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Cruising is a wildly popular way to vacation and experience new destinations, and there are many, many destinations to choose from. Some prefer the Caribbean, with its swaying palm trees and turquoise waters, while others prefer the Mediterranean for its historic sights and delicious food. And then there are those that are looking for someplace to experience true untouched natural beauty, and for those people, Alaska is usually the destination of choice.
Alaska is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. Its state nickname is the Last Frontier, and for good reason — it’s a state that has more caribou than people, and less than 1% of its 365 million acres of wilderness are actually populated. The name Alaska is derived from the Native Alaskan word "Alyeska," which means "great land." And great it is — it’s the largest state in America and is more than double the size of the second largest state, Texas. Alaska became the 49th state in 1959 and is one of only two states that aren’t connected to the rest (Hawaii being the other). Alaska borders the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Yukon Territory and is only three miles from Russian territory at its most northeastern point.
Alaska is home to the largest glacier in North America, the Bering Glacier, which covers more than 2,000 square miles. It is also home to the world-famous Iditarod sled dog race, Denali (the tallest mountain in North America) and four national parks. It is well-known for the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s for its energy, oil production, pristine wilderness, and iconic wildlife. It’s no wonder that so many people are clamoring to cross Alaska off their bucket list.
Why cruise to Alaska?
There are many parts of Alaska that aren’t linked by state or interstate highways or where road access is limited. Even Alaska’s state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by car — you can only get there by plane or boat. Exploring Alaska by car is difficult and for many, impractical — it would take too long, be too costly, and still not get you everywhere you want to go. For this reason, cruising is a much easier and more practical way to experience a wide spectrum of Alaska sights in a short period of time. And for most people, cruising is just more fun. If you want to see as much of Alaska as possible, why not do it from the deck of a luxurious cruise ship?
When do Alaska cruises run?
For most cruise lines, the Alaska cruise season runs for just five months, May through September. You may find one or two options in April or even October, but the major cruise lines tend to stick to those five months and for good reason. The rest of the year it is simply too cold, too dark, and too stormy for cruising to be enjoyable. The weather tends to be the best (and warmest) in July and August — just keep in mind that those months will also be the busiest (and most expensive) as they are considered peak season. Cruising in spring or fall tends to bring lower crowds, lower prices, and cooler weather.
Alaska cruise route options.
When you cruise to Alaska, you generally take one of two routes: the Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska. The Inside Passage is the most prevalent route option and represents about two-thirds of the Alaska cruises offered. Inside Passage cruises are generally round trip from either Seattle or Vancouver B.C. and tend to make three or four stops in ports such as Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Haines, or Victoria B.C. They generally also spend a day cruising through Glacier Bay or viewing another glacier, plus several days at sea.
Gulf of Alaska cruises tend to be one-way either northbound or southbound from Seattle or Vancouver B.C. to a port near Anchorage or vice versa. They generally hit the same or similar ports as the Inside Passage route with potential added options of Valdez, Hubbard Glacier, or College Fjord. Gulf of Alaska cruises generally have the option of adding a land tour at the beginning or end of the cruise, bringing you to inland destinations like Fairbanks, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, or Denali National Park.
Alaska cruise line options.
There are more than a dozen options for cruise lines that operate in Alaska, but the five largest are Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. Which one you select will be determined by many factors, including your preferred ship size, onboard experience, date and route options, and price. Larger cruise ships offer benefits like a wide range of onboard amenities, diverse dining options, extensive facilities, and a very social atmosphere. You can expect things like onboard water parks, theaters, spas, and casinos, plus regular entertainment options. Smaller cruise ships tend to offer a more intimate experience, with greater access to wildlife viewing, remote areas, and local communities.
Top Alaska cruise tips.
These top travel industry tips will help make your Alaska cruise a fun and stress-free experience.
1. Plan ahead. Alaska cruises tend to book out early, because of the short cruising season and limited sailings. The best deals and the best cabins go to those who book early, so don’t wait till the last minute to book your Alaska cruise.
2. Budget more. Alaska has a fairly high cost of living, which means things like shore excursions and portside shopping and dining will run you significantly more than, say, a Caribbean cruise.
3. Extend if you can. The option to add a two- to seven-day land tour either before or after your cruise is the experience of a lifetime. You’ll see things inland that you won’t find along the coast, and you’ll do it with luxurious land accommodations and world-class transportation.
4. Pack layered clothing. Alaska can have broad temperature swings, so one day you may need pants and a warm coat, and another day it may be warm enough to wear shorts and a tee shirt. Packing clothing that is easily layered is highly recommended.
5. Expect sleep impacts. Because Alaska is so far north, during cruise season the days are long and bright and the nights are short and only semi-dark. In fact, during part of the year it never really gets dark at all. The constant daylight has an effect on some people’s sleep patterns.
6. Bring binoculars. The entire journey up and down the Pacific coastline of Canada and Alaska is full of beautiful scenery, stunning wildlife, and amazing views. To properly see things at a distance, binoculars can really come in handy.
7. Take the train. Airfare to Seattle tends to be cheaper than airfare to Vancouver B.C. If your cruise departs from Vancouver, you may save a few bucks by flying into Seattle, Everett, or Bellingham, then taking the train across the border to Vancouver.
8. Arrive a day early. It’s risky to fly in the same day your cruise departs. If you’re departing from Seattle or Vancouver B.C., consider arriving a day early and booking accommodations at WorldMark The Camlin or WorldMark The Canadian.
WorldMark by Wyndham Travel can make it all happen.
WorldMark by Wyndham Travel, your exclusive full-service owner travel agency, can make any vacation happen, and they are true experts in booking Alaska cruises (plus many, many other things). If you need help choosing or booking an Alaska cruise, visit their online booking page or give them a call. They can make your vacation planning process as easy as pie. From flights and accommodations to land tour extensions and transportation, WorldMark by Wyndham Travel has you covered, from A to Z.