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PRIORITIES for first-time cruise to Alaska

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Hello,
We are three couples in our 70's cruising to Alaska in August or September, 2014. All are retired and are flexible with the best time to travel. We have so many basic questions:
Which cruise line? Which port of departure? How to minimize bus travel and still see those attractions? How to avoid large crowds of tourists? How to get a "small cruise ship experience" on a cheaper large ship? Definite excursions to include? Should we use the excursions available on the ship or do our own?
Any other suggestions and advice would be most welcomed.
We're all in good health, but not as nimble as we once were! :)
Thank you.

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