Picking the Right Itinerary

There are several options for cruise itineraries but I like to group them in four major types of itineraries.

  • Round Trip (Inside Passage)
  • One Way
  • Extended Cruise + Tour
  • Expedition/Small Ship

Each one has their benefits and fit differing needs of the traveler. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me directly at danny@dad.harrtravel.com.


Popular Types of Alaskan Cruises

Round Trip (Inside Passage Cruise)
Common Departure Ports: Seattle or Vancouver
Common Length of Itinerary: 7 days

This is the most popular and easiest option for many as these itineraries sail round-trip from the Pacific Northwest and sails through the most comfortable stretch of cruising waters, arguably, in the whole word: the Inside Passage. The Inside Passage is shielded from both sides by various land masses generally making the waters extremely calm.

Common Inside Passage Routes

This cruise visits popular ports along the way like Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway then comes back to Seattle, Vancouver or San Francisco.  This route gives travelers the “best-of” Alaska and allows visitors to see a great sampling of what Alaska has to offer. For first timers to Alaska, this would be the route that we would most likely recommend due to ease of access and this satisfies most Alaska travel dreams such as seeing whales, bald eagles, salmon and glaciers.

One Way Cruise Options
Common Departure Ports (Northbound): Vancouver or Seattle
Common Departure Ports (Southbound): Seward or Whittier
Common Length of Itinerary: 7 days

One way sailings start or end in the Gulf of Alaska.  These itineraries are specifically designed to combine with a tour option in Vancouver or most likely to Alaska’s National Parks.  Denali is far and away the most popular option for this.  Your cruise will start or end in Seward/Whittier, which is the main entry point into Anchorage. This option combines cruising of the Inside Passage with more northern ports that cannot be accessed by by the 7 day round-trip Seattle/Vancouver options.

An example of an one-way sailing with park options  from Holland America.

Extended Cruise + Tour
Common Length of Itinerary: 10-15 days

Most cruise lines that cruise into Alaska will offer a cruise and tour package. This will combine a 7-day one-way cruise itinerary with a 3-8 day tour into Alaska and its national parks. This allows cruisers to have the amenities of a cruise but also the ability to travel into the heart of Alaska to see everything the state has to offer.

This is by far our most requested cruise option for people who wanted to cruise Alaska for the second time or want a more in-depth experience. We would also recommend this to first time cruisers who are completely sold on Alaska being their destination. See below for the most popular National Parks visited by Cruise + Tours.


National Parks of Alaska

Denali National Park:

This is Alaska’s most popular land attraction by far. You will get to see Mt Denali (recently going back to its original native name instead of Mt. McKinley), the vast unspoiled wilderness of glacial rivers, peaks, and tundra. You will routinely see moose, caribou, all types of bears, Dall sheep, wolves, and more! Most tours do two-three days in Denali.  I would recommend that you don’t miss it!

Wrangell-St Elias National Park

With a size of over 13 million acres, Wrangell-St Elias National Park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite parks combined. As Americas largest national park, it has a ton to offer.  With such a large expanse of scenic beauty, there are extensive wildlife to be seen and even volcanoes.

Kenai Fjords

The Kenai Peninsula and its fjords can be viewed in many ways. This area has prime viewing of glaciers and lakes as well as abundant wildlife. A major positive is that this area is close to the shore and can be seen in one day.  This is a common add on at the beginning or end of your cruise tour from Anchorage.


One of the most historic gold rush areas in America and home to and deep  into the heart of Alaska. This options is usually included in the 5+ day tour options and well worth the extra time. Holland America specifically has some wonderful cruise/tour options that encompass this historic area.


Expedition Options

If you want to fully immerse yourself in nature of Alaska, then an expedition cruise option might be for your. They are amazing but definitely not for everyone. Smaller ships offer less amenities such as entertainment, dining options, spas; but they are heavy on authentic experiences.  With an expedition vessel, you can hop on a kayak from the vessel to explore when you see something interesting.  These vessels are able to access small, out of the way ports that larger ships can’t.  This means you get a more intimate experience as well.  Here are some factors to consider when choosing an expedition option for Alaska. 

Authentic Up Close and Personal Experiences: If you enjoy seeing wildlife and scenery up close and personal, this is definitely an option.  Many expedition ships carry Zodiacs, kayaks or snorkel gear for you to explore from the ship.  Yes, people do snorkel in Alaska.  With a more easily adjustable schedule, you can stay longer when you find those amazing wildlife experiences.

Smaller Ships: In order to reach the areas that are away from the common ship ports, expedition ships are much smaller. This would mean on board amenities and cabins are going to be less frills than on a bigger ship.  That said, the quality of food and naturalists onboard generally surpass their larger competitors.  With Seabourn, Windstar and Viking Ocean coming to Alaska, you can get the high end luxury experience coupled with many of the small ship advantages.

Mobility: In order to get some of the best views and experiences, there would be a good amount of mobility required. This would include activities such as hiking and getting off/on skiffs and zodiacs.  Generally I would recommend a larger ship that is fully ADA compatible if you have a mobility concern.

Price: As a smaller, niche product that has a higher crew to passenger ratio to help passengers negotiate more rugged terrain, expedition cruising is not necessarily inexpensive compared to great rates offered by cruise lines with bigger ships. That said, I think they offer an incredible amount of value.  Most of the time your food, alcohol and most excursions are included.

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