Now that cruises from Alaska have been given the green light to sail from Seattle for the 2021 season, travelers are being given several choices for a late summer vacation to the 49th State.
Without a doubt, cruising is the best way to visit the glaciers and wilderness of Alaska's Inside Passage. Many ports, such as Juneau and Skagway, are nearly impossible to visit by car, particularly in 2021 when the Canadian border remains closed to Americans.
All mainstream cruises in 2021 will be leaving out of Seattle, with most visiting the marquee ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. Some ships will take in the majesty of Glacier Bay, while others will spend quality time scenic cruising Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier.
Don't miss out on itineraries that visit Icy Strait Point – the port is owned by native Tlingit tribes from the nearby village of Hoonah and has ziplines, fishing, wildlife excursions and an abundance of nature activities.
Also worth noting is that all ships sailing to Alaska in 2021 will carry a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for most passengers. The lines have all said that crew will be fully vaccinated.
On Carnival, Holland America, Silversea, Princess and Norwegian, all passengers must be fully vaccinated, which means that these sailings are not open to travelers younger than 12. On Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, the July sailings have a requirement that all passengers older than 16 are vaccinated. As of August 1, all guests ages 12 and older must be vaccinated. All passengers must bring their original vaccine card; no passport, however, is required for these closed-loop cruises.
Here is a list of the cruise ships that will be operating in Alaska in 2021 – and the pros and cons of each.
Initial Sail Date: July 19
Itinerary: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Icy Strait Point, as well as Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. (Icy Strait Point is omitted from a handful of sailing dates).
Pros: A great itinerary. The first ship out has a stop at Sitka, which is a lesser-known but gorgeous port with Russian historic sites, lots of local shopping and wildlife attractions such as the Alaska Raptor Center and Fortress of the Bear.
Con: Built in 2003, this ship is on the older side for Royal Caribbean, though still retains plenty of open, glass-enclosed public rooms.
Initial Sail Date: July 23
Itinerary: Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. Two sailings in September 2021 substitute Icy Strait Point for Skagway.
Pro: Smaller Celebrity ship has sophisticated atmosphere, for those who want a trendier vibe with their food and drink options after a day exploring.
Con: While great for Alaska newbies, the itinerary is a bit ho-hum compared to other options.
Initial Sail Date: July 24
Itinerary: Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka and Ketchikan, with scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park and Stephens Passage.
Pro: Glacier Bay is considered the star experience of the Inside Passage, and HAL makes a day of it with scenic sailing and hot Dutch split pea soup.
Con: While HAL has countered its reputation for catering to older passengers in recent years, people who like a late night atmosphere might want to look elsewhere.
Initial Sail Date: July 25
Itinerary: Glacier Bay National Park, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan
Pro: Part of the line's Royal-class, Majestic Princess is relatively new (2017) and thus has many of Princess Cruises' newest features.
Con: We have found Princess Cruises' OceanMedallion wearable technology often does not work in Alaska when satellite service is iffy (think: Glacier Bay; Lynn Canal approaching Skagway).
Initial Sail Date: July 27
Itinerary: Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, with scenic cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord. An eight-day sailing in September adds Icy Strait Point.
Pro: While it's not quite Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm is still quite memorable, and because it's a narrower fjord, you have a better chance of seeing wildlife, such as seals and whales, up close.
Con: Sailing on Carnival without kids under 12 could be an odd family experience.
Initial Sail Date: July 29
Itinerary: Ketchikan, Juneau, Wrangell, Skagway and Sitka, as well as scenic cruising at Sawyer Glacier.
Pro: Silversea is a luxury cruise line, unlike other cruise lines sailing in Alaska this season; if you like an all-inclusive luxury environment with your glaciers and wildlife, this is the ship for you.
Con: While some interesting smaller towns are on the itinerary, there's no Glacier Bay.
Initial Sail Date: August 3
Itinerary: Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, with scenic cruising Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier.
Pro: As a Quantum-class ship, Ovation of the Seas will have much more for people to do onboard, including the North Star, the iFly skydiving simulator, bumper cars and more.
Con: The appeal of an Alaska cruise lies outdoors, so you might not take advantage of all those shipboard amenities.
Initial Sail Date: August 7
Itinerary: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point, with scenic cruising of Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. September and October sailings omit Skagway and Endicott Arm, but add a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park.
Pro: With the luxurious Haven ship-within-a-ship, this is a great choice for groups or multigenerational families on varying budgets.
Con: A lot of onboard activities carry extra charges that add up quickly.
Cruise Critic will update this list as additional sailings to Alaska are announced.
Updated June 23, 2021