It's hard not to revert to hyperbole with Alaska. Here lie more than enough towering snow-capped mountains, breathtaking calving glaciers, extraordinary wild animals and quirky (if over-trafficked) frontier towns to wow hundreds of thousands of cruisers annually. With more than two-dozen mainstream ships plying Alaska's island-filled southeast region from May to September, passengers certainly have options.
This chart features a representative from every major line, including Princess (the biggest player in Alaska), Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney and Regent Seven Seas. Each of the 11 ships -- which were handpicked based on their popularity among all mainstream cruise options in Alaska -- caters to a different type of traveler. Families on a budget might find the most "bang for their buck" onboard Carnival Legend, while couples looking to splurge can pamper themselves with Crystal Serenity's lavish suites and all-inclusive fine dining. Familiarize yourself with the biggest contenders' itineraries, exclusive Alaska offerings and more to determine which one is best for you.
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Crown Princess is one of the biggest Princess Cruises ships. The 3,080-passenger vessel features nearly 900 balconies, an array of restaurants and bars, and fleetwide favorites like an adults-only sun deck and Movies Under the Stars -- complete with popcorn and cozy fleece blankets. With something for everyone, the ship attracts families, multigenerational groups, honeymooners and retirees alike.
- Homeports: Seattle and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Victoria, BC; and Glacier Bay National Park (scenic cruising)
- Local cuisine from restaurants like Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau and the Skagway Fish Company served onboard
- Top-deck party with live music, dancing under the midnight sun and more
- Enrichment geared toward both adults and children
- Broadway productions by award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz
- Chocolate-lovers can enjoy flavored snacks, martinis and spa treatments
- Hidden gem: Terrace Pool offers breathtaking wake views
You won't find any rock-climbing walls or quirky pool games on Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, which prides itself on dining and a relaxed, traditional cruising experience. Service and food quality in the complimentary main dining room are top-notch, but for-fee restaurants like Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind make for splurge-worthy romantic dates. The ship tends to appeal to a more mature crowd, though you will see more families and multigenerational groups on Alaska cruises.
- Homeports: Seattle, Anchorage and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Park ranger and native Huna interpreters on Glacier Bay sailings
- Junior Rangers program teaches kids about local wildlife
- Alaskan salmon dishes available every night
- Queen's Lounge hosts B.B. King's Blues Club band
- Culinary Arts Center offers cooking classes by Food & Wine Magazine
- Main pool has a retractable roof for inclement weather
Norwegian Pearl offers 16 free and for-fee eateries, 13 bars and lounges and a range of cabin options -- from 145-square-foot insides to suites in The Haven, the line's signature "gated community." The 2,394-passenger ship also has more modern flair than its regional competitors (e.g., the Marrakech-inspired Bliss Ultra Lounge and big-screen Wii battles), so it's a decent pick for younger couples.
- Homeports: Seattle and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Skagway; Ketchikan; Sitka; Victoria, BC; Icy Strait Point; and Glacier Bay National Park and the Inside Passage (scenic cruising)
- Onboard salmon bake
- Local beer from the Alaska Brewing Company
- Park ranger-led narration in Glacier Bay
- Award-winning entertainment, such as SWING! The Musical
- 4,100-square-foot, three-bed, three-bath Garden Villas
- Activities include rock climbing and bowling
With a variety of dining venues, great kids programs and adrenaline-pumping activities, Radiance of the Seas offers Royal Caribbean's best in a more modest size. The 2,112-passenger ship features the line's much-loved Giovanni's Table and Izumi Japanese Cuisine, a 200-square-foot outdoor movie screen, rock-climbing wall and a nursery for babies and toddlers. Passengers range from young couples and singles to families and active retirees.
- Homeports: Seattle, Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, and the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier (scenic cruising)
- Bike and Brew: biking, drinking and glacier-viewing excursion
- Onboard naturalist offers insight into the region's flora and fauna
- Crew doles out flannel blankets and hot cocoa on deck
- All-weather, indoor, adults-only pool
- Activities include a rock-climbing wall and mini-golf
- Exterior glass elevators have great views
Celebrity Solstice has one of the best interior architecture designs at sea, and passenger flow is excellent. While the ship's passenger-to-space ratio is standard for the industry, the ship never feels crowded. Celebrity is known for its fabulous dining options and bars, but perhaps the most unique feature of this or any other ship is the Lawn Club. This full half-acre of lush living grass on the top deck offers some of the best views onboard in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The space includes an alfresco dining venue serving up fresh barbecue, games like bocce ball and mini-golf, and lounge chairs perfect for soaking up sun when the weather permits. Celebrity typically attracts sophisticated young adult and middle-aged couples, though you'll notice more families during the summer holiday.
- Homeports: Seattle and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Tracy Arm Fjord; Victoria, BC; and Tracy Arm Fjord and the Inside Passage (scenic cruising)
- Naturalists onboard for high-interest areas
- Local performers bring Alaskan culture aboard
- Blankets and hot chocolate for nature viewing
- Award-winning bars specialize in crafted cocktails
- Boutique dining options, from crepes to spa cuisine
- Entertainment options combine singing, dancing and aerial acrobatics
The 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder is the pinnacle of family-friendly Alaska cruising. Disney, which made its first foray into the 49th state in 2011, has tailored the experience onboard (kids' programming, dining) and off (unique if pricey shore tours) to appeal to cruisers of all ages. The ship, with its ocean-liner-style exterior and art nouveau interior, makes a statement: "elegance" and "family friendly" don't have to be mutually exclusive.
- Homeports: Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; and the Inside Passage and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Fun photo op: Characters dress up in outdoor gear
- Educational Junior Ranger program for kids
- Beach Blanket Buffet features grilled salmon
- Most cabins feature split bath setup
- Unique dining scheme: Rotate among three venues with same waiters
- Multiple adults-only spaces for daytime and after-hours fun
Full of "Fun Ship" touches like the Camp Carnival kids club and the Green Thunder water slide (pray for warm, sunny weather), Carnival Legend is a great value for families on a budget. The 2,124-passenger ship offers a variety of free alternative restaurants, activities and entertainment. Munch on celebrity chef Guy Fieri's famous burgers or indulge in Caribbean fare at the Key West-inspired RedFrog Pub after a game of mini-golf. Competitive families also will enjoy Hasbro, the Game Show, during which groups can compete against each other in a series of games for a chance to win prizes.
- Homeports: Seattle and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Victoria, BC; and Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Onboard naturalist alerts passengers to wildlife sightings
- Special menu with local delicacies
- Educational games and crafts teach kids about Alaskan culture
- Adults-only Serenity hot tubs are perfect to soak up views
- Seuss at Sea program for kids with parade, story time
- One of the few Carnival ships to offer Bonsai Sushi
Every cabin on the 700-passenger Mariner is a suite with a balcony and at least 252 square feet of space. The upshot: This is an all-inclusive luxury ship attracting both mature couples and affluent families. Passengers shell out up front, but enjoy included amenities such as round-trip airfare, a luxury hotel stay, shore excursions, specialty restaurants, alcoholic beverages and gratuities.
- Homeports: San Francisco, Anchorage and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Sitka; Skagway; Icy Strait Point; Wrangell; Astoria; Prince Rupert and Victoria, BC; and Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord, Sawyer Glacier, the Inside Passage and Outside Passage (scenic cruising)
- Award-winning lecturer Terry Breen onboard every Alaska sailing
- Enriching kids' program for ages 5 to 17
- Alaskan menu items include halibut and king crab legs
- 1 to 1.6 passenger-to-crew ratio means more personalized service
- Dining options include steakhouse and French restaurant
- All bathrooms have bathtub/shower combos and L'Occitane bath products
Oceania prides itself on fine dining and an upscale yet comfortable ambiance -- and Oceania Regatta is no exception. The 684-passenger ship features the creations of celebrity chef Jacques Pepin in the main dining room and two surcharge-free specialty restaurants. No formal nights mean the pressure to dress up for dinner is dictated by fellow passengers, not the cruise line. Oceania Regatta offers an experience that's close to luxury without being all inclusive or priced sky high. Passengers tend to be mature and well-traveled.
- Homeports: Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Anchorage; Skagway; Sitka; Icy Strait Point; Wrangell; Haines; Astoria; Victoria, BC; and Hubbard Glacier,the Inside Passage and Outside Passage (scenic cruising)
- One of only a few lines to call at Haines
- Main dining room serves fresh Alaskan salmon and halibut
- Guest speakers give lectures on history, culture and nature
- Spa run by award-winning Canyon Ranch
- Range of cabins, from cozy insides to opulent Owner's Suites
- Afternoon tea with a string quartet is a real treat
Carrying 1,070 passengers, Crystal Serenity is the largest cruise ship in the luxury sector. Its refined ambiance, exclusive-access excursions, and included perks such as wine, spirits and gratuities, attract a discerning crowd, mostly empty nesters and retirees. Crystal also stands out with its Creating Learning Institutes, included classes ranging from language to filmmaking. When it's time to chow down, passengers can choose from a variety of dining options, such as molecular gastronomy creations in the main dining room to top-notch Japanese cuisine at Silk Road and the Sushi Bar, led by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
- Homeports: Vancouver, Anchorage and San Francisco
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Sitka; Kodiak; Dutch Harbor; Nome; Prince Rupert, Victoria and Nanaimo, BC; and Icy Strait Point, Glacier Bay National Park, the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier (scenic cruising)
- Expedition team onboard includes National Geographic expert
- Provides complimentary cold-weather parkas
- Optional voluntourism opportunity in every itinerary
- 85 percent of cabins have balconies
- Select "Pure" rooms designed for cruisers with allergies
- One of the best afternoon teas at sea
The 382-passenger Silver Shadow is an intimate, all-suite, all-inclusive luxury vessel with one of the most generous space-to-passenger ratios in the industry. There's also a crew member for every 1.3 passengers, who are accommodated in cabins ranging from 287 to 1,435 square feet. Suites are larger than the industry norm, and bathrooms include double-basin vanities, Bvlgari amenities and full bathtubs and separated showers. Cabins aside, the ship features high-quality dining and included extras like select wine and spirits that attract mostly older adults.
- Homeports: Anchorage and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Sitka; Wrangell; Dutch Harbor; Kodiak ; Homer; Victoria and Prince Rupert, BC; and the Inside Passage, Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Complimentary backpacks, water bottles and parkas for excursions
- Speakers include noted historians, conservationists
- Local Alaskan seafood is incorporated into evening menus
- Le Champagne, a "wine restaurant" by Relais & Chateaux
- Almost every cabin has a balcony
- Butler service included in every suite category