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 overtrafficked) 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 in the mainstream and luxury markets, from the intimate and upscale Silver Shadow to new mega-ships like Norwegian Bliss. (For those who'd prefer to cruise with no more than 100 passengers, see our rundown of small-ship cruise lines in Alaska.)
Each of the 12 ships, which were hand-picked based on their popularity among all 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 Symphony's lavish suites and all-inclusive fine dining.
Familiarize yourself with the biggest contenders' itineraries, exclusive regional offerings and more to determine which is the best Alaska cruise option for you.
Note: Click on a ship name to get more info and read hundreds of cruise reviews.
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 (which now features a Sel de Mer pop-up venue once per week) 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, Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Victoria, BC; Skagway; 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
- Live music abounds at the Queen's Lounge, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard
- Culinary Arts Center offers cooking classes by Food & Wine Magazine
- Main pool has a retractable roof for inclement weather
Thanks to a dry dock that welcomed new features like the Salty Dog Gastropub, Princess Cruises' Luxury Bed Collection and the "Voice of the Ocean" show (a spin-off of NBC's "The Voice"), Ruby Princess offers a fresh take on "The Love Boat" line. Pair that with fleetwide staples such as a lavish adults-only sun deck, Movies Under the Stars (complete with popcorn and cozy fleece blankets) and a partnership with the Discovery Channel, which offers a slew of activities for adults and kids alike, and you've got something for everyone.
- Homeports: Seattle and Los Angeles
- 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 Skagway's Bonanza Bar and Grill served onboard
- Top-deck party with live music, dancing under the midnight sun and more
- Puppies in the Piazza (sled dog puppies come onboard for a day)
- Broadway productions by award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz
- Chocolate-lovers can enjoy special desserts, wine tastings and spa treatments
- Hidden gem: Terrace Pool offers breathtaking wake views
An Alaska-themed hull design, alfresco restaurants and a 20,000-square-foot observation lounge are just a few of the reasons Norwegian Bliss is one of the best cruise ships to sail The Last Frontier. The 4,000-passenger ship boasts a handful of the features found on its sisters, Norwegian Escape and China-based Norwegian Joy, as well as its own unique attractions. With a variety of dining, entertainment and recreational options, cruisers will never go bored or hungry.
- Homeport: Seattle
- Ports: Juneau; Skagway; Ketchikan; Victoria, BC; and Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Educational guides teach little ones about the state's nature and culture in the kids' club
- Alaskan craft beers served in bars throughout the ship
- Park ranger-led narration in Glacier Bay
- "Jersey Boys" Broadway-style show headlines main theater
- Activities include go-kart racetrack, laser tag and waterslides
- Select solo cabins feature virtual ocean views
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: Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Icy Strait Point; 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 unique feature of this or any other ship is the Lawn Club. This full half-acre of real 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 and mini-golf, and lounge chairs perfect for soaking up sun when the weather permits. Celebrity typically attracts sophisticated young adults 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 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. The line 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; Icy Strait Point; Tracy Arm Fjord and Hubbard Glacier (scenic cruising)
- "Frozen" deck party includes themed dining, dancing and games
- Educational Junior Ranger program for kids
- Fun photo op: characters dress up in outdoor gear
- Most cabins feature split bath setup
- Unique dining scheme: rotate among three venues with the same waiters
- Multiple adults-only spaces for daytime and after-hours fun
Full of "Fun Ship" touches like the Camp Ocean 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 will also 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
- Dine at Bonsai Sushi, one of our favorite sushi restaurants 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 one 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 average, when it comes to luxury cruise lines, and bathrooms include double-basin vanities, Bvlgari amenities and full bathtubs and separate showers. Cabins aside, the ship features high-quality dining and included extras like select wine and spirits. Passengers are mostly well-to-do, older adults.
- Homeports: Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Sitka; Wrangell; Homer; Victoria, BC; the Inside Passage; Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord (scenic cruising)
- Complimentary backpacks, water bottles and parkas for excursions
- Speakers include noted historians and conservationists
- Local Alaskan seafood is incorporated into evening menus
- La Dame is the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea
- All accommodations are suites, most of which have balconies
- Butler service included in every suite category
Luxury meets adventure on Seabourn Sojourn's Alaska cruises. The 462-passenger all-inclusive ship boasts a country club atmosphere with pampering service, and itineraries are packed with scenic cruising and lesser-known ports. Even better, you don't have to worry about missing any of the views, as all the ship's cabins face the outside. While restaurants and public spaces are opulently designed, the ship maintains a comfortable, friendly vibe.
- Homeports: Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Sitka; Wrangell; Haines; Inian Islands; Rudyerd Bay (Misty Fjords); Icy Strait Point; Tracy Arm Fjord or Endicott Arm (scenic cruising); Prince Rupert; Klemtu and Alert Bay, BC
- Ventures by Seabourn naturalists lead guided kayak and Zodiac tours
- "Caviar on Ice" deck party (twist on Caviar in the Surf)
- Passengers receive complimentary all-weather jackets
- Restaurants offer dishes by Michelin-star chef Thomas Keller
- Six outdoor whirlpools are perfect for soaking up the views
- Intuitive service and all-inclusive fares
Every cabin on the 700-passenger Seven Seas 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, Seward and Vancouver
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Sitka; Skagway; Icy Strait Point; Wrangell; Astoria (Oregon); Prince Rupert; Victoria, BC; Hubbard Glacier; Tracy Arm Fjord; Sawyer Glacier; the Inside Passage and Outside Passage (scenic cruising)
- Award-winning lecturer Terry Breen onboard most Alaska sailings
- Enriching kids' program for ages 5 to 17
- Alaskan menu items include halibut and king crab legs
- 1:1.6 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 Regatta is no exception. The 684-passenger ship features 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. 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; Skagway; Sitka; Icy Strait Point; Wrangell; Haines; Astoria; Prince Rupert; Victoria, BC; Hubbard Glacier; the Inside Passage and Outside Passage (scenic cruising)
- Unique itineraries with "off the beaten path" ports
- 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
The 848-passenger Crystal Symphony touts "big ship" amenities such as a variety of restaurants and entertainment (including a nightclub and new "song and dance meets comedy" theater production). 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 Creative Learning Institute, including classes ranging from language to filmmaking. When it's time to chow down, passengers can choose from a variety of dining options, such as Umi Uma & Sushi Bar helmed by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa; Prego, Crystal's signature Italian restaurant; a nightly, pop-up Brazilian churrascaria in the buffet; and Waterside, the ship's redesigned main dining room.
- Homeports: Vancouver and Whittier
- Ports: Juneau; Ketchikan; Skagway; Sitka; Prince Rupert; Victoria, BC; Icy Strait Point; Glacier Bay National Park; Tracy Arm Fjord; the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier (scenic cruising)
- Visits a variety of scenic cruising destinations
- Expedition team onboard includes National Geographic expert
- Optional voluntourism opportunity in every itinerary
- Accommodations boast sleek, Four Seasons-esque design
- Select "Pure" rooms designed for cruisers with allergies
- One of the best afternoon teas at sea