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Adventure Cruises in Alaska
Vast, untouched wilderness awaits. Alaska hosts magnificent wildlife encounters and spectacular glaciers.
From ice-filled fjords to stunning rainforests, southeast Alaska is an adventurer's dream. Known as one of the most beautiful cruise areas in the world, exploring the panhandle of Alaska by small ship will deliver a holiday of a lifetime. Exploring Alaska by adventure cruise ship means you can get up close and personal with the wonders of this region.
Learn about the rich history of the area, visit Glacier Bay, the world’s largest biosphere to see whales, seals, eagles and bears and visit local tribes of the Inside Passage. The action and adventure of Alaska is never-ending, and the memories will also last a lifetime. There are many different Alaska cruise itineraries on offer, each one equally amazing.
Most Alaskan cruises will explore the ‘panhandle’ or southeast tip of Alaska. Below are a few of the key highlight areas on an Alaskan small ship cruise.
Sailing the Inside Passage - shaped by huge glaciers millions of years ago, the Inside Passage stretches from Puget Sound, Washington, through British Columbia and into the Gulf of Alaska. The Inside Passage delivers stunning scenery which is ever changing. Home to whales, bald eagles, sea lions and porpoises, the Alaskan Inside passage covers more than 500 miles and encompasses over 1000 islands.
Glacier Bay National Park - Marvel at the awe-inspiring scenery as you cruise Glacier Bay, the largest UNESCO protected biosphere in the world. With some luck, you’ll see brightly-coloured puffins, mountain goats, eagles, bears and sea-lions, all with a stunning backdrop and the amazing sounds of nature.
Chichagof Island & Baranof Island - Just a couple of the many Alaska Islands and both a nature lover's dream, Chichagof Island is home to porpoises, seals, whales and the largest population of bears per sq. metre in the world. Baranof Island features hidden coves, hot springs and an amazing array of wildlife calling this island home.
Tracy Arm - Prepare for breathtaking scenery as you cruise Tracy Arm. Located around 45 miles south of Juneau, Tracy Arm is a narrow fjord extending over 30 miles long. With over a quarter of the area covered in ice and encompassing some Alaska’s largest glaciers, Tracy Arm offers views of stunning waterfalls, sheer rock walls over a mile high and is also home to hundreds of harbour seals, mountain goats, eagles and passing whales.
Ketchikan - Known as the ‘Salmon capital of the world’, Ketchikan is a city rich in history. The area started off by building a fish saltery, followed by a salmon cannery, mining copper and gold, and even supplying timber for the construction of WWII aeroplanes. Now, Ketchikan’s main industry is tourism, and with museums, library’s, restaurants, plus amazing wildlife sightings such as mountain goats, black bears, sea otters, humpback whales, orca and seals, it’s easy to see why.
Sitka - Another city rich in history, Sitka, located on the southern part of Baranof Island, is the site where the Russian flag was lowered and the US flag was raised after the US purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867.
Best time to cruise Alaska
The best time to cruise Alaska is between April and September, with the high season in June and July, mainly because of the warmer weather and longer days. The beginning of April and end of September are typically the low season but offer the best time to see the Northern Lights because of the shorter days. April and May also offer stunning scenery as the mountain peaks are still covered in snow.
Mid-April until the end of August offers the best time to see whales, particularly Orca and Humpback whales. However, it doesn’t really matter which time of year you choose between April and September, as amazing wildlife sightings are a given, whether it’s mountain goats, black bears, harbor seals, sea otters or bald eagles, couple that with the stunning Alaska landscape and you’re sure to have an adventure cruise to remember.
Where do Alaska cruises depart from?
The departure port for your Alaska cruise varies depending on the itinerary, but the most common departures are below;
Ketchikan - Located on Revillagigedo Island, Alaska Airlines provide daily flights from Seattle. It is also possible to get to Ketchikan via sea with the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) which has connections from the US and Canada, although to get from Washington to Ketchikan takes around 3-4 days!
Juneau - There are 2 ways to get to Juneau, either by air or by sea. Alaska Airlines offer daily flights year-round from Seattle or Anchorage, and Delta Airlines offers seasonal flights from Seattle to Juneau. The other option to get to Juneau is by the state-run ferry the AMHS.
Petersburg - Alaska Airlines offer twice-daily flights from Washington, Seattle and Anchorage, and the is also the option to get to Petersburg via the AMHS.
Sitka - With links from Seattle, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska Airlines offer daily flights to Sitka. There is also the option to go via ferry, but again this can take 3-4 days.
Seattle - As a major US city, Seattle offers numerous ways to get there, from planes, trains to trams, there are plenty of options to get to Seattle.
Be sure to check your itinerary beforehand as different routes can offer different departure/arrival options. Itineraries vary from round trip departures, for example, Juneau to Juneau, or one way, such as Seattle to Juneau and Sitka to Ketchikan. Which type you choose can depend on if you intend to incorporate further land based options at either end of your trip. Also worth consideration is a (re)positioning cruise where the boats move from operating in one area/country to another and can offer a very unique trip which is normally not part of regular itineraries. Whatever your route, it is recommended that you get to your departure location at least 1 day in advance to be ready for your Alaska small ship adventure cruise.
Alaska cruise tips
Before you head off on your amazing Alaska Small Ship cruise, below is some general advice and tips to ensure your trip runs smoothly;
What to expect on an Alaskan Cruise - Alaskan cruises generally promise adventure, excitement and the beauty of southeast Alaska. On board, you can expect comfortable rooms, fine Alaskan cuisine and new friends for life. Days will generally start with a hearty breakfast to set up your day, followed by hiking, whale watching, bird-watching along coastal river trails or meeting the locals. Enjoy a hot chocolate or hot toddy to warm you up through the day and relax in the evening with a glass of wine at dinner. Most Alaska cruises are a casual affair, so no need to dress up for dinner.
Plan ahead - Most spaces on Alaska cruises sell out 6-9 months in advance, so to avoid disappointment book early so you can guarantee your space. Mid-April to the beginning of May and the end of August to mid-September offer the most affordable time to go to Alaska, where you can save $400+ compared to travelling in June or July.
Arrive early - As mentioned earlier it’s a good idea to arrive a day in advance to make sure you’re on your cruise on time. As most Alaska cruise ship departure ports require a short flight to get there, it’s a good idea to allow time for delays.
Choosing the right trip - Which type of trip you choose is down to personal preference, but all Alaskan cruises will offer a great experience in this remote region. Most boats have put a lot of effort into scheduling the itineraries, so no matter which one you pick you will have a memorable experience. Alaska itineraries are usually 7, 8 or 10 days in duration, depending on the trip you choose. Various boat sizes are available for cruising Alaska, see our Best Small Ship Cruises in Alaska page for more information.
What to pack - The Alaskan cruise season takes place between April - September, which is leading into and out of the summer months. Are cruises cold? The average temperatures are between 55f-65f (12-18c), and can drop by around 5 degrees during the night, so clothing appropriate to these temperatures is required. Rainfall can be quite high in southeast Alaska, so it’s also a good idea to take a good waterproof jacket. Many Alaska cruises involve hiking so you will also need a good pair of comfortable hiking shoes or boots, and sunglasses are a necessity during the summer months, particularly to protect your eyes from the glare of the water. Most Alaska cruise ships will have binoculars available to use, but if you have your own then do bring them, so you don’t have to wait for a pair to become free or share.
Alaska Travel Advice - Alaska is a US state, so if you’re travelling from outside of the US you will need a valid passport with at least 6 months still left on it. If you’re not a US passport holder then you will also need the correct visa to enter the US. Please check the latest visa requirements before making any travel plans.
Contact our reservations team to discuss your small ship cruise to Alaska.
- 9.3 Superb
- 8 Verified Reviews
Best way to see the Inside Passage is via small boat cruise. Large cruise ships don't come close to what the small boats can offer.
Cruising Alaska in July on the Catalyst
Outstanding vacation which we will do again. Even elderly folks can enjoy this type of personalized cruise.
Cruising Alaska in June on the Island Spirit
The whole trip was great. My only negative was that I had hoped to do some kayaking and/or spend more time out in the DIB - the advertising led me to believe we would do a lot more of this! To us the cabin was fine but some people might find it a bit small. The crew, guides etc were all fabulous; food was terrific; bar was fantastic; boat was very comfortable; information provided was also great. Shore excursions were always informative and interesting; lovely to get to the areas the big boats don't go!! Why would anyone ever do a big boat cruise??
Cruising Alaska in May on the Alaskan Dream
Impossible to match on any other cruise that we know about.
Cruising Alaska in August on the Alaskan Dream