Alaskan Cruise Guide 2021

Alaska Tours & Cruises

Alaska cruise tours are a very special vacation offering that can add significant value to your Alaska trip. Princess Cruises is known for its great Cruisetour program. These unique vacation offerings will take you deep into the heart of Alaska where you can see Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley, and amazing wildlife.

A sample Princess Cruises cruise tour will have two or more nights at Denali National Park, Direct-to-the-Wilderness rail service, wildlife viewing, a full day at Glacier Bay National Park, comfortable wilderness lodges owned and operated by Princess, and various land excursions. Families can also book cruise tours, so the whole family can enjoy themselves.

Celebrity Cruises also offers cruise tours, so that you can enjoy Alaska’s natural wonders. The state’s wilderness lends itself to personal exploration. What a cruise tour means to you is a fully-escorted land tour into the Alaskan interior, along with your cruise travel. There are a variety of destinations along with your cruise tour – the Canadian Rockies, the resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, or many wonderful destinations.

Cruise tours offer significant value and take away the stress of planning a multi-part vacation. Let the cruise line plan it all out and make everything easy and fun for you.

Alaska’s Inside Passage

Alaska’s Inside Passage is a popular cruise, and cruise tour, the destination for travelers who want to see Alaska’s amazing wilderness. The Inside Passage is a coastal route in the far southeast part of Alaska (starting near Puget Sound in Washington State, passing through Canadian British Columbia, finally ending near the Alaskan Panhandle). Many isolated communities live near Alaska’s Inside Passage, though this is somewhat of a misnomer, as the very same communities are visited by many cruise ships throughout the year.

Alaska’s Inside Passage makes up the Southwest region of Alaska and was the center of activity during Alaska’s 19th century Gold Rush. Also known as the “Panhandle,” the Inside Passage is known best for breathtaking views, bountiful wildlife, lively native cultures, fascinating history, and extraordinary hospitality. Most cruises to Alaska’s Inside Passage are 7-10 days long and are the best way to experience the Alaskan terrain! You can enjoy many activities at the following ports:

Juneau – Enjoy helicopter tours of Mendenhall glacier, or you can catch the bus to the national park and hike the vast mountain trails of Nugget Falls around the lake. You can also take the tramway to the top of Mount Roberts for a panoramic view of Juneau. Want some more leisurely activities? Enjoy local shops selling goods particular to Alaska (gold jewelry, fur, carved ivory). Or stop by one of the local restaurants and bars for some Alaskan King Crab.

Ketchikan– Misty Ketchikan, also known as the “Salmon Capital of The World.” This port offers an abundance of activities: kayak in Misty Fiords, or hike up Deer Mountain, and then relax by browsing the local shops and galleries.

See the list of cruise lines below to determine your options for great cruises to the Alaskan Inside Passage.

The following Cruise Lines offers tours  to the Alaska-Inside Passage

  • Azamara Cruise Lines
  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Holland America Lines
  • Norwegian Cruise Lines
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean International

Alaska-N./S. Bound

The first thing to realize about North/Southbound Alaska cruises is that they are by definition, one-way cruises. So that means that you’ll have to book a flight (or make some other arrangements) either to or from the cruise port.

One-way cruises are also often called “repositioning cruises” which is to say, the cruise line is repositioning its ship. These trips are often good value and present you with the opportunity to save time – you can choose to fly back and cover the distance you’ve just traveled much faster than a returning cruise ship would.

Alaska North/Southbound cruises often travel through the Inside Passage and will also visit destinations such as Hubbard Glacier. A popular departure point for Northbound cruises (as well as a destination for Southbound cruises) is Vancouver. Southbound cruises often originate in Seward.

Northbound Sailings: Celebrity Millennium, Holland America Statendam, Princess Cruises Diamond Princess and Coral Princess, and Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas.

Southbound Sailings: Look for cruise ships like Holland America’s Ryndam, Statendam; Celebrity’s Millennium, and Princess Cruises’ Island Princess.

The following Cruise Lines offers tours to the Alaska-N./S. Bound

  • Azamara Cruise Lines
  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Holland America Lines
  • Norwegian Cruise Lines
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean International

Cruise Destinations: Alaska

The word Alaska comes from the Aleut “Alashka”, or Great Land. Many things beyond mere size distinguish Alaska among the states. It has ten rivers over three hundred miles long, three million lakes larger than twenty acres, mere than half the world’s glaciers, and nineteen mountains higher than fourteen thousand feet, including North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley (Denali), 20,060 feet high.

What are Alaska’s climate and geography really like? One might as well try to describe in one word the climate and geography of America. Think of Alaska as five states in one, each of the five as distinct and separate as Arizona is from Wisconsin, as Wyoming from Tennessee.

Starting at bottom of the state, the Gulf of Alaska stretches in an arc from the southern tip of the Southeastern panhandle region on the east, around the mid-gulf region of Southcentral and west, to the base of the Alaska Peninsula. The Southwest region includes both the Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. While Alaskans often distinguish politically between Southeast and Southcentral, the two regions share many topographic features: snowcapped mountains plugging into gray-blue fjords, dense forests, heavy precipitation, ice-free saltwater year-round south of Anchorage. South central’s inland regions are drier and cooler with sparser vegetation.

A long, narrow strip of mainland and thousands of islands and fjords make up the Inside Passage, also known as Alaskan Panhandle. Most of the Inside Passage is encompassed by the Tongass National Forest, one of the few rainforests in the Northern Hemisphere. For amateur photographers and wildlife watchers, a camera with a long lens and a pair of binoculars are essential to fully appreciate the greatness of the Inside Passage. Alaska Glacier Cruise Animals that are rare or endangered in the Lower 48 states thrive here. Both the black bear and the brown bear, also known as the grizzly, tramp through the undergrowth. The bears feed on the Pacific salmon that inhabit the waterways and love the region’s plentiful blueberries and salmonberries. Moose, mountain goats, gray wolves, and Sitka black-tailed deer also inhabit the mountains and forests. Wolf sightings are extremely rare but look for deer foraging on leaves and shrubs along the rocky beaches and for mountain goats high in rocky out-crops. Of all the animals that dwell along the Inside Passage, you’ll be most likely to see the marine mammals. Numerous species of whale can be spotted throughout the summer. Humpback whales surface close to shore when feeding and make a strong sound as they expel air and water vapor from their blowholes. Beautiful orcas, or killer whales, have distinctive black and white markings.

The Inside Passage is also a land of glaciers. The towering mountain ranges you see today were uplifted by ancient faults and continue to be shaped by the advance and retreat of the glaciers. Thousands of years ago, glaciers carved up the deep U-shaped fjords, which were later floated by the sea. Glaciers start as an accumulation of snow in the higher elevations. New snowfall compacts the bottom layers, forming a hard-packed ice field. Gravity forces the ice to move down the mountains with its grinding rocks and sediment. As the glaciers reach the sea, the ice breaks, or calves, off the face of the glaciers to form icebergs. Alaska ScenerySoutheast Alaska is one of few places in the world where such tidewater glaciers are found. One of the most fascinating aspects of Alaska’s glaciers concerns their color. The glacial ice absorbs all the colors of the spectrum except blue, which is reflected outward to give the glaciers their luminous blue appearance. Thought Alaska, the landscape looks much the same as when the first human inhabitants settled here. Wildlife abounds along with the pristine forests and waterways, against a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountain peaks. When you spot your first whale, watch a bear catch a salmon in mid-stream, and thrill to a bald eagle soaring overhead, you’re sure to agree that along Alaska’s Inside Passage, the spectacular is commonplace.

Ketchikan – King Salmon Capital of the World

Ketchikan is known by many names. Born and raised in the salmon industry, the town has earned the title King Salmon Capital of the World. And many people know Ketchikan as the state’s Rain Capital, with around 162 inches of precipitation annually. Nevertheless, Ketchikan does have glorious sunny days, especially in the summer.

The town occupies a prime spot on the western coast of Revillagigedo Island, or Revilla Island, as residents call it for short. Built on the site of a Tlingit fishing camp, present-day Ketchikan is home to the largest Native population in the state. Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and many other tribes are represented. The name Ketchikan is said to mean “Eagle Wing River” in Tlingit, which describes the tumbling waterfalls on Ketchikan Creek.

Some of Alaska’s finest shopping is right here. For something completely different, investigate hand-made Native drums, hand-carved masks and totems, and carved ivory and whale-bone figures. Alaska is home to unique gifts and shops, galleries and fabulous jewelry stores. As you wander around, visit one of the friendly coffee shops, or enjoy a delicious seafood lunch in a local restaurant. In Ketchikan, you’ll find shopping, sights, and activities that will make your visit to Ketchikan unforgettable.

Totem Tours: Among the locals in Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan is known by yet another name: Totem Town. Ketchikan boasts the world’s largest collection of totem poles-stately monuments to the artistry and heritage of Alaska’s Native people. Visitors interested in Native Alaskan culture will want to investigate several sites. Organized tours are available at the cruise ship docks.

Creek Street: An easy walk from the cruise ship dock you’ll find Creek Street, the historic Red Light District, which now house some of the most unique gift shops in Alaska. The “street” is really a boardwalk meant only for foot traffic, extending along either side of Ketchikan Creek. From the bridge that spans the creek, you can watch salmon upstream in the months of August and September.

Saxman Native Village: Only 2-1/2 miles from downtown, Saxman Native Village displays a large collection of totems, including the largest totem pole in the world. Tours of the tribal house will instill both familiarity and respect for the residents’ way of life.

To See And Do:

  • Visit Creek Street, Ketchikan’s historic red-light district where “both men and salmon came upstream to spawn”
  • Check out the unique shops and galleries through the downtown area
  • Take the Westmark Cape Fox Lodge Funicular to the top of the hill for great views of Ketchikan and the Tongass Narrows
  • See the exhibits at the new Southeast Alaska Visitor Center, just up from the cruise ship dock
  • Tour Deer Mountain Hatchery, where over 350,000 salmon are produced annually
  • Visit the Tongass Historical Society Museum, which features exhibits on Ketchikan’s fascinating history
  • See magnificent totem poles at Totem Heritage Cultural Center and Saxman Village

Juneau: Alaska’s Capital

If your cruise itinerary includes Juneau, consider yourself lucky. In 1995 a Los Angeles Times readers poll ranked Juneau fifth among the top ten cruise destinations in the world. Those responding said the main criteria for choosing their favorite ports were scenic beauty and shopping – both of which Juneau has in abundance.

Juneau had served as Alaska’s seat of government since 1906, but that’s just one of its claims to fame. In 1880, 20 years before the Nome and Klondike gold rushes, a Tlingit guide led two prospectors named Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris to gold in the mountains. They stacked out a 160-acre townsite on the beach, and a boomtown was born. In downtown Juneau, The Gold Rush Historic District maintains a definitive frontier flavor even today.

Just up from the docks, explore South Franklin Street, where the architecture reflects Juneau’s colorful history. Hop abroad the trolley to hit all the points of interest downtown, or take the self-guided walking tour. World-class shopping and fine restaurants await you just a short walk from the bustling waterfront. Juneau’s gift shops carry everything from smoked salmon, T-shirts, and postcards to exquisite jewelry and one-of-a-kind works of art whether you’re seeking a memento of your Alaskan journey or the perfect gift for a loved on back home.

For a taste of adventure, consider one of the many side trips available in the Juneau area. This idyllic setting at the heart of The Inside Passage is sometimes compared to the fjords of Norway. Local cab and tour companies will be happy to assist you in planning an itinerary that leaves enough time for shopping.

Alaska’s capital city, the third-largest city in the state, nestles at the foot of Mt. Juneau in The Tongass National Forest. Beyond lies the 1,500 square mile Juneau Ice Field. The field feeds 38 separate glaciers, one which is the easily accessible Mendenhall Glacier. Stop in at the visitor center there for a look at the interpretive exhibits that explain the glacial activity.

With a population of 30,000, Juneau may seem large in comparison to Alaska’s other ports of call. But its narrow hillside streets and friendly residents lend a small-town atmosphere. Along many of the avenues, you’ll find lampposts trimmed with colorful banners and flower baskets – just one of the ways Juneau says “Welcome” to it’s many visitors.

To See And Do:

  • Take a self-guided walking tour of downtown Juneau, where galleries, shops, restaurants, and saloons abound.
  • Visit the Alaska State Museum for displays of Native artifacts, natural history, and state history
  • Tour the House of Wickersham and see a fascinating collection of nineteenth-century memorabilia
  • Take a break from the hustle and bustle and relax in Marine Park by the cruise ship dock
  • For a closer look at Juneau’s gold mining history, visit Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike

The town of Skagway sits at the top of the Inside Passage, framed by the deep waters of Taiya Inlet and the rugged Coast Mountains. Its distinctive name comes from the Tlingit word skagua , which is said to mean «home of the north wind». This historic port of call beckons travelers to revisit the turn of the century when the Klondike Gold Rush transformed Skagway into a boomtown.

Skagway was founded by Captain William Moore, who homesteaded in the valley 10 years before the Gold Rush. Moore believed that the White Pass just above Skagway would prove the best route to the goldfields – and he saw his dream come true. In 1898, Skagway became the jumping-off point for prospectors on the long trek into Canada and the Klondike. Nearly 20,000 gold seekers passed through on their way to the White Pass and Chilkoot trails. Many never made it to their destination, but instead succumbed to the elements or to the temptations of the lawless frontier town. Others caught the entrepreneurial spirit and established thriving businesses intended to serve the would-be millionaires.

Today Skagway looks much the same it did during the Gold Rush era. Boardwalks and colorful false-fronted buildings line Broadway, the main street through town. The downtown area comprises a seven-block-long historic district known as the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, where turn-of-the-century shops and saloons are still open for business.

The best way to explore Skagway is on foot. Most visitors find there’s plenty to fun and excitement to be had just by strolling down Broadway. The town’s false fronted buildings provide a festive atmosphere for some of Alaska’s best shopping. Points of interests include the Red Onion Saloon, where drinks are served from the original 19-foot mahogany bar. This popular watering hole has been a favorite with locals since 1898. Across the street visit the National Park Service’s Mascot Saloon exhibit for a look at turn-of-the-century life.

A few steps away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway, Captain William Moore’s original log cabin stands at 5th and Spring streets. It’s a fitting tribute to the old captain whose vision made Skagway the Gateway to the Klondike – a town that lives today as a favorite destination of cruise ships along the Inside Passage.

To See And Do:

  • Tour Skagway’s downtown Historic District for shopping, food, and entertainment.
  • Take pictures at Arctic Brotherhood Hall, one of the most photographed buildings in Alaska
  • Visit the Trail of ’98 Museum to see relics from the Gold Rush days.
  • Stop for refreshments at the notorious Red Onion Saloon
  • Visit the Gold Rush Cemetery on the outskirts of town, where con man Soapy Smith and his killer Frank Reid are buried
  • Take an unforgettable excursion up White Pass on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

Sitka: By the Sea

Sitka rests on the outside waters of the Inside Passage, on the west coast of Baranof Island facing the Pacific Ocean. This charming coastal community was first inhabited more than 9,000 years ago by the ancestors of the Tlingit people. The name Sitka comes from the Tlingit name for their village, Shee Atika, meaning “people on the outside od Shee”. Today, nearly a quarter of Sitka’s population claims Native heritage.

Sitka also shows its strong Russian heritage – in fact, it was once the capital of cultural and political life in Russian America. Trader Alexander Baranof arrived here in 1799 to establish a fort, which later expanded into the town of New Archangel. In 1808 this settlement became the capital of Russian Colony, a wilderness empire that extended from the Aleutian Islands to Fort Ross north of San Francisco. St. Michael’s Cathedral still serves as the seat of the Russian Orthodox faith in Alaska.

With the abundance of 1 to 3-hour tours offered in Sitka, cruise ship passengers usually find it easy and rewarding to make time for exploring the town on foot. In the shopping district, many shops proudly display the town’s strong Russian heritage, featuring nesting dolls, or Matroska; hand-painted lacquer boxes; exquisite collector’s eggs; clothing; needlework and other handcrafted items. As you wend your way past Sitka’s quaint shops and galleries, you’ll encounter many of the town’s historic sites. Heading down Lincoln Street past St. Michael’s Cathedral, you’ll come to the red-roofed Pioneers Home. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to tour the home’s beautiful gardens of Native Alaskan plant species. A bronze statue of a prospector was erected to honor the residents. Across the street is Totem Square, where the hand-carved totem pole depicts Sitka’s double-headed eagle. Contrary to popular belief, Native Alaskan people did not worship the totems. They were carved with images of animals, ancestors and supernatural beings representing family crests and clan history.

With its many historic sites, museums, shops, galleries, and beautiful harbor, Sitka is the perfect seaside destination. Go ashore, explore, and experience the mix of Native, Russian and American cultures that come together harmoniously in the unique community of Sitka.

To See And Do:

  • Stroll the streets of Sitka and visit shops, galleries, museums and historic sites
  • See Russian dances by the renewed New Archangel Dancers
  • Stop by St. Michael’s Cathedral in the heart of town and view its fine collection of Russian icons and religious art.
  • Visit Sitka National Historical Park, pictured above, and walk through Alaskan rain forest past Tlingit totem poles

Anchorage: Where Summer Never Sleeps

Many cruise ship passengers end their Alaskan adventure with a trip to Anchorage and an excursion to Denali that leaves by train or bus from Alaska’s largest city. Whether you’re in Anchorage for a few hours or an overnight stay, be sure to enjoy the local shopping, sightseeing, and friendly hospitality.

The first thing you’ll like about Anchorage in the summer is that the sun virtually never sets; up to 19 hours of daylight are common. With temperatures in the 60s, you’ll thoroughly enjoy exploring the city in light clothing plus a sweater or wind jacket. The down-town area boast an impressive selection of shops and attractions, all within walking distance of the major hotels and the Egan Center.

As you stroll the city streets, you’ll notice that Anchorage has a love affair with flowers. Hundreds of baskets filled with blue lobelia and golden marigolds line the avenues, representing the colors od the Municipality of Anchorage the State of Alaska.

A seaside city, Anchorage is boarded on the west by Cook Inlet and Mount Susitna. To the east, the mighty Chugach Mountains rise up to 13,000 feet. The 485,000 acres Chugach State Park is located just outside the city limits, and Turnagain Arm – a great area for bird and whale watching – is a short drive south of downtown. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population ( 250,000 residents ) live in Anchorage, the financial, communications, and transportation hub of Alaska. The local resident’s joke that Anchorage is “only 10 minutes away from Alaska”. Don’t be surprised, however, to see the odd moose wandering tight through town.

When Captain James Cook sailed up Cook Inlet in 1778, he didn’t find the Northwest Passage – but he did find the site of Alaska’s greatest city. With its first-class amenities and spectacular wilderness attractions nearby, Anchorage is sure to call you back again and again.

To See And Do:

  • Visit the Anchorage Museum of History and Art for a glimpse of Alaska’s unique past
  • Pick up a self-guided walking tour map at the Log Cabin Informations Center and see the points of interest downtown
  • Attend a performance at the historic 4th Avenue Theatre

Seward: The Real Alaska

Cruising up scenic Resurrection Bay of Alaska leads to the port community od Seward. Majestic mountains surround the town, which nestles at the very head of the bay. At 3,022 feet, towering Mount Marathon provides a breathtaking backdrop for the town and harbor. This picturesque port of call was named for Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russians 1867.

Just a short walk from the dock, you’ll discover the bustling waterfront boardwalks with their quaint shops, art galleries, and excellent seafood restaurants. Catch the local trolley for a short ride downtown to the historic district, which offers shopping and various walking tours.

As the gateway to Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward provides the starting point for day trips to view the antics of sea lions and porpoises along with spectacular icy blue glaciers. Some of the best silver salmon and halibut fishing in the world takes place here. Giant halibut weighing between 200 and 300 pounds is not uncommon. In August fisherman converge on Seward for the largest Silver Salmon Derby in the Pacific Northwest.

Wherever you go in Seward, you’ll find friendly hospitality and a sense of pride among the local residents. Seward invites visitors to come ashore and catch a glimpse of “The Real Alaska”.

To See And Do:

  • Tour historic downtown Seward, where many of the shops and cafes are housed in buildings over 50 years old.
  • A visit to the Seward Museum is a must to catch up on local history prior to statehood
  • See the Brownell House, a log cabin built by one of the first settlers in Seward
  • Try your luck in the Seward Silver Salmon Derby held every August
  • On July 4, make sure to catch the Mount Marathon endurance race