How to Choose an Alaska Cruise
The first step in getting the Alaska cruise experience that's right for you is deciding on an itinerary. There is a great deal of misleading or incorrect information about Alaska cruises on the Web - as an Alaskan specialist with over two decades in the industry, here is Murray Lundberg's explanation of the options.
There are two primary types of Alaska cruise itineraries (see these route maps), and many unique ones. Lets start with the basics:
- Inside Passage cruises sail round trip from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco. Most are 7 nights in length, though Princess offers "Alaska samplers" of 4 and 5 nights duration, and San Francisco departures are 10-12 nights. The term "Inside Passage" in general refers to any of the routes between Seattle and the Gulf of Alaska that are protected from the open ocean by islands. Seattle departures usually sail in the open ocean to the west of Vancouver Island so have a higher chance of rough water, and less scenic sailing time. For many people, the trade-off is cheaper airfare to/from Seattle than to/from Vancouver - although it varies a great deal, the difference is sometimes quite small and it's always worth checking your specific planned itinerary..
- One Way, often called a Gulf of Alaska cruise. These sail between Vancouver and Skagway, Seward or Whittier. The one way cruises are mostly 7 nights in length, though the Holland America sailings between Vancouver and Skagway are 4 nights, connecting with long Yukon-Alaska cruisetours. One way cruises are most popular with people who want to see some of interior Alaska and the Yukon Territory, either on a cruisetour, an independent tour, or fully independent with a car or RV rental. These itineraries also offer some glacier sailing not possible on the "Inside Passage" itineraries, notably Hubbard Glacier and College Fjord. Because of that, these itineraries often have "glacier" in their names, such as Princess' "Voyage of the Glaciers". Although these sailings are seldom described as "Inside Passage" itineraries, they do in fact sail the Inside Passage, as that's where most of the Alaska cruise ports are located.
Part of the decision on which Alaska itinerary is right for you will be looking at the ports and what each offers. The possible ports include (in alphabetical order) Anchorage, Haines, Hoonah (Icy Strait Point), Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Vancouver, Victoria and Wrangell. To help with looking at each port's attractions, Murray has posted a guide to Alaska cruise ports.
There are many more questions to be answered about the Alaska cruise that's right for you. From here, we invite you to visit YourAlaskaCruise.com, a Web site that we built a few years ago to answer questions about Alaska weather and suggested reading in particular, but it's also home to lengthy photojournals from Murray's many Alaska cruises. At any point in your research process, we're available to chat - just contact us in any way you choose. Some aspects of the decision such as finding the best ship to match your tastes, is best done in a phone or email conversation.
Cruise Destinations Around the World
A beautiful, calm day at Hoonah, Alaska (Icy Strait Point) while on a Radiance of the Seas cruise.