Now that spring has arrived, Alaska’s cruise season is just around the corner, officially kicking off in May. Accordingly, now is the time to book a cruise to the 49th state, home to wild and open spaces where all manner of flora and fauna thrive. The breathtaking scenery includes beautiful bays and harbors, old-growth forests, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and fjords. When it comes to animal-spotting, there are numerous varieties of whales, sea lions, and harbor seals in the water; bears, moose, fox, and caribou on land; and eagles soaring overhead.
There’s more to Alaska than its natural beauty, though. You’ll visit some very small towns and villages where the locals will welcome you and the restaurants will thrill you with meals that include succulent Alaska king crab legs, wild salmon, and halibut. If an Alaskan cruise is starting to sound good to you, consider one of these iconic seven-night voyages, based on your ship-size preference.
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Un-Cruise Adventures’ “Inner Reaches Western Cove” Journey (Ketchikan to Juneau)
This particular voyage is available on Un-Cruises’ adventure ships Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer, and Wilderness Explorer, as well as the luxury yachts Safari Endeavour and Safari Explorer. The itinerary visits Tongass National Forest/El Capitan Passage, Klawock Native Village, Chatham Strait, Frederick Sound, The Brothers Islands/Stephens Passage, and Endicott Arm for Fords Terror. When we say Un-Cruise ships are intimate, we’re not kidding. The ships listed above cater between 36 and 84 passengers, so everyone gets special attention. It also means there are no wait times to jump into the skiff to get close to whales, seals, and sea lions or to venture ashore on an included shore excursion. These cruises are perfect for anyone who really wants to get to know Alaska and partake in active excursions like hiking and kayaking.
Regent Seven Seas Navigator (Anchorage/Seward to Vancouver)
Regent knows a thing or two about sailing Alaska’s waters, and its Seven Seas Navigator has been cruising the region every spring and summer for many years. With just 490 passengers, this is the smallest luxury ship exploring the Inside Passage, and it’s fully inclusive so all your alcoholic beverages and shore excursions are included. Navigator cruises Hubbard Glacier and then visits Sitka, Tracy Arm for Twin Sawyer Glaciers, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and more leisurely cruising of the Inside Passage.
Island Princess (Anchorage/Whittier to Vancouver)
Princess Cruises’ Island Princess (1,970 passengers) also visits Glacier Bay along with Hubbard Glacier, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. What’s special about this voyage is that you’ll start out in Anchorage and will take the Alaska Railroad to the embarkation point of Whittier. The scenic train ride itself is something that should be on your must-do list.
Holland America Volendam (Vancouver round-trip)
Many cruisers come to Alaska specifically to see Glacier Bay National Park. Holland America’s 1,805-passenger Volendam cruises the park along with exploration of the Inside Passage, Tracy Arm for Twin Sawyer Glaciers, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.
Celebrity Solstice (Seattle round-trip)
With the capacity to ferry 2,850 guests, Celebrity Solstice is the largest ship in this list of Alaskan best bets but it also happens to be a favorite ship for many people. The vessel is a destination itself, with a variety of specialty restaurants, pools, and excellent spa, and more. This itinerary includes a day at sea followed by Ketchikan, Tracy Arm for Twin Sawyer Glaciers, Juneau, cruising the Inside Passage, Skagway, a day at sea, and British Columbia’s Victoria.
Norwegian Jewel (Seattle round-trip)
Norwegian Jewel offers a very similar itinerary as the above Solstice sailing. Jewel is a slightly smaller ship (with a guest count of 2,376) and is also home to several excellent specialty restaurants and a spa, plus the high-end villa accommodations aboard Jewel are worth the extra dough.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Cruise Critic, and other websites and magazines. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.