Alaska is one of the most beautiful and diverse cruise destinations in the world. Its charms—snow-capped mountains, fjords and glaciers, hiking trails through rain forests, animal life ranging from brown bears and orca whales to American bald eagles—lure nature lovers and photographers, families and retirees, and those on a budget as well as people looking to pull out all the stops with a luxurious vacation. Dozens of yacht companies and cruise lines ply Alaska’s Inside Passage so there is a perfect experience waiting for everyone.
Best on a Budget: Norwegian Sun Vancouver to Whittier
Being on a fixed budget shouldn’t stop you from cruising Alaska. Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sun is sailing from Vancouver to Whittier and back all spring and summer with per person rates ranging from $399 to $679. There are plenty of cruises in the mid-$400 range. While Norwegian Sun is one of the line’s newest ships (she was launched in 2001), it’s in good shape and the itinerary includes all the highlights like Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Norwegian offers complimentary children’s programs for kids ages 3–17 so this ship is a popular choice for families. The cruise line also offers a variety of affordable add-on land tours to Denali (home of Mount McKinley), which are led by local Alaskan guides.
Best for Honeymooners: Silversea Silver Shadow Vancouver to Seward
Silversea’s Silver Shadow is the best option in Alaska for the honeymooning couple. This intimate all-inclusive luxury ship caters to just 382 guests and a dedicated butler tends to each and every suite. Book the Owner’s Suite with its large veranda (the perfect vantage point for spying whales and other sea creatures), floor-to-ceiling glass doors, living room, and separate dining area. You will definitely be pampered! This Vancouver to Seward itinerary (and reverse) covers Alaska’s "greatest hits" like Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Sawyer Glacier, Juneau, and Sitka.
Best All-Inclusive: Regent Seven Seas Navigator Vancouver to Seward
Like other cruise ships, Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator calls on some of the most popular Alaskan ports and sites like Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, and Hubbard Glacier. There are two things that set Regent apart from the others though: First, the line has sailed Alaska extensively so the ship’s officers and crew are incredibly knowledgeable about the area. Second, Regent offers the most all-inclusive cruise experience available so if that’s what you’re looking for, you can’t do any better in Alaska. Regent’s all-inclusive fare includes free unlimited shore excursions, complimentary beverages onboard (including wine and premium spirits), pre-paid gratuities, ground transfers, and an in-suite mini-bar setup that’s replenished throughout the cruise. Certain dates also offer free roundtrip air and a one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel package.
Best for Nature Enthusiasts: Un-Cruise Adventures Juneau to Ketchikan
The popular Inner Reaches Eastern Coves itinerary from Juneau to Ketchikan (and reverse) is available in two flavors: luxury (aboard the lines two high-end boats Safari Endeavour and Safari Explorer) and adventure (aboard Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer, and Wilderness Explorer). Onboard naturalists shepherd you to the Tracy Arm fjord, the twin Sawyer Glaciers, Thomas Bay, Patterson Glacier, Wrangell Narrows, Kiksetti Totem Park, Behm Canal and the surrounding Tongass National Forest, and Misty Fjords National Monument. With just 36 to 86 guests, Un-Cruise Adventures makes it easy to get close to the wildlife. You’ll explore via skiff and kayak and do your fair share of hiking on land. Get ready to see brown and black bears, mink, deer, wolves, harbor seals, otters, eagles, arctic terns, pigeon guillemots, humpbacks, orca, Steller sea lions, porpoise, and so much more.
Best for Foodies: Celebrity Solstice Seattle Round-Trip
Cruising to adventurous Alaska doesn’t mean skipping out on finer ship amenities, and that includes fine dining options. The 2,850-guest Celebrity Solstice offers a variety of excellent restaurants. Some are included in your cruise fare while others—like Murano, Tuscan Grille, and Silk Harvest—cost an additional small fee per person. If you think you’ll want to dine at the specialty restaurants throughout your cruise, consider purchasing a specialty restaurant dining package. Solstice offers a variety of roundtrip itineraries out of Seattle that call on Ketchikan, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia.
Best for Retirees: Holland America Oosterdam Seattle Round-Trip
Holland America is a strong leader when it comes to Alaskan voyages geared toward retirees. The Seattle round-trip aboard the 1,916-passenger ms Oosterdam offers gorgeous views of the waterways from Puget Sound to Southeast Alaska with visits to Tracy Arm, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, British Columbia. The ship focuses on exemplary service, fine dining, a Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine, accessible shore excursions, and onboard activities geared toward mature adults.
Best for Families: Disney Wonder Vancouver Round-Trip
A terrific option for families who want to cruise Alaska but aren’t sure if the destination will hold the interest of the youngest in the party is Disney Wonder. There’s always something to do aboard a Disney cruise! The ports include standbys like Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Onboard the 2,400-passenger ships there’s the formal youth clubs that offer organized activities for a variety of age groups, character meet-and-greets, Broadway-style shows, three pools, and so much more. You’ll pay a premium for the Disney brand but your kids will love every minute of the cruise.
Best for Intellects: Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Sea Lion, Sea Bird Juneau to Sitka
Lindblad Expeditions, in partnership with National Geographic, has two 62-passenger vessels—Sea Lion and Sea Bird—sailing its Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness itinerary. You’ll start off in Juneau to visit Mendenhall Glacier before moving on to Tracy or Endicott Arm, Sawyer Glacier, and Dawes Glazier. Day three calls upon the small town of Petersburg on Mitkof Island, the surrounding waters of which are idea for humpback whale sightings. Next is Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait, Point Adolphus, and Inian Pass. A unique aspect of this itinerary is a full day spent inside Glacier Bay National Park where there’s a good chance you’ll see calving glaciers. Lindblad naturalists and National Geographic photographers lead daily explorations as well as informative lectures onboard the ship in the evenings. You’ll learn as much as you can about the history of Alaska, its native Indians, topography, and wildlife.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.
Photo credit: Photo of ms Oosterdam and Hubbard Glacier courtesy of Holland America Line. Photo of skiff and iceberg courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures. Photo of Silver Shadow Owner’s Suite courtesy of Silversea