With its majestic wildlife, otherworldly glacial scenery, and endless outdoor adventure, a trip to Alaska is one for the books — and the best way to experience it, in our opinion, is by cruise. An Alaska sailing offers travelers the chance to get up close and personal to some of the destination’s most stunning natural wonders (think: Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, the Tracy Arm Fjord, and so much more). Fortunately, when it comes to the best Alaska cruises, options abound, from small-ship luxury sailings and expedition voyages to mega-ships that feel like a floating resort and theme park all in one. Ultimately, explains Travel + Leisure A-List travel advisor Eric Goldring, “The question of which are the ‘best’ cruise lines for Alaska really depends on the guest’s desires as there is a balance between how in-depth they wish to delve into Alaska’s nature and Indigenous culture, what type of onboard experience they desire, and, of course, whether the cruise is family-focused.” To determine which Alaska cruise is best for you, Goldring recommends using a travel advisor “who has actually been to Alaska more than once and on different ships” so that you have “access to important first-hand knowledge.”
According to T+L A-List travel advisor Ashton Palmer, the Alaska cruise season is short (typically from May to September) and availability is limited, which is why travelers should plan their sailings six to eight months ahead of time. While the travel advisor notes that “most trips average a week in length,” he also recommends cruisers allow time to “visit the northern part of the state, including Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, and Fairbanks,” either before or after the cruise. Several cruise lines also offer land extensions (sometimes called “cruisetours”) to make the experience as seamless as possible.
While the Alaska cruise season takes place in the warmer months, be sure to pack a few sweaters — and consider dressing in layers. When I cruised Alaska in summer 2022, the weather was (mostly) warm and sunny; however, when we sailed through Glacier Bay, it was chilly, and I was especially glad to have brought a scarf, hat, and light jacket to help brace the chill. Rob Clabbers, another T+L A-List travel advisor, agrees. What’s more, he says, “Weather can change quickly in Alaska, so one moment you may need a sweater, and the next you’re better off in shorts.”
Meet the Expert
Eric Goldring is a T+L A-List travel advisor specializing in expedition, small-ship, and medium-ship cruises.
Ashton Palmer is a Seattle-based T+L A-List travel advisor who specializes in expedition cruises.
Rob Clabbers is a T+L A-List travel advisor specializing in cruises, and he’s the founder of Q Cruise + Travel.
Dawn Gabree is a travel advisor who specializes in Alaska cruises at Travels by Danielle.
Mary Curry is another T+L A-List advisor who specializes in small-ship cruises to Polar regions and the Galapagos.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of all things Alaska cruising, keep reading to discover the best Alaska cruises for every type of traveler, featuring expert insight and award-winning picks.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Dawn Gabree, a travel advisor at Travels by Danielle who specializes in Alaska cruising, deems Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) “excellent for multigenerational families” thanks to the abundance of onboard activities. “Their larger vessels used in the Alaska market (Encore and Bliss) feature must-do activities like go-karting, laser tag, and water slides.” On the contrary, “Their smaller vessels (Jewel and Sun) provide a more intimate atmosphere over the large ships.” Regardless of which ship you choose, expect an array of entertainment options, including Broadway-caliber shows, which Gabree describes as “excellent.” What’s more, she says, “We saw their production of ‘Six’ on an Alaskan sailing, and it was phenomenal.” The travel pro also loves the World’s Best Award-winning mega-ship ocean line for its Freestyle Dining program (read: no assigned seating or fixed reservation times) and plentiful dining options to appease even the pickiest of eaters. Lastly, says Gabree, “A huge selling point for NCL is always their Free at Sea promotion, which includes perks like specialty dining, an unlimited open bar, Wi-Fi, and more. “It’s a great value, in my honest opinion.”
Itinerary: The 7-day Alaska: Dawes Glacier, Juneau, and Ketchikan itinerary sails from Seattle on select dates between April and October. Ports of call include Sitka, Juneau, Ice Strait, and Ketchikan in Alaska, as well as Victoria in Canada. Scenic cruising through the Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier is also included.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line (HAL) — which recently snapped up a 2023 World’s Best Award in the large-ship ocean cruise line category — has been cruising Alaska for over 75 years. HAL prides itself on having more permits for Glacier Bay National Park visits than any other cruise line. The cruise line also offers beloved live music programming, which I got to experience firsthand on a summer 2023 Alaska sailing. Most ships boast a “Music Walk,” a section home to venues like B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard Onboard (a dueling piano bar), Lincoln Center Stage, and Rolling Stone Rock Room. After our shore excursions, we’d hop back on board the ship for drinks, dinner, and a nightcap at the dueling piano bar to jam out to hits from Billy Joel and Elton John. All of the above make HAL a popular pick among middle-aged and mature couples traveling without kids; however, onboard our summer sailing, I did notice quite a few small children traveling with their parents and grandparents.
The onboard culinary offerings are especially noteworthy. While pulling into port one day, I remember digging into a hearty lunch of fish and chips featuring fresh-caught Alaskan halibut. (HAL is the first cruise line to serve fresh, certified-sustainable Alaskan seafood.) As of September, acclaimed chef Masaharu Morimoto is the Fresh Fish Ambassador as part of the line’s Global Fresh Fish Program. Cruisers can try his flavorful seafood dishes during their sailing.
Itinerary: As a first-time Alaska cruiser, I thoroughly enjoyed the Alaska Explorer itinerary, which cruises round-trip from Seattle between June and September. Enjoy scenic cruising along the Puget Sound and Stephen’s Passage before calling on Juneau, followed by more scenic cruising in Glacier Bay. From there, it’s off to Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Victoria.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean International — or Royal Caribbean for short — offers great fun for families of all ages looking to experience Alaska. As such, it’s no wonder why the mega-ship ocean line is loved by T+L readers and travel advisors alike. What’s more, says Gabree, “Their larger ships (Quantum Class) have equally impressive amenities like skydiving simulators (RipCord by iFLY), the FlowRider surf simulator, and SeaPlex (an indoor recreation center with bumper cars),” says Gabree. The pro is also quick to highlight the North Star observation capsule, which is available on Ovation of the Seas, which cruises Alaska. The attraction whisks passengers over 300 feet above sea level, offering picture-perfect 360-degree views. Put simply, she says, “This is a one-of-a-kind experience when sailing scenic destinations like Alaska.”
The fun continues the minute cruisers disembark in each port, with excursions ranging from dogsledding to private helicopter tours. Back on board, Gabree recommends The Chef’s Table for a truly memorable meal — and I, too, can attest to this. While on board a Caribbean sailing with the cruise line, I had the chance to indulge in this chef- and sommelier-led multi-course food and wine pairing adventure. Four years later, I still find myself dreaming of the delicious circular-shaped dessert known as “The World” — the perfect combo of peanut butter ganache, chocolate mousse, and salted caramel gelato).
Itinerary: Set sail on the aforementioned Ovation of the Seas and embark on a journey through Alaska with Royal Caribbean’s 7-night Alaska Experience itinerary. Cruising round-trip from Seattle, the ship stops in Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka before heading onto Canada, where it calls on Victoria and Vancouver.
Princess Cruises is among T+L readers’ top five favorite mega-ship ocean lines, and its Alaska sailings are not to be missed. Unlike other mega-ship lines, says Gabree, Princess is not at all flashy. That said, she recommends it for “more mature cruisers or those looking for a quieter atmosphere.” So, while you won’t find go-karts or race tracks aboard Princess ships, you can expect incredible educational programming. Don’t miss Puppies on the Piazza, which offers passengers the chance to interact with sled dogs brought on board by local mushers in Skagway. The line also partners with the Glacier Bay National Park rangers and the Discovery Channel to offer unique onboard exhibits and interactive activities like the Jr. Ranger Program. Similarly, says Gabree, “The naturalists that come aboard are extremely knowledgeable.” Last but not least, the service is top-notch. According to the pro, the staff is best described as “attentive and very pleasant.”
Itinerary: Book the 14-day Voyage of the Glaciers Grand Adventure, which sets sail on select dates between May and September. Passengers will cruise round-trip from Vancouver and visit Juneau, Skagway, Anchorage, and Ketchikan. Bonus: Scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park, College Fjord, and Hubbard Glacier is also built into the itinerary.
Seabourn Cruise Line
This World’s Best Award-winning cruise line combines the best of expedition-style and luxury cruising, making it a popular pick amongst well-heeled, adventure-seeking travelers. Highlights include bespoke service, all-suite oceanfront accommodations (most with private balconies), world-class dining (the cruise line has a partnership with Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller), and, last but not least, a swanky country club-esque atmosphere. According to Goldring, both Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Odyssey offer similar Alaska itineraries in 2024; however, it will be the latter’s final sailing since it was sold.
Alaska sailings feature a team of academics, scientists, and naturalists, all of whom are on hand to provide expert insight and lead excursions (think: kayaking and Zodiac tours, hiking, bear viewing, and so on). Also, according to Goldring, Seabourn ships “travel no further north than Juneau” and offer a “more intensive and nature-focused experience.” On a similar note, says Clabbers, thanks to the vessels’ small size, cruisers can “spend more time sailing through places like Misty Fjords, where most ships can’t go.” Back onboard, says Clabbers, “enjoy Champagne and caviar when you like, or relax in your suite, the spa, or elsewhere.”
Itinerary: The 7-day Alaska Fjords and Canadian Inside Passage cruise sails from Juneau to Vancouver, calling on Tracy Arm or Endicott Arm, Wrangell, Rudyerd Bay (Misty Fjords), and, finally, Prince Rupert in British Columbia. Scenic cruising through Stephens Passage, Decision Passage, Stikine Strait, and the Behm Canal are also included in the itinerary.
Those who prefer a “younger atmosphere on a modern, larger ship with lots of bars and restaurants and entertainment” should consider cruising Alaska aboard the Celebrity Edge, explains Clabbers. (While Edge is the newest Celebrity ship to cruise Alaska, Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Summit also sail here.) Per the pro, the seven-night sailings on Edge “include key destinations like Ketchikan and Skagway,” along with a quick visit to Victoria in British Columbia and scenic cruising through the beautiful Endicott Arm Fjord. Additionally, the World’s Best Award-winning line offers round-trip sailings from both Vancouver and Seattle — as well as one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Seward, the latter of which offer more time to explore (read: fewer sea days).
Regardless of the ship, passengers can expect a wide range of entertainment offerings, an abundance of bars, restaurants, and lounges, and a handful of accommodation options. Speaking of the latter, wellness-seeking duos can reserve an AquaClass stateroom, which includes perks like complimentary dining at the exclusive Blu restaurant, their very own spa concierge, and unlimited access to the adults-only Sea Thermal Suite. Alternatively, for a worth-it splurge, opt for a suite in The Retreat, which includes a dedicated team of concierges and butlers, access to a private lounge and/or sundeck (note that the latter is not available on Celebrity Solstice), premium drinks, Wi-Fi, and access to the private Luminae at The Retreat restaurant, helmed by chef Daniel Boulud.
Itinerary: The aforementioned 7-night Alaska Dawes Glacier itinerary on Celebrity Edge cruises round-trip from Seattle and visits Ketchikan, Endicott Arm Fjord (scenic cruising), Juneau, Skagway, the Inside Passage (scenic cruising), and Victoria.
Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking Ocean Cruises recently nabbed a 2023 World’s Best Award in the midsize-ship ocean cruise lines category, coming in at first place for the second year in a row. The line’s identical ocean ships offer a sleek Scandinavian design, which only enhances the tranquil atmosphere on board. The luxury adults-only line is also all-inclusive, covering meals, activities, most beverages, Wi-Fi, port taxes and fees, spa access, and one complimentary excursion in every port of call. Cruisers can bask in the mountain and glacier views from the comfort of their private balcony — and, if they’re lucky, they may even spot a whale or two. Finally, in addition to classic ports like Juneau and Ketchikan, Viking Ocean Cruises’ Alaska itinerary also calls on Valdez, which is chock-full of natural beauty and outdoor adventure.
Itinerary: The 10-night Alaska and the Inside Passage itinerary, which sails between Vancouver and Seward, “is a great choice for curious travelers who have a bit more time and want to learn more about Alaska,” says Clabbers.
Those craving a luxury Alaska cruise need not look further than Silversea, says Goldring. Additionally, “While primarily for adults ranging from contemplative to active, Silversea is also a good option for families with more mature children who are more engaged with the journey than onboard child-focused activities.” Silversea guests enjoy all-suite staterooms with butler service and an all-around tony atmosphere. The line’s Door-to-Door All-Inclusive fares cover private airport transfers, economy flights, business-class upgrades or air credits, and shore excursions.
This luxury cruise line offers classic and expedition-style cruising, the latter of which takes aboard the 274-passenger Silver Wind. (Classic cruises, on the other hand, take place on board Silver Muse, Silver Nova, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, or Silver Moon). Nova and Moon offer the Sea and Land Taste program (S.A.L.T), offering culinary connoisseurs the incredible opportunity to experience the local food scene and culture both on and off the ship. Last but not least, keep in mind that Silversea sails between Vancouver and Seward (with the exception of one September 2024 itinerary, which sails from Nome to Vancouver).
Itinerary: The 7-day Vancouver to Seward sailing on board Silver Nova features Inside Passage scenic cruising and stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka. Before disembarking in Seward, enjoy scenic cruising around Hubbard Glacier.
“If you are looking for a more casual and laid-back experience, Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures offers down-to-earth trips with enthusiastic naturalist guides, simple accommodations, and hearty local cuisine,” says Palmer. Mary Curry, another T+L A-List travel advisor, echoes these sentiments, explaining that “small ships are the absolute best way to see Alaska if your goal is to immerse yourself in nature and wildlife.” While the cabins are no-frills, Curry stresses that the main focus of the cruise is “getting off the ship and exploring everything Alaska’s Inside Passage has to offer.” With that said, when it comes to activities, options abound. Per the pro, travelers can “choose between a menu of included excursions such as kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, zodiac cruises, whale watching, and more.” All in all, UnCruise really does offer something for everyone.
Itinerary: For a truly unique Alaska itinerary, consider the Aleutian Islands Adventure with Kodiak, Katmai, and Kenai Wilderness. Cruisers embark in Whittier before making their way to Kenai Fjords National Park, Kodiak Island and Foul Bay, Katmai National Park, Ugashik National Wildlife Refuge, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, the Shumagin and Unga Islands, False Pass, and Unalaska (where they’ll dock overnight in Dutch Harbor before disembarking the next day).
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
For a true expedition-style experience, Lindblad Expeditions is your best bet. The cruise line offers itineraries in partnership with National Geographic, which have come highly recommended by almost every travel advisor we spoke to. Just take it from Curry, who tells T+L, “If you want to learn about Alaska from a team of exceptional experts, there’s no better choice than a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic itinerary. “Every night before dinner,” she says, “We would hear about what we had seen on our excursions that day from the perspective of the experts — naturalists, geologists, marine mammal researchers, and even a diver who would share magical and colorful images from underwater of the area we had explored via Zodiac during the day.” According to the pro, the vessels are “some of the nicest and most modern small ships in the area,” some of which have private balconies along with “little extras” like water bottle filling stations, a mudroom to store gear, and multiple disembarkation platforms to get travelers on and off the ship quickly. Meanwhile, Goldring notes the line’s National Geographic Global Explorers family program, “which focus[es] on interactive and hands-on education with a true naturalist during outings.” As a result, cruisers can expect “a far more enriching experience [than those] offered by most other lines.”
Itinerary: The weeklong Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness itinerary is “perfect for couples and multi-generational families interested in an engaging and authentic experience exploring the fjords, islands, and small coastal communities,” says Palmer. The itinerary sails between Juneau and Sitka throughout May and September. Along the way, cruisers will visit Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, the tiny fishing town of Petersburg, Glacier Bay National Park, and more.