Alaskan cruises open up the 49th state, both America’s largest and one of its most remote, to intimate travel experiences. Here, one can witness a glacier calve an enormous island of ice into Glacier Bay, a humpback whale’s glistening tail surface from the deep, a brown bear stand at full height—all from the comfort of the observation deck. Travel + Leisure’s writers and editors have sought out the best Alaskan cruises, evaluating routes, accommodations, cuisine, activities, and value.
Despite being dwarfed by the giant cruise ships of the Caribbean, Alaskan vessels can better navigate narrow coves and small town ports. A more cozy experience, the best Alaskan cruises often feel like floating bed and breakfasts. Many journeys originate in Vancouver or Seattle and sail roundtrip to cruise ports like Juneau or Skagway, on Alaska’s panhandle, or one-way to destinations farther north like Whittier or Seward. Nearly all travel passes via the Inside Passage, a route that laces in and around coastal islands stretching from Washington State to southeastern Alaska.
No matter which ship you choose, every Alaskan cruise is all about the view, so be sure to think about the direction of your journey before you book. Northbound cruises take in the coastline on the starboard (right) side of the ship, while the best views on southbound trips are on the port (left) side. Book your cabin accordingly.
Though there’s a lot to see from the sea, some experiences can only be had by stepping off the boat. Cruise-led activities can range from kayak and ATV rides to hiking, fishing, camping, and even glacier exploration aboard a real dog sled. Keep in mind that many of these excursions come at an additional cost. That helicopter ride over a glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s also one that could cost $1,000 per person.
Want to see Alaska’s truly tremendous array of wildlife? Or just fulfill that lifelong ambition to see a moose? T+L will help you find the Alaskan cruise that best fits you.