If you’re planning an Alaska cruise in 2022, you’d be wise to book now. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) predicts that a record-breaking 1.5 million passengers will sail in the 49th state between April and October, assuming the ongoing pandemic doesn’t lead to cruising restrictions again.
Cruise lines anticipate a flood of bookings due to a huge, pent-up demand after COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 Alaska season and then severely shortened it in 2021. Only about 115,000 cruise ship passengers visited the state this year, compared with 1.3 million in 2019.
Travel advisers are already seeing robust bookings for the 2022 season’s cruises. Clients of Anna Hansen, of Anna’s Adventures Travel (an affiliate of KHM Travel Group) in Murrieta, California, recently requested that she book a seven-day Glacier Bay, Skagway and Juneau cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line for early next September. “But the couple had to take Oct. 1 instead. When I went to book the September sailing, I was blown away to discover the entire summer season for that particular Norwegian cruise was already sold out,” Hansen says.
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To accommodate the increased demand, cruise lines are planning to dispatch larger ships and/or more of them. There will be nearly 40 ships in the large and luxury categories and dozens of small ships plying Alaskan waters next year.
If you're one of the many travelers eager to cruise there, consider a few things as you begin to plan your trip.
The best side of the ship. Cruising north from Seattle, for instance, you’ll get the best views from the starboard side of the ship. This is only important if your cruise is one way, of course.
Using a specialist. It can be overwhelming to see all the options for cruising this gorgeous state. The CLIA has a searchable database, at cruising.org, of certified cruise travel advisers who can help you plan your trip, and many don’t charge a fee. You can also find cruise experts at travelsense.org, cruiseplanners.com and other respected sites.
Spending more for a view. You may want to splurge on a balcony. It is, after all, about the scenery when you’re cruising Alaska.
Buying travel insurance. The unpredictable weather — not to mention the pandemic — can result in delays and other unexpected issues. Make sure your investment is protected.
And most importantly:
Stay up on the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for cruising. The CDC currently recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated and have an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships.
Below we offer some examples of cruise lines and different styles of cruising in Alaska, followed by information on the lines’ options for land explorations and a few packing tips.
Affordable options from the big lines
Market leaders Holland America Line and Princess Cruises will again offer affordable options for seniors and families, with each sending six ships to the 49th state. With either line you’ll dine well, be entertained with shows and live music, stay in comfortable accommodations and visit the major cruise ports, such as the fishing town of Ketchikan, Alaska’s capital city of Juneau and the gold-rush history-filled town of Skagway.
Of particular note: Princess’ newest vessel, the 3,560-passenger Discovery Princess, which makes its debut with an impressive Italian-style piazza atrium for socializing and people-watching, and an expansive pool deck (from $599 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week round-trip cruise from Seattle).
And if you’re planning to do some inland exploration as an add-on to your cruise, both of these lines own lodges on land, as well as railcars and motor coaches. They also offer tours exploring Denali National Park and Preserve and farther into the state’s interior. (See more on this below.)
Big ships great for multigenerational groups
Grandkids will be wowed by the onboard attractions offered by Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises, both of which will be sailing their largest ships in Alaska.
Norwegian’s five Alaska-bound vessels include the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore (fares from $1,000 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week round-trip cruise from Seattle), which dish out excitement on go-kart racetracks and daring waterslides on their upper decks.
Royal Caribbean is sending four ships, including the 4,905-passenger Ovation of the Seas and sister ship Quantum of the Seas (fares from $574 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week sailing round trip from Seattle). Cool views ensue aboard a giant mechanical arm that takes you on a ride high above the ship in a glass capsule. Order a drink prepared by a robotic bartender and treat older kids to simulated skydiving and surfing experiences.
Smaller luxury ships
All of the top luxury lines will be sailing Alaska, so you’ll have myriad options if you prefer to mix cruising with a nice dose of pampering.
On Seabourn Cruise Line's 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey (fares from $4,799 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week sailing trip from Juneau to Vancouver), explore the coastline with an experienced expedition team. By day, board Zodiac boats with marine biologists to look for whales, or go hiking where bears and other wildlife roam. Come nightfall, dine on gourmet cuisine by Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame). On Silversea Cruises' two Alaska-bound ships, the 596-passenger Silver Muse and 382-passenger Silver Shadow (fares from $4,200, double occupancy, for a one-week cruise from Seward, Alaska, to Vancouver, Canada), get comfy in a suite with a butler ready to draw your bath after a busy day of exploring.
After testing the waters in 2019, Cunard returns to the state with its 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth ocean liner (fares from $899 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week sailing round trip from Vancouver). When you’re not off seeing the sights, take a few spins on the ship’s ballroom dance floor, linger over formal afternoon tea or take in lectures by experts such as adventurer and mountaineer Peter Hillary.
For a more casual upscale vibe, Windstar Cruises brings its newly redone 312-passenger Star Breeze (fares from $5,499 per person, double occupancy, for an 11-day cruise from Vancouver to Seward) to Alaska for the first time. Windstar cut the ship in half to add a midsection, creating space for new offerings such as a tapas restaurant and expanded spa.
Small-ship expedition/adventure cruises
These small-ship cruises are able to visit ports where the megaships can’t go, so they allow passengers to see more isolated parts of the state. They typically feature excursions led by naturalists, scientists and other experts who lead explorations close to the shoreline on kayaks and Zodiac boats, and on foot ashore. Back on the boat, these same experts give talks on area wildlife.
Options include two locally owned soft-adventure lines: Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise Adventures, with some itineraries that have passengers spending all their cruise time in the wild. You may not encounter any other humans other than your shipmates on one of these cruises. Hike in the wilderness and explore the coastline by Zodiac or kayak, in hopes of close-up encounters with harbor seals and whales. Fares on Alaskan Dream are from $3,390 per person, double occupancy, for a five-day round-trip cruise from Sitka; UnCruise wilderness sailings are from $2,995 per person, double occupancy, for a one-week round-trip cruise from Juneau.
And next season, two new expedition spin-offs of known brands will be sailing in Alaska for the first time: American Queen Voyages Expeditions, the newly branded sister company to American Queen Voyages, known for riverboat sailings on the Mississippi; and Hurtigruten Expeditions.
American Queen’s 186-passenger Ocean Victory will make 12- and 13-day sailings between Vancouver and Sitka (fares from $4,699 per person, double occupancy), stopping in Metlakatla, the only Native American reservation in Alaska, and the Alaskan Native village of Kake, for engaging discussions with First Nation leaders.
Booking Hurtigruten Expeditions will put you on board the 528-passenger, eco-friendly Roald Amundsen, a hybrid-powered ship that runs on a combination of batteries and fuel (fares from $6,089 per person, double occupancy, for a two-week cruise between Vancouver and Seward).
Extending your journey on land
While experiencing the state’s coast by ship may be at the top of your list, you’ll miss the vastness and wildness of Alaska’s interior if you don’t also explore inland. Cruise lines make an extension easy with three- to 10-day packages that combine time on a cruise ship with land-based experiences — with all transportation, hotels and tours, as well as some meals, part of the price of such multiday adventures.
A popular land tour package combines Denali National Park with an overnight in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city (which still manages to maintain the character of a frontier town), and time up north in rugged Fairbanks. Prices start at about $1,499 per person on Holland America Line for a 10-day package with a one-week cruise and three days on land. (You stay in Denali at the cruise line’s McKinley Chalet Resort.)
If you want to explore deeper, Princess Cruises’ 17-day Ultimate Princess Connoisseur tour takes you to five company-owned wilderness lodges with access to four national parks — Glacier Bay (on your cruise), plus Denali, Kenai Fjords and Wrangell-St. Elias national parks (from $3,869 per person, double occupancy).
When packing for an Alaskan cruise, keep in mind that you’ll likely have rain in July and August (other months are drier). Also, don’t assume it will be freezing cold; summer temperatures can top 80 degrees. Even in April or May, it may hit 70 — or it may still be snowing. And anything goes in fall. Considering this, you’ll want to be prepared. Some must-haves include:
- A waterproof outer jacket, a heavy sweater or warm jacket, and a selection of T-shirts and jeans or khakis. If you like to wear shorts when it's over 65 degrees, pack those, too. Shore excursion operators typically provide parkas, waterproof pants and boots, if you’re ever in a situation where you will need them, so you can skip these (unless you prefer to have your own).
- A hat and gloves for when you get close to the icy walls of a glacier.
- A swimsuit, if your ship has hot tubs and pools.
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and a baseball hat or sun hat; when the sun is reflected off glacial ice, it’s quite bright.
- Bug spray. Alaska has lots of mosquitoes.
- Comfortable walking shoes. If you’re a big hiker, you may want to bring boots.• Nicer clothes for evening (maybe). What you pack to wear at night depends on what level of dressing up your cruise line suggests for evenings. (Look for details on the company's website.)
Cleveland-based freelancer Fran Golden has written several books about Alaska, including 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die, and Frommer’s travel guides.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 15, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.