“One if by land, two if by sea” from the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” somehow accurately portrays the transportation modes used on my three visits to Alaska over the last four years.
On my first visit to State 49, I chose a 12-night small-ship cruise aboard Windstar Cruise’s Star Legend for a truly intimate exploration of the glaciers, fjords and waterways among only 200 other passengers. My second visit was a two-week land-based tour from Anchorage to Fairbanks with many stops at must-see and lesser-known locales in between. And, most recently, I combined land and sea for the best of both worlds: a Princess Cruises Cruisetour, which included a five-day land tour followed by a seven-day large-ship Alaskan cruise aboard the Majestic Princess.
Each trip offered a unique perspective and helped me realize that choosing the correct cruise experience to match your vacation goals is key to satisfactorily checking this trip off your bucket list.
When is the best time to visit Alaska?
Having traveled there in May, June, July and September, I’ve now had a taste of pretty much the entire cruise season, which is only about six months long. There are advantages to cruising during every month, so your decision will largely depend on what you’re looking for.
“If you're coming to see bears, you want to come in July and August,” says Jillian Simpson, president and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. “A lot of locals love the spring May weather, when it's still crisp.”
If budget is a primary deciding factor, Diana Reuling, a certified Alaska travel expert through Alaska.org (a producer of activity guides, maps and a mobile app to help visitors plan their trips) and founder and CEO at Your Travel Concierges, a member of Ensemble, suggests focusing on the beginning and end of the season when prices are lower.
“Of course, this means weather may be uncooperative, but the opportunity for wildlife in the spring — post hibernation and before the crowds — may be greater. Best weather is usually July, but I find that in my own experience … the best for ‘doing it all’ is late August.”
For the brave — who aren’t scared off by 24 hours of darkness and frigid temperatures — some cruises travel outside of the normal tourist season. UnCruise Adventures has announced Alaska’s first-ever small ship winter sports cruise, set to sail in February 2024. Simpson says this seven-night “Northern Lights & Winter Sports” round trip capitalizes on southeast Alaska’s outdoor winter activities, including skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, as well as the exploration of Glacier Bay National Park and nearby glaciers. Plus, don’t forget about opportunities to view the northern lights.