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1st trip to Alaska - cruise or land?

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We want to take a family trip to Alaska for the first time. What is the best recommendation for the best way to see the most? Our children are 21 and 23 so no need to entertain little ones. We definitely would like to try to see Denali, glaciers, whale watch, northern lights, salmon fishing and even try panning for gold.
When going for the first time, is it better to just do a cruise and go with their itinerary to get a taste of things and then plan a second trip to explore more?
We've never been on a cruise so I wasn't sure how it works with 4 adults - I'm assuming we should get two rooms. I think I'd prefer a smaller ship than the huge major cruise ships.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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