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 in the mainstream and luxury markets, from the intimate and upscale Silver Muse to 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 Spirit, while couples looking to splurge can pamper themselves with Seven Seas Mariner'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 features signature recipes by Culinary Council Chef David Burke) 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.
With an expanded Piazza, Instagram-worthy SeaWalk, and theater productions by Stephen Schwartz -- the Grammy Award-winning producer behind "Wicked" -- Royal Princess offers a fresh take on "The Love Boat" line. Pair those 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.
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 Norwegian Joy (which also offers Alaska cruises), as well as its own unique attractions. With a variety of dining, entertainment and recreational options, cruisers will never go bored or hungry.
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.
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.
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.
Full of "Fun Ship" touches like the Camp Ocean kids club and the Green Thunder water slide (pray for warm, sunny weather), Carnival Spirit 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.
Those who sail on Silver Muse in Alaska will feel more like they're on a five-star hotel than a cruise ship. The intimate 596-passenger vessel features a central staircase, wide corridors and spacious suites -- all with subdued decor and luxurious touches. Marble bathrooms come with full-sized bath tubs and separate showers, while passengers can choose from Bulgari or Ortigia amenities. Rooms aside, the ship features high-quality dining and included extras like select wine and spirits. Passengers are mostly well-to-do, older adults.
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.
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.
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.
A fresh Scandinavian design and an emphasis on exploration set the tone for Alaska cruises onboard Viking Orion. This 930-passenger ship treats adventurous-minded travelers to global cuisine with several Norwegian delicacies (a nod to the line's Nordic roots), a wanderlust-inducing Explorer's Lounge and a planetarium that takes passengers into outer space through 3D programing. When it comes time to unwind, there are plenty of places to laze away and soak up the scenery -- all while enjoying the many perks that are included in your cruise fare.
Updated January 27, 2020