By Kim Windyka
Despite its nickname, “America’s Last Frontier,” Alaska is the first destination on many cruisers’ wish lists, and with good reason: There aren’t many other vacations that can include a glacier hike, dogsled ride, and rainforest zip-line adventure all in the span of a few days. An Alaska cruise can absolutely be the trip of a lifetime, but I’d recommend keeping a few things in mind to ensure extra-smooth sailing.
When to go
While other cruising locales — say, the Caribbean — are paradise all year round, Alaska obviously has a smaller window for optimum weather. The Alaskan landscapes are surely just as gorgeous in January, but the frigid temperatures are less than ideal. Alaska cruises typically depart from May through September, with May being a popular choice since it’s the driest month. It can still get a bit chilly — even during the summer months — but dressing in layers should have you covered.
Picking an itinerary
The itinerary you select really depends on what’s most important to you. While there are a wide variety of specialized cruises, all Alaska cruises are at least 7 nights, and the two main voyage types are an Inside Passage sailing and a Gulf of Alaska cruise. Cruising the Inside Passage, a channel located in between the Pacific Ocean and mountainous landscapes, is a great option for cruisers looking for convenience since these cruises depart and return to the same port; this means less hassle when choosing flights.
Those wanting to spend more time discovering Alaska on land might want to consider a Gulf of Alaska cruise, which has fewer days at sea than an Inside Passage trip, and more time in port for shore-side exploration. One major difference is that unlike an Inside Passage cruise, most Gulf cruises end at a different port than they depart from, going either Northbound or Southbound. Northbound and Southbound itineraries are almost always available in reverse, but since many cruises use Vancouver, Seward or Whittier as a departure or debarkation point, an important factor to consider is whether you would prefer the longer flight at the beginning or end of your trip. Many cruisers opt for Southbound cruises, simply because a flight back home from Vancouver is usually shorter than one back from Alaska.
Cruisetours and shore excursions
It’s one thing to marvel at Mother Nature from the deck of a ship, but getting up close and personal with Alaska’s beautiful landscapes, plant and animal life can take the experience to another level. Cruise tours, or land and sea packages, combine a cruise vacation with exciting shore excursions like glacier hiking, helicopter rides, wildlife tours, rafting and more. These shore excursions can also be purchased separately after you book your cruise or even board your ship, but with as many attractions on land as there are on the water, many cruisers choose to pair the two in a package for the best of both worlds (and some savings, too).
Picking a cruise line
While all of the major fleets offer Alaska cruises, Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity lines all tout a fairly large selection of itineraries as well as longer sailings — some up to two weeks long.
If you’re looking for something different than the typical tropical trip, an Alaska cruise might be the perfect getaway. Plan ahead for the best prices and availability, and you’ll be gliding past glaciers in no time!
Kim Windyka is a copywriter who crafts ads for travel brands, as well as a bona fide Twitter addict and freelance feature writer whose work has appeared in the New Hampshire Visitors Guide and the Nashua Telegraph. Despite being a Northeast native, she dreams of palm trees daily.