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Glaciers, bears and bald eagles? YES. Salmon, whales and seals? You bet. An Alaskan cruise is a bucket list trip for many and for good reason. It’s a wonderful way to explore the rugged beauty of the 49th state. Learn about the Tlingit people as well as the Gold Rush as you sail the calm waters of the Inside Passage. And don’t forget to sample the abundant seafood during your cruise. Read on to find the best Alaska cruise for your family.
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15 Best Alaska Cruises for Families for 2020
This is the year, you and your family are headed to the last frontier of Alaska. As a summer bonus, you’ll barely break a sweat and most likely break out the coats for glacier viewing. And the best seat in the house for this experience is when you book a cruise, now with more choices than ever, thanks to the popularity of the Alaskan cruise. So read on for an overview of the best Alaska cruise lines this summer.
Best Alaska Cruise for You
Nearly every major cruise line offers seasonal Alaskan cruises. With departures as early as May and as late as September, there’s never been more options to find an Alaskan cruise for your traveling style and budget.
Most cruise lines offer similar itineraries, like popular one-way formats with departures from either Vancouver, British Columbia or Seward, Alaska (near Anchorage). And lots of cruise lines offer pre-cruise or post-cruise tours or trips.
Find opportunities to explore the rugged wilderness of the national parks in Canada and the U.S. Additionally, some cruise lines offer scenic train rides. Find bucket list add-on excursions like dogsledding, flightseeing and helicopter glacier tours.
The typical ports of call include cruising the Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Juneau, and cruising the Hubbard Glacier. Additional ports of call include Icy Strait Point and Tracy Arm Fjord or the Endicott Arm.
And for first-time cruisers, the waters of the Inside Passage are relatively calm. Of course, it’s always smart to pack remedies for seasickness for your cruise. And, don’t forget to learn the unique cruise vocabulary you’ll need onboard.
Read More: Planning A Family Cruise
Small Ship Luxury Cruises
With less than 1,000 passengers per ship, small ships offer more space and staff per cruise passenger. The cruise ship interiors feel more luxurious and include more options for dining and lounging.
Many small ships feature all-inclusive options like signature dining at fine dining restaurants with wine included. Then you’ll find your favorite vintages and liquors in the lounges abroad as well as wine and beer in your suite.
With a smaller ship, you gain access to smalls ports. So itineraries will include ports of call like Wrangell, Prince Rupert, and College Fjord. And some ports of call might require tendering – using a smaller boat from your ship get to the actual port.
Regent Seven Seas
With departures from Vancouver and Seward, Regent Seven Seas offers a 7-night one-way cruise for the Alaskan summer season. Regent offers a truly all-inclusive cruise, so you’ll get free coach round trip airfare, airport transfers, unlimited excursions (and you can schedule more than one a day), signature dining, unlimited beverages including wine and premium spirits and WiFi along with gratuities.
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And this luxury cruise line loves kids. Really. It features discount pricing for kids under 17. They also offer a kids club for the kiddos 5 to 12, along with a teen club.
The Club Mariner Youth Program is staffed with counselors that meet for a few hours a day on port days and twice on sea days. Kids play sports and board games, watch movies, decorate cupcakes and even have dinner together during the cruise.
After taking my three kids, 15, 14 and 11, to Alaska on the Mariner in 2018, I was amazed at how a luxury brand can be family-friendly, especially for older kids. I liked the fact I could let them explore on their own on a small ship. And the outdoor excursions offer enough action for young cruisers.
The Regent Seven Seas sails the Mariner for northbound and southbound Alaskan cruises with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point or Sitka, and Hubbard Glacier. Find five dining venues, five lounges, a coffee shop, an outdoor pool, and a spa along with a theater, nightclub, and casino onboard. And the majority of suites offer balconies.
For fans of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania is also owned by the same parent company—NCL, or Norwegian Cruise Lines. And the overall feel of the ships is similar, with a high level of service and gourmet dining at sea.
The difference is Oceania Cruises is an a la carte cruise. So you’ll have to arrange or pay for round trip airfare, shore excursions and purchase an alcohol package. (You will get unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, ground transfers, and free WiFi.)
For families, Oceania offers an Alaska Explorer Youth Program for kids 5 to 12. Where Regents Club Mariner Youth Program is a generic kids program, Oceania’s Alaska program offers specialized programming about Alaska. This program is lead by counselors though it lacks a dedicated kids club and it meets in an unused room onboard instead.
Oceania Cruises sails the Regatta for most Alaskan cruises. This ship offers inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and staterooms with balconies along with suites. Find a selection of itineraries including a 13-night round trip cruise out of Seattle or 7-night one-way cruises from departing from Vancouver or Seward.
The Regatta features four dining venues, five lounges, a coffee shop, an outdoor pool and a spa along with casino and nightclub.
Seabourn Cruise Line
With departures from Vancouver or Juneau, Seabourn Cruise Line offers 7-night one-way cruises with different ports of calls in each direction. So you can sail two back-to-back cruises for an extended Alaskan round trip experience.
Seabourn also offers other itineraries besides the popular 7-night Alaskan cruise, like 12-night cruises. With an extensive list of ports of call, you can stop at Inian Islands, Haines, Alert Bay, and Rudyerd Bay. And Seabourn is one of the few concessionaires authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park.
Seabourne Cruise Line is also an a la carte cruise, so airfare has to be arranged and excursions are not included. Finally, a data package must be purchased.
For families, the Alaskan cruises offer similar kids club options as Regent and Oceania. Seabourn Cruises also lack a dedicated Kids club space so counselors meet in an unused room with kids’ activities. Be sure to check-in with your travel agent or cruise representative to see if the kids’ activities are available for your sailing.
Seabourn Cruise Line sails the Sojourn, an all-suite cruise (though not all suites have balconies). You’ll find four restaurants, three lounges, outdoor pools and spa along with a theater and casino.
With departures from Vancouver and Seward, Silversea Cruises offer a 7-night, one-way cruises on a luxurious small ship. This all-inclusive ship with complimentary premium wines and spirits also offers signature dining and butler service in every suite. Complimentary airfare and ground transfers are available as well.
Silversea Cruises sails the Silver Muse, an all-suite small ship. Each suite offers a balcony. This ship caters to adults and doesn’t offer a kids club or special activities for the younger set. But you will find eight dining venues, numerous lounges, an outdoor pool, art cafe, and a spa. And a Vancouver land program is also available.
Viking Ocean Cruises
With departures from Vancouver and Seward, Viking Ocean Cruises offers 10-night, one-way cruises. Viking Ocean Cruises are all-inclusive, with complimentary excursions. Regents Seven Seas offers several (complimentary excursions) for each port-of-call, Viking only offers one per port-of-call.
In addition, Viking Ocean Cruises offers many pre- and post cruise options, like the Rocky Mountaineer scenic train, Banff National Park, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. This is a luxury all-veranda ship with a selection of staterooms.
Viking Ocean Cruises sails the Orion to Alaska. This ship caters to adults (no one under 18 allowed) with several dining venues onboard, along with lounges and bars. With the design clues from Scandinavia, it’s less opulent than other luxury cruises. But you will find a planetarium, thermal suite in the spa with a snow grotto boasting falling snow, and a pool with a retractable roof along with an infinity pool.
Larger Cruise Ships
With cruise ships that carry 2,000+ passengers find lots of amenities, like water slides and dedicated kids and teen clubs. Though finding a quiet corner to read might be harder.
And most larger ships are a la carte cruises so airfare, airport transfers, specialty restaurants, beverage packages, including soft drinks and bottled water and excursions are not included. Though shows, kids club, meals at the main restaurants and in-room dining are typically included.
Disney Cruise Lines—Disney Wonder
If kids were in charge of the cruise planning, they’d choose a Disney Cruise. And Disney Cruise Line caters to families, especially Disney-loving families.
Find interior staterooms, ocean view staterooms, staterooms with balconies along with concierge suites. The 7-night round trip cruises depart from Vancouver. Ports of call include Dawes Glacier, Skagway, and Ketchikan.
Disney Cruise Line sails the Wonder to Alaska. Onboard, you’ll find Disney characters, Disney stage shows, kids clubs, tweens club and teens club. Three pool areas, including a splash area for babies and toddlers, a double-looping water slide and an adults-only area, help keep everybody cool. Hungry? There are three main dining areas, and three casual dining areas along with character meals.
Port excursions and extras are not included, like Signature dining experiences (adult only), bottled water, alcohol, and specialty drinks and gratuities.
Easy-to-use website, especially for those who’ve planned a Disney Parks vacation before. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Celebrity Cruises—Celebrity Solstice
With three separate ships dedicated to Alaskan cruises, Celebrity Cruises offers more options for cruisers. Find 7-night or 8-night cruises in one-way and round trip itineraries. And choose from Seattle, Seward or Vancouver departures.
Celebrity Cruises uses the Solstice, Millennium and the Eclipse. There are plenty of kids and teen activities on board. Stateroom options include inside stateroom, ocean view stateroom, veranda stateroom, and suites. Celebrity Cruises is an a la carte cruise line, so be prepared to pay for a beverage package including soda and barista coffee, photo package, and WiFi along with excursions.
Most itineraries include Vancouver, Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau and a glacier viewing.
The overall feel is a bit more upscale than other large cruise ships. Celebrity Cruises is owned by the parent company, Royal Caribbean International. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Royal Caribbean International
With departures from Vancouver, Seattle, and Seward, Royal Caribbean offers 7-night, one-way cruises, along with round trip cruises. There’s also an option of adding a selection of post-cruise excursions to Denali, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.
Royal Caribbean is one of the few concessionaires authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park. Look for special itineraries with Glacier Bay National Park. And park rangers will hop on board for the day and lead interpretive programs.
Royal Caribbean sails the Radiance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas and the Ovation of the Seas. Find interior staterooms, ocean view staterooms, staterooms with balconies along with suites. Find 10 dining venues plus room service, seven bars or lounges, spa, fitness center, and specialty classes.
A kids club with age-appropriate activities from 6-month-old babies to 12-year-olds is available. There’s also a teen disco and tween hangout. And this ship includes three pools (one for the kids with a beach and slide), a rock wall and mini-golf.
Most itineraries include Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier, and Seward. You’ll also have lots of options to visit ports like Victoria, B.C.. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Holland America Line
With Holland America, you get lots of options. It sails from Seattle, Seward, Whittier (near Anchorage) and Vancouver. And Holland America offers 7-night one-way cruises as well as round trip cruises. Options allow you to add post-cruise excursions to Denali, Fairbanks, and the Yukon.
Holland America Line is one of the few concessionaires authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park. So look for special itineraries that include Glacier Bay.
Holland America offers several similar ships cruising to Alaska, like the Eurodam, Koningsdam, New Amsterdam, Noordam, Volendam, and Westerdam. All ships include inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, staterooms with balconies along with suites.
Each ship offers similar amenities like the main dining room, casual dining room, specialty restaurants like a grill and Italian venue along with burgers. Entertainment options include two lounges along with the Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard, World Stage, movies and a casino. Finally, each ship features two pools, spa, fitness center, adult enrichment classes along with a kids club.
Most itineraries include Ketchikan, Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park, and Skagway. Some itineraries include Victoria, Icy Strait Point, and Sitka. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian offers cruises departing from Seattle, including a 7-night round trip cruise and an 11-night round trip. It also sails 7-night one-way cruises departing from Seward and Vancouver. And you can add on a post-cruise excursion to Denali, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.
Norwegian Cruise Line is authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park. So look for special itineraries that include Glacier Bay.
For its Alaskan cruises, sail the Norwegian Bliss or the Joy with a passenger capacity near 4,000. Highlights included a racetrack, dual water slides, laser tag, along with specialty restaurants like Texas BBQ, and numerous evening shows. The Bliss includes studios (just for solo travelers). Both the Bliss and the Joy include, inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, staterooms with balconies along with suites. Find the best price for this cruise here.
The Jewel and the Sun sail to Alaska too, with a passenger capacity near 2,000. Highlights include sports courts, fitness center, casino and spa along with specialty restaurants like sushi. Both the Jewel and Sun include inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and staterooms with balconies along with suites.
Most itineraries include Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, and Victoria. Some itineraries include Sitka and Skagway.
Princess Cruises, owned by Carnival Corporation, offers departures from Seattle and Vancouver for its 7-night round trip cruises, 10-night round trip cruises from San Francisco and 14-night round trip cruises from Los Angeles. There’s also the popular 7-day one-way cruises from Anchorage’s Whittier. Princess Cruises offers a post-cruise excursion to Denali, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.
Since the National Park Service limits the ships in Glacier Bay, Princess Cruises is also authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park. So look for special itineraries that include Glacier Bay.
For its Alaskan cruises, Princess uses a fleet of ships. Find the Coral Princess with about 2,000 passengers and the Golden Princess and the Grand Princess with 2,600 passengers. Then find the Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess with about 3,000 passengers.
Enjoy a host of dining options international cafe, chocolate journeys, and afternoon tea. Also, find your favorite regional culinary delights in a host of specialty restaurants. A spa, fitness center, casino, nightly entertainment, movies under the stars along and pools and spas will fill your days. Each ship also includes a kids club.
The Regal Princess and the Royal Princess each carry 3,500 passengers. Both feature the same features as the rest of the Alaska ships. Experience the Skywalk, an over-the-ocean glass walkway to see the ocean below. If you dare!
Princess cruise ships feature inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and staterooms with balconies along with suites.
Most itineraries include Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway along with a glacier viewing. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Carnival Cruise Lines
With the red, white and blue whales’ tail funnels, Carnival offers a bargain at sea. Choose from a 10-night cruise departing from San Francisco along with 7-night and 9-night cruises departing from Seattle.
For its Alaskan cruises, Carnival sails the Freedom and the Spirit, with capacities between 2,000 and 3,000 passengers. Find similar amenities on both, like lots of dining options from burgers to Asian to pizza. For dining, there are specialty restaurants like a steakhouse and sushi. You’ll also enjoy a waterpark with slides, mini-golf, an adults-only retreat and kids, tween and teens clubs.
The Miracle sails with about 2,000 passengers and offers limited options though many more are coming soon. Find buffet dining and pizza on board. Also, find a pool, an adults-only retreat and kids, tween and teen clubs.
The Carnival cruise ships feature inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and staterooms with balconies along with suites.
Most itineraries include Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Tracy Arm Fjord along with Victoria, B.C. Find the best price for this cruise here.
Specialty Cruises to Alaska
Looking for a different cruise experience? Then a specialty cruise might be for you.
The famed Cunard Line sails to Alaska with a bit of British style so expect a more refined experience. With the majority of cruises originating out of Vancouver, find a 10-night to a 19-night Alaskan Cruise. Though cruisers can depart from Victoria, BC as well as San Francisco.
Cunard is authorized to sail into Glacier Bay National Park. So look for special itineraries that included Glacier Bay.
For Cunard’s Alaskan cruises it sails the Queen Elizabeth with about 2,000 passengers. It offers three restaurants along with specialty restaurants like Mexican and Asian. Also, Alaskan cruises include a formal night, which is not the norm for Alaska. And don’t forget to indulge in afternoon tea. The Queen Elizabeth offers a pool, spa along with lectures and nightly entertainment. Cunard is owned by Carnival Corporation.
The Queen Elizabeth features inside staterooms, ocean view staterooms, staterooms with balconies along with suites.
Most itineraries include Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Glacier Bay National Park, Hubbard Glacier, Prince Rupert, and Victoria. Though longer cruises include Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Astoria in Oregon, Anchorage, Kodiak, and San Francisco.
Adventure calls so pack the rubber boots and be prepared to Yak-n-Whack (or kayaking and bushwhacking). Uncruise small ships sail into ports that others can’t. And families with kids 8 and older are welcome. Since the itineraries require hiking and paddling, younger kids are discouraged.
With a fleet of ships from the 22-passenger Safari Quest to the 84-passenger Safari Endeavour, each ship is ready for an adventure with kayaks, paddleboards, and skiffs. Most ships include at least one hot tub but no pool. And UnCruise celebrates Alaska with a Polar Plunge.
Dining onboard is chef-created with fresh and local ingredients. So for Alaska, find a lot of seafood. The staterooms are basic and don’t feature balconies though have ocean views. And a few ships offer suites.
UnCruise offers lots of itineraries in 7-day or 14-day formats. The main ports-of-call include Sitka, Juneau, and Glacier Bay National Park. It’s also an authorized concessionaire into Glacier Bay National Park. So look for special itineraries that include Glacier Bay.
With just 312 passengers, Windstar Cruises offer an intimate way to explore the 49th state. In Alaska, Windstar sails the Star Breeze, an all-suite ship with two dining rooms, a pool area, a spa, and theater. On Windstar Cruises all meals are included along with non-alcoholic beverages, including coffee drinks.
Itineraries include the 11-night Vancouver to Seward cruise, including stops at Ketchikan, Misty Fjords, Wrangell, Juneau, Haines, Tracy Arm Fjord, Sitka, and Kenai Fjords National Park. Or the Seward to Vancouver 10-night James Beard Foundation culinary cruise with similar ports-of-call. Or the 15-night Vancouver to Fairbanks cruise that includes a land tour of Talkeetna and Denali.
Popular Ports of Call on an Alaskan Cruise
For kids, the top ports-of-calls are Skagway for the train (additional) and Ketchikan. Each offers an Alaskan gold rush feel. And both offer free activities for kids at the National Park Service sites. Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier is another must-see although to see the glacier requires a bus ride from the city center (additional).
As a frequent point of embarking and disembarking, Seward offers a scenic location to explore before or after your cruise. Located in the shadow of Mount Marathon and on Resurrection Bay, get a dose of the rugged Alaskan landscape.
The historic downtown offers a gateway into Alaska’s past. And Seward is a gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Stop at the visitor center in the center of town or arrange a visit to Exit Glacier.
As the largest tidewater glacier in North America, it boasts a 400-foot face, it’s 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep. As your cruise ship sails Disenchantment Bay, use binoculars to view the marine life and birds.
As the capital of Alaska, Juneau is a small city (but with lots of free things to do). A trip to Mendenhall Glacier is worth the effort. Since it’s not on the water, it’s a mountain glacier. It’s a National Forest site with programming and hiking.
Most first time cruisers don’t know about Sitka’s Russian heritage. So stop by the Sitka National Historical Park visitor center to watch a short interpretive film or walk among their collection of totems. Or visit the separate building, Russian Bishop’s House.
This restored mining town is home to the White Pass and Yukon Route Rail Road. The narrow gauge scenic train trip is a stand-out for cruisers, not just families. As a bonus, the train depot is a short walk from the cruise ship port.
The Gold Rush swaggered into Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 19th century. Then a tiny town busted with lawlessness as it turned into a boomtown. Head to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Watch the interpretive film to learn about the gold rush and how would-be miners climbed the treacherous White Pass Trail to get to the goldfields.
Icy Strait Point
Learn about the rich heritage of native Alaskan culture at a tribal dance. Or visit nearby Hoonah, the largest Tlingit village. And Icy Strait Point boasts the ZipRider, the longest zip line in the world.
Ketchikan offers the official visitor center for the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the U.S. It runs along the Alaskan panhandle and includes two ice fields, Stikine and Juneau. So visit Tongass National Forest’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center on Ketchikan’s Main Street.
Or arrange a flightseeing tour to witness the majesty of the Misty Fjords National Monument. As you walk the streets of Ketchikan, learn about the symbolism used on the totems like the plants and animals of the temperate rainforest. Or better, arrange for a hike in the rainforest to see its animals, like the black bear.
And Ketchikan is the canned salmon capital of the world.
Cruising the Inside Passage
All Alaskan cruise itineraries include at least one sea day. Spend the day on a deck using binoculars to catch glimpses of lighthouses, bald eagles or fishing boats at work.
Sailing in the Inside Passage is unique since glaciation made deep channels between the mountains. The deep waters allow for deep-draft vessels to sail close to the mountains.
And a bonus for first-time cruisers, the waters of the Inside Passage are relatively calm compared to open ocean cruising.
Victoria Island, British Columbia
Stroll the charming streets with English-inspired architecture. Or enjoy an afternoon tea at the celebrated Empress Hotel. Or trek out to Butchart Gardens if you have the time.
Vancouver, British Columbia
As a large port for western Canada, it offers cultural influences from around the Pacific Ocean. So sample the rich and diverse food scene with tastes of Asia, like Chinese dim sum or Japanese ramen.
Walkthrough the Museum of Anthropology to learn more. Or head to the Capilano Suspension Bridge to walk over an old-growth fir forest.
What Cruise Ships Sail into Glacier Bay National Park?
A highlight of Alaskan itineraries, sailing into Glacier Bay National Park offers views of the Fairweather Mountains along with up-close views of tidewater glaciers.
Since the National Park Service regulations the number of large cruise ships this is a factor for would-be Alaskan cruisers. For environmental factors, only seven cruise lines have the NPS contract.
First, the NPS park rangers board the ship for interpretive programming for adults and kids. Cruising Glacier Bay takes at least 8 hours and remember the binoculars for up-close wildlife viewing.
What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise
Be prepared for cold and rainy weather even during the height of the summer cruising season. Though high season (late June and July) will bring sun and short-sleeves weather.
- A winter coat with a waterproof shell for glacier exploring or viewing
- Quick dry hiking pants for rainforest hiking
- A fleece layer for most days
- Hiking boots, preferably waterproof
- Waterproof packable rain jacket
- Fleece hat and gloves
Read More: Cruise Packing List
Do I need a travel agent?
If this is your first cruise, it might not be a bad idea to bring in a professional. According to Kathy Penney of Bags Packed for Magic, a travel agent will help navigate excursions, travel requirements and airport transfers.
Even seasoned travelers use travel agents since there’s usually no charge and there’s value in the concierge services and expertise. And a lot of agents can provide perks to their clients.