Alaska Cruise FAQs

Our top 40 Alaska cruise questions are listed below. You can also check our cruise tips & advice section, use the search box above, contact us online, or give us a call at 800-208-0200. If you are looking for an Alaska cruise or cruise quote be sure to try our Cruise Finder tool.

Jump To: Getting Started, Cruise Routes & Itineraries, Cruise Lines & Ships, General Questions

Getting Started

Q: Should I take an Alaska cruise or land tour or both?

The answer to this question often depends on how much time you have, how you like to travel, and what you want to do and see in Alaska.

Cruises can be a great introduction to Alaska, and a good way to see Alaska's glaciers, marine wildlife, and historic coastal towns. They are a good choice for travelers who enjoy cruising, or just like the idea of taking day trips but returning to the same room every night.

Land tours will allow you to see more of Alaska and give you the ultimate flexibility over your itinerary. For example, you can still explore glaciers and marine wildlife on a day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park, then travel by train and take in the majestic views and wildlife of Denali National Park.

If you have 12 to 14 days or more, and want the best of both worlds, then you should definitely consider a cruise and land tour. We have many great pre- or post-cruise options that connect glacier route Alaska cruises with land tours from Whittier, Seward, and Anchorage.

Please visit this page for more advice on choosing between cruises, land tours, and combo tours.

Q: What is the best month to cruise Alaska?

Alaska cruises are only available during the summer from mid-May to mid-September. Which month you choose often comes down to what works best for your schedule, but here are a few quick tips.

You are more likely to find cruise specials in May, as well as less crowds in some destinations. June brings longer days, warmer temperatures and is the month that the Alaska travel industry really swings into full gear. July is usually the warmest month, glaciers can be more active and fishing is good. Temperatures begin to cool mid-August, less children are traveling, and often there can be more precipitation. By September, rates and temperatures will often drop, crowds can be smaller, and perhaps you will even see the northern lights.

For more specifics, be sure to read this article on the best time to cruise to Alaska.

Q: What is the best Alaska cruise for me?

Your first decision should be which cruise route you will take. We have a strong preference for the glacier route itineraries that sail one-way northbound or southbound between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier. These sailings are easily paired with a land vacation package either pre- or post-cruise. You can also take a roundtrip Alaska cruise from Seattle or even Vancouver, but these sailings really just scratch the surface when it comes to seeing all Alaska has to offer.

Choosing which cruise line to take is generally the next step, and really depends more on traveler preferences. There are some excellent tips on picking which cruise line is right for you in this article on the best Alaska cruises.

Q: What is there to do on an Alaskan cruise?

The onboard activities on any given cruise depends on the cruising line, but most feature shows, port talks, live music, culinary demonstrations, outdoor recreation, and casino gaming. You will typically find specialty restaurants, work out facilities, dance clubs, a library, and spa. Many of the cruises feature education programs to enrich guests' experience in Alaska. Topics range from glaciology to Alaskan Native cultures, Alaska's seafood industry, and wildlife. See our cruise lines and ships sections for specific details on activities offered by a particular ship or line.

Of course, the stars of Alaska cruising are the scenery and ports of call. Most cruises will travel through the Inside Passage and include visits to spectacular destinations such as Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, and College Fjord. Ports of call also vary based on the cruise you choose, but most week-long cruises include three ports of call, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway. In Juneau, one of the main highlights is the Mendenhall Glacier, which provides some iconic views for those looking for great glacier photos. Ketchikan is well known for its collection of totem poles at Saxman Native Village. In Skagway, there is a vintage passenger rail service called the White Pass Railway that goes up to the White Pass summit, following the footsteps of Klondike gold prospectors.

Q: How much does an Alaska cruise cost?

There is quite a range in price depending on the cruise line, cabin selection, time of year, party size, and other factors. You might see a price as low as $700 per person for an inside cabin in May on a glacier route cruise, or over $2,000 for a balcony cabin in July. Cruise discounts are often available, so be sure to ask us for a quote on a specific voyage. Many people like to start with our cruise finder to get the process started.

Q: Where can I find Alaska cruise deals or discounts?

Promotional deals are usually offered during the shoulder season, holidays, and anniversaries. Offers are generally for discounted cruise fare, included gratuities, or onboard credit.

Discounts for children differ and may be applied with most cruise lines. Free kids' fares are only available as limited-time promotions, require applicable taxes and fees to be paid for each passenger, and necessitate sharing a cabin with the junior travelers as the third and/or fourth passengers in the cabin.

Discounts for veterans are also different between cruise lines. Celebrity often has a military rate that's about $100 less than civilian rates. Princess offers an onboard credit to every military member. The amount is usually $50 to $250, based on the length of the cruise.

Be sure to check out our cruise deals page for the latest information on additional specials we offer. Currently we are offering a free Park Connection Passport if you book your cruise with Alaska Tour & Travel. This is a $299 per person value and is good for free travel on the Park Connection Motorcoach between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali Park, plus discounted travel on the Alaska Railroad between Denali Park and Fairbanks.

Q: How can I get a cruise quote or make a reservation?

You can always call or email us, but many people start with our cruise finder. Here you can browse cruise options and request a detailed quote on a particular voyage. We will follow up by email (or phone if you prefer) with a no obligation cruise quote, and once you are ready to confirm we will handle all the details, including cruise transportation or pre or post cruise land tours if needed.

Cruise Routes & Itineraries

Q: Where do Alaska cruises depart from?

All northbound glacier route cruises depart from Vancouver, Canada. For southbound glacier route cruises, Princess Cruises uses the port of Whittier, while the other cruise lines use Seward. Round trip cruises from Seattle and Vancouver are also available, although we highly recommend the one-way glacier route Alaska cruises.

Q: How long are Alaska cruises?

We specialize in booking one-way cruises that are seven nights long, which is the primary option for the glacier route. There are also limited options for roundtrip cruises that are 10 or 14 nights long. In general, there no big ship Alaska cruise options less than seven nights, with the exception of some early or late season repositioning cruises.

Q: Which is the best Alaska cruise itinerary for me?

If you plan to travel into southcentral and interior Alaska on a land tour, you should pick a northbound or southbound glacier route cruise, all of which use Whittier or Seward as their "turnaround" port. Glacier route cruises also typically give guests the opportunity to see more glaciers and wildlife, as well as having more time in the Inside Passage.

Cruise line preferences can often play a big role as well. For more details, see this page about picking the cruise that is just right for you.

Q: Should I choose a one-way or roundtrip Alaska Cruise?

Alaska Tour & Travel does book roundtrip cruises out of Vancouver, BC, or Seattle, although we highly recommend and specialize in one-way cruises to or from Alaska. These cruises, often called the glacier route or voyage of the glaciers, feature cruising between Vancouver and either Whittier or Seward. Taking a one-way glacier route cruise gives you the opportunity to pair your cruise with a land tour for a complete Alaska experience.

Q: Is northbound or southbound better for an Alaskan glacier route cruise?

Since a land tour is often more activity based, a southbound cruise may allow you to relax for the final part of your Alaska vacation after visiting southcentral and interior Alaska. The itineraries are the same, but availability of cabins and cost may be different, so comparing the two before booking a cruise can be helpful. Flight costs can sometimes be cheaper in one direction versus the other, so that is another factor to consider.

Q: Should I choose Vancouver or Seattle for my Alaska cruise?

We generally recommend one-way glacier route cruises, which are only available from Vancouver. This allows you to pair your cruise with a pre- or post cruise land tour so that you can see southeast Alaska as well as southcentral and interior Alaska.

If you are taking an Inside Passage roundtrip cruise, some travelers find it more convenient to fly into and out of Seattle. Seattle-based sailings usually have a port call in Victoria, BC. Vancouver-based sailings tend to provide more time in Alaska ports of call.

Q: Should I choose Seward or Whittier for my Alaska cruise?

Both are great options. In either case, you will likely be traveling to or from Anchorage, so check out our page on cruise transportation as well.

The Port of Whittier is only used by Princess Cruises. Whittier is a very small port nestled within Prince William Sound. It is the nearest deep-water port to Anchorage. Prince William Sound is a protected, pristine body of water surrounded by glaciers and mountains. Whittier is about 1.5 hours south of Anchorage, making it convenient for early flights home, or even to start a land tour. There are both train and bus transportation options to or from Whittier.

Holland America, Norwegian, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Viking Cruises all use Seward as a "turnaround" port. Seward is a beautiful port known for being the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. The park is known for its array of glaciers and wildlife that can be easily accessed by a small boat day cruise or on foot at Exit Glacier. There are many other activities in Seward, like hiking, kayaking, and zip-lining. Seward is about 2.5 hours south of Anchorage and has both bus and train transfers to Anchorage or beyond. The Coastal Classic train connects Anchorage and Seward via one of the most popular and scenic segments of the Alaska Railroad.

Q: How do I get between Anchorage and Seward or Whittier?

Seward is located about 127 miles from Anchorage, while Whittier is a little more than 60 miles away. Read all about Whittier cruise transfers and Seward cruise transfers.

A unique option available in both cities is the Park Connection Motorcoach. This service is great for cruise transfers to Anchorage, but also offers same-day service to Talkeetna or Denali Park from both Whittier or Seward.

Q: Which cruises go to Glacier Bay National Park? What about Hubbard Glacier?

Holland America, Princess, and some Norwegian sailings offer scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. Not all sailings include Glacier Bay, so be sure to check our cruise itinerary section for specifics.

Hubbard Glacier is one of the largest and fastest moving glaciers in the world. Norwegian, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean all visit Hubbard Glacier on their glacier route cruises. Princess Cruises visits Hubbard Glacier on their southbound cruises only. Holland America visits Hubbard Glacier on some of their itineraries as an alternative to Glacier Bay.

Q: Do all Alaska cruises go through the Inside Passage?

Nearly all of them. If you are traveling on a seven-, 10-, or 14-day cruise, whether it's sailing northbound, southbound, or roundtrip, you will enjoy scenic cruising through the Inside Passage.

Q: What ports will I visit and how much time will I have?

Most cruises make port calls in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, while some itineraries offer alternate ports such as Icy Strait Point or Sitka. In Juneau, one of the highlights is to visit the Mendenhall Glacier, where guests can see unobstructed views of the impressive glacier descending from the Juneau Icefield. In Ketchikan, one of the popular excursions is aboard one of Ketchikan's historic red trolleys where you will learn about Alaska's First City and enjoy a stop at the Saxman Native Village. In Skagway, one of the favorites is a visit to the White Pass Summit aboard a vintage train that retraces the steps of early gold rushers.

The time at each port also differs by cruise line and the port that is being visited. A typical one-way glacier route cruise with Princess, for example, would spend a little over 13 hours in Skagway, 10 hours in Juneau, and 8 hours in Ketchikan.

Q: What shore excursions are available and how do I book them?

Alaska Tour & Travel does not currently book shore excursions in southeast Alaska. Most of our guests will book directly with the cruise line, either on board, or in advance, after they have booked their cruise. Some of the most popular shore excursions are listed below, and some additional details are available on our Alaska Shore Excursion page.

Skagway. White Pass Railroad, helicopter tours, dog sledding, ATV tours, zip lining, guided hiking, float trips, kayaking, jet boat tour, and horseback riding.

Juneau. Mendenhall Glacier tours, dog sledding, helicopter tours, glacier treks, whale watching, city tours, float trips, zip lining, brewery tours, food tasting, gold panning, and the Mt. Roberts tramway.

Ketchikan. Scenic Misty Fjords flights, bear viewing, eagle sanctuary, trolley tour, lumberjack show, Saxman Native Village, zip lining, kayaking, and fishing.

If you are taking a glacier route cruise to or from Whittier or Seward, we can help with cruise transportation and pre- or post-cruise tours, even if you just have an extra day or two.

Cruise Lines & Ships

Q: Which is the best Alaska cruise line for me?

Alaska Tour & Travel works with the top cruise lines in Alaska, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Every cruise line we work with has their own benefits. Princess Cruises are easy to book and are great for multi-generational families. They also have been consistent in receiving the Best Cruise Line award for Alaska. Royal Caribbean is also great for multi-generational families because of the entertainment and activities offered onboard. Norwegian is best for those traveling on a budget, as their prices are usually lower than other cruise lines. Celebrity is known for their luxurious cabin, service, and dining. Holland America is best for mature cruisers who want a more traditional cruise atmosphere with fewer children aboard.

Q: Which cruise line has the most economical or luxurious options?

The most upscale cruise lines tend to be Holland America, Celebrity, and Viking. Compared to other cruise lines, they have more luxurious cabin options and amenities.

The most economical cruise line is usually Norwegian, although promotions and discounts change constantly for most cruise lines. Check our cruise deals page for specials.

Q: Which cruise line is best for families?

Princess and Royal Caribbean are the most popular cruise lines for families. These two cruise lines offer great youth programs, along with entertainment and activities for adults, making them perfect for families of all ages.

Q: Which cruise line is best for couples?

All of the cruise lines we offer can be perfect for a romantic Alaskan get away.

Viking and Holland America are typically the best cruise lines if you want to avoid being around families with children. For a special occasion trip, look to Celebrity or Viking. They offer premium amenities, luxurious cabins, and many specialty dining experiences.

Q: What is the difference between "big ships" and "small ships"?

The major Alaskan cruise lines have several different sizes of ships in Alaska, but nearly all of them are considered large ships within the industry. The average cruise ship in Alaska can hold around 2,000 to 2,500 guests, although there are a few ships that hold up to 3,500 guests. With so many levels to the ships, different restaurants and a variety of entertainment, these floating cities are designed to accommodate these numbers without feeling crowded. There are a few relatively "smaller" cruise ships among the major cruise lines in Alaska, including the 600-passenger Pacific Princess and the 900-passenger Viking Orion.

When people talk about "small ship cruising" in Alaska they are usually referring to smaller, regional, often adventure-oriented cruise ships with much smaller capacities. While we don't handle reservations for these cruise lines, we do have some additional details on our Alaska small ship cruise page.

Q: Are most Alaska cruise ships wheelchair accessible?

Yes, all of the major cruise lines we work with in Alaska accommodate passengers in wheelchairs and motorized scooters. On board, you will find accessible staterooms, public areas, elevators, and additional assistance available for people with disabilities. Gangway operations in Seward or Whittier may be more limited compared to major cruise ports like Vancouver, but each cruise line has equipment and procedures to safely board guests with limited mobility. Be sure to check your cruise itinerary for "tender only" ports, which can be challenging for wheelchair travelers. Each major port does generally offer accessible shore excursion options, but many excursions offered are not accessible.

Be sure to let us know if any member of your party will be traveling with a wheelchair or motorized scooter. With advance notice, we can arrange for transportation between Anchorage and Whittier or Seward aboard our Park Connection Motorcoach equipped with special wheelchair seating and ramp.

Q: Should I pay extra for a balcony cabin?

A balcony cabin is not an absolute necessity, but it is highly recommended. A balcony cabin offers a better cruise experience from a scenic perspective, and can make your cabin feel more spacious and comfortable. With Alaska's long summer days, a balcony also provides you the flexibility to relax outside in a private space while enjoying Alaska's scenery early in the morning or late in the evening.

Q: Where will my cabin be located? Is there a "better" side of the ship?

Each ship varies, but common areas like restaurants, shopping, and entertainment are typically on the upper and lower decks. Generally, you will have a few options when selecting the location of your stateroom. Often cabins are located in the middle decks, allowing for easy access to public areas. Most larger ships have elevators located mid ship, forward, and aft.

Many people think being on the right side of the ship is best sailing northbound, while the left side is better for southbound. The truth is, especially in the fjords, ports, or Inside Passage, you are surrounded by spectacular scenery, so don't worry too much about that.

General Questions

Q: Do I need a passport on an Alaskan Cruise?

Passports are required for all travelers, including American and Canadian citizens, who enter or re-enter the United States by air, land, or sea. For cruises starting or ending in Vancouver, BC, passports are required. This means that passports are required for all glacier route cruises sailing to or from Seward or Whittier. For roundtrip cruises departing from Seattle, passports are highly recommended, but alternative documentation options are available.

Q: What should I pack for an Alaska cruise?

You can visit this page for a great Alaska cruise packing list. Here are a few quick tips.

While on board, think casual and practical, but check with your cruise line for guidance on formal nights. Weather on your cruise can range from mid-40s to the 60s. Be prepared for cool and misty conditions, particularly in southeast Alaska. A good bet is to bring layers, including a lightweight fleece jacket, raincoat, hat, and gloves. Sturdy walking shoes or boots are also a must.

Q: Will I see whales or other wildlife on an Alaska cruise?

Whales migrate to Alaska for the summer, typically arriving in April and staying through September. Often whales can be seen from the deck of your cruise ship. Most cruises have shore excursions that offer a chance to see whales, otters, puffins, sea lions, eagles, and more marine wildlife up close.

Q: Can I see the northern lights on an Alaska cruise?

Your best chances to see the northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, come with clear, dark skies. For this reason, with Alaska's long summer days, the cruise season is not the best time to see the northern lights. Your chances may be better late in the season on September cruises.

To combine an Alaska cruise with the chance to see the northern lights, we would recommend booking a northbound glacier route cruise from Vancouver to Seward or Whittier. Once you disembark, travel on a post-cruise land tour up to Anchorage, Denali Park, and Fairbanks. In Fairbanks, try this Aurora Arctic Circle trip for your best chance of seeing the northern lights during the late summer months. After your trip, fly home from Fairbanks. Just let us know if we can help set this trip up for you.

Q: How many formal nights vs casual?

The number of formal nights is determined by your cruise line and the length of the trip. Often a seven- or 10-night Alaska cruise would have two formal nights, while a 14-night cruise may have three. All other nights are considered smart casual.

Q: What is considered casual, and do I have to dress up?

Formal attire for men includes tuxedos, dinner jackets and slacks, or dark suits. Evening gowns, cocktail dresses, or elegant pantsuits are appropriate for women. Smart casual attire includes pants and open-neck shirts for men, and skirts or dresses, slacks, and blouses for women.

Q: Are meals and drinks included in my cruise fare?

Except for some specialty restaurants available on certain ships, meals are included in your cruise fare. Dining from a menu, as well as full-service buffet options are typically available. Beverages such as coffee, tea, and iced tea are complimentary with meals. You can also generally get milk and orange juice in the dining room. A variety of beverage package options are available on different ships. There is generally an additional charge for these packages, but they are sometimes offered as a special booking promotion.

Q: What are my dining time and seating options?

Most cruise lines offer two dining options, traditional and anytime dining. Traditional dining is having dinner at the same time each night, generally at a first or second seating, in an upscale main dining room. Anytime dining allows you the freedom to eat with whomever you wish and whenever you like, just as you would at a regular restaurant.

Q: What extra fees or expenses should I expect?

Additional expenses can include specialty dining and coffees, mocktails, alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, photos, and spa treatments. Daily gratuities are also added to your cruise account.

Q: How much are gratuities and how do I pay them?

Gratuities may be prepaid prior to your cruise or at the end of your journey. Depending on your cruise line, a set amount is charged for each traveler daily, and is often added to your cruise account. This amount varies, but approximately $15 per day per traveler is a good guideline.

Q: What is an onboard credit and what can it be spent on?

Onboard credits are sometimes offered as a booking promotion. Onboard credits may be spent on specialty restaurants, alcoholic beverages, in the casino, and in cruise ship retail shops.

Q: How do I add beverage packages, shore excursions, or reservations?

Adding shore excursions, beverage packages, and similar items can be done after booking by contacting the cruise line directly, using the online cruise personalizer, or waiting until you are on board the ship.

Q: Am I allowed to smoke, and if so, where?

Smoking on a cruise ship is allowed only in designated areas. Often smoking areas are in the stern (back) or bow (front) of the ship, and some cruise lines have designated smoking areas in their casino. Smoking policies vary by cruise line.

Q: Are casinos open on an Alaska cruise?

Casinos are closed while in port and open while at sea. Hours of operation vary by cruise line and itinerary.

Q: Will I get seasick on an Alaska cruise?

All Alaska cruise routes pass through open ocean, but the majority of time is spent in the much calmer, protected waters of the Inside Passage. Also, with the large size of most cruise ships in Alaska and additional design features like stabilizers, most guests do not have issues. Rough seas are always a possibility, and these chances may increase later in the season. If you are concerned or prone to sea sickness, consider bringing Dramamine or Bonine, wrist bands, or ginger chews. You can also book a cabin on a lower deck in the middle of the ship. Many people find these more stable in rough seas.

Q: Which airport should I use for an Alaska cruise?

For Whittier or Seward cruises, most guests fly into or out of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) which is the air transportation hub for Alaska. If you plan to add a pre- or post-cruise land tour to your trip, consider using the Fairbanks International Airport (FAI). This would allow you to efficiently tour Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali Park, and Fairbanks without backtracking. Guests on Seattle roundtrip cruises generally use the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), while the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is the best option for Vancouver cruises.