. Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers 7-14 night itineraries that are both immersive and all-inclusive, meaning you won’t have to worry about charges that keep getting added to your bill. Things like flights, transfers, specialty dining, all beverages, gratuities, Wi-Fi, and even shore excursions are all complimentary.
Seven Seas Explorer is currently the cruise ship dedicated to Alaskan itineraries. The ship is a 55,000 gross ton vessel with a capacity of 750 passengers. So not only do you get that intimate ship experience in Alaska but you get some refined luxury along with it.
The suite-only ship will cost around $6,000 – $7,000 per person on a 7-night sailing. The 14-night sailings are round-trip and the 7-nighters are one-way.
Seabourn Cruise Line is another option for the ultra luxury category.
The line has billed itself as “ultra-luxury with expedition-style flair” so passengers can really immerse themselves in these Alaskan ports of call with up-close adventures.
The expedition team offers excursions by means of Zodiacs and kayaks to get up close to glaciers and find hiking trails and waterfalls on shore. And all of this while being able to dine on as much caviar as you can handle.
Seabourn Odyssey is currently the cruise ship dedicated to Alaska for the line and it offers 7-15 night sailings in the area. The 32,000 gross ton vessel has a capacity of 450 guests and has one of the best crew to passenger ratios in the industry along with Regent Seven Seas.
The 7 and 8 night sailings are one-way while the 11-15 night itineraries are round-trip. A 7-night sailing in May of 2023 will start around $2,500 to $3,000 per person.
Silversea is another ultra luxury cruise line that carries guests to America’s northwestern coastline with all-inclusive packages. You can book 7-night one-way itineraries or an epic 18-night voyage from Nome, Alaska to Vancouver in one of the best Alaskan cruise itineraries I’ve seen. The latter itinerary is on the expedition vessel, Silver Wind.
Even the largest Silversea cruise ships only carry 596 passengers, offering another great passenger to crew ratio.
Related: Best all-inclusive cruise lines
Best expedition cruises to Alaska
If you’re all about exploration and want to really “get your hands dirty” on an expedition style cruise to Alaska, Hurtigruten is a great choice. Whether you want to enjoy a sled dog race, kayak near a glacier, or visit abandoned islands, these ships offer a unique experience.
Not only will you get to spend a ton of time on land, but a Hurtigruten ship will take you to ports and villages that are so remote that most other cruise line have no access to them.
MS Roald Amundsen carries 530 guests on its 21,000 gross ton frame and is currently the ship sailing to Alaska for the Norwegian owned company.
The vessel has an onboard science center as well. But it’s not just about exploration. The ship also has an onboard sauna, heated by its hybrid engine.
An 18-night Alaskan sailing with the line will take you to off-the beaten-path places like Wrangell, Kodiak, Chignik, Unga Island, St Paul Island, St Matthew Island and Nome. At $10,000 to $13,000 per person for ocean-view cabins on an 18-night sailing it might be out of the reach of some, but if you truly want an expedition to Alaska, Hurtigruten is among the best.
National Geographic (Lindblad Expeditions) also offers some fantastic expedition ships to Alaska and these itineraries can begin in Seattle, Juneau, Sitka, or Ketchikan.
I could also put UnCruise Adventures in this category but I’m going to add it to the one below as it does something no one else offers.
Best off-season cruises to Alaska
A trip with UnCruise Adventures is truly more of an adventure than anything else, so the name says it all. This is not your typical cruise to Alaska. UnCruise provides an immersive experience that lets you reach remote areas in ways that are respectful to the region. And with some ships only carrying 22 passengers these ships hardly make a footprint at all, while allowing each guest to have a more customized experience.
The small vessel can maneuver through small bays and unique areas, allowing passengers to kayak right up to wildlife, glaciers, and all the natural beauty Alaska affords.
The Alaska’s Winter Sports & Northern Lights sailing takes place when most cruise lines can’t sail to Alaska. These trips take place as early as February and March and allow passengers to witness the Northern Lights and even enjoy some winter activities as skiing and ice skating.
On most 7-night sailings with UnCruise prices start around $4,000 to $6,000 per person.
Other notable cruise lines to Alaska
Carnival Cruise Line offers some of the most affordable options for sailing out of California, either from Long Beach or San Francisco. You can take a 14-night sailing out of Long Beach on Carnival Miracle and only spend around $1,500 per person for an interior cabin.
Carnival Miracle also offers several 10 and 11 night sailings out of San Francisco that visit places like Prince Rupert, Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, and Icy Strait Point. Just remember that since you’re sailing out of California you will have at least a couple sea days before reaching Alaska.
Most of Carnival Cruise Line’s itineraries sail out of Seattle, however. Three ships make this regular voyage: Carnival Freedom, Carnival Luminosa, and Carnival Spirit. Luminosa was formerly a Costa Cruises ship that was just added to Carnival’s fleet near the end of 2022.
Some of the lowest cost Carnival sailings currently start at $564 per person for an interior stateroom on a 7-night sailing.
Cunard, a Carnival Corporation owned line, currently only sails out of Vancouver for its Alaska focused cruises. The line offers 7-13 night round-trip itineraries with the longer journeys visiting both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, two of the most popular visits.
Windstar Cruises is a luxury cruise line that offers mostly one-way itineraries to the area, both northbound and southbound out of Anchorage and Vancouver respectively. Star Breeze is the current vessel being used for these sailings. It’s a sub-10,000 gross ton vessel with a double capacity around 312 guests.
Windstar is able to launch Zodiacs right from the ship and get you close to the shorelines for your best shot at spotting wildlife. Each Alaskan cruise has 8 expedition experts, and with such a small capacity on the ship you’re able to get more personalized insight about each location.
As you can see, if you want to cruise Alaska you have a lot of options to consider. Selecting the best cruise line for you will take a bit of research but we hope you found this article helpful.
Here’s a quick recap of the above:
- Most proven cruise line to Alaska: Holland America Line
- Best for land and sea combo: Princess Cruises
- Best for families with teens: Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line
- Best for families with young children: Disney Cruise Line
- Best budget-friendly cruise lines: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Celebrity Cruises
- Best small cruise ships in Alaska: Viking Ocean and Oceania Cruises
- Best ultra luxury cruise lines: Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line
- Best expedition cruises: Hurtigruten (could also add UnCruise)
- Best off-season: UnCruise Adventures