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Queen Elizabeth (Photo:Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic)
Queen Elizabeth (Photo:Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic)

Round Trip vs. One-way Alaska Cruises: Pros and Cons

Queen Elizabeth (Photo:Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic)
Queen Elizabeth (Photo:Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic)
Ryn Pfeuffer

Last updated
Apr 15, 2024

Read time
5 min read

Alaska's rugged coastline, towering glaciers, snow-capped mountains and pristine fjords create a breathtaking backdrop for cruisers, no matter the cruise line they choose to explore it with. All Alaska cruises include visits to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan and at least one day of scenic cruising in a fjord or by a glacier.

But how do you choose between a typical round-trip Alaska cruise or a one-way itinerary that begins or ends in Alaska? If you're narrowing down your cruise options, we can help you determine which trip is best for you with a list of pros and cons for one-way cruises to Alaska and round-trip Alaska cruises.

One-Way Cruises to Alaska: Pros

View of Sitka, Alaska from Japonski Island (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
The town of Sitka, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

The biggest benefit of starting or ending your cruise in Alaska is that passengers can combine their cruise with land-based tours or independent travel before or after the cruise since cruising only shows you a small slice of America's biggest state.

One-way cruises to Alaska often cover a larger portion of the coastline. They may offer better wildlife viewing opportunities as they venture into less-traveled areas where wildlife is more abundant and less disturbed by human activity.

One-way itineraries in Alaska typically have two days of scenic cruising and tend to spend more time in Alaskan ports, often with no calls in Canada. They frequently include different ports for embarkation and disembarkation, providing opportunities to visit a wider range of destinations and experience diverse cultures, wildlife, and attractions.

Many lines also offer one-way repositioning cruises to Alaska, so if you don't mind sailing early or late in the season, you can choose from longer itineraries or find one-ways from ships that usually only offer round trips.

An array of cruise lines have one-way cruises to Alaska, offering up ample options for cruisers to choose from, including Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas and Ponant.

Seasonal one-way cruises sail either southbound from Seward or Whittier in Alaska or northbound from Vancouver, British Columbia. One-way cruises departing from Alaska or Vancouver offer travelers the flexibility of flying into town early and exploring on your own time before the cruise.

Keep in mind a departure from Seattle provides a convenient (and cheaper) city to fly into for U.S. travelers, while Vancouver offers more opportunities to cruise the scenic Inside Passage.

One-Way Cruises to Alaska: Cons

Westerdam in Yakutat Bay Alaska
Westerdam in Yakutat Bay Alaska (Photo: HAL)

One drawback of opting for a one-way cruise to Alaska is the necessity of booking separate one-way airfare, leading to additional expenses, particularly as one leg of the journey typically involves travel from Alaska.

Depending on your location, reaching or departing from Anchorage may require a layover rather than a direct flight. Furthermore, numerous one-way cruises bypass Victoria, British Columbia, an exquisite port of call in western Canada. Additionally, the Gulf of Alaska can experience rough waters, particularly towards the end of the cruising season.

Round-Trip Alaska Cruise: Pros

Silver Whisper docked in Haines, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Silversea Cruises Silver Whisper in Haines, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

The main benefit of round-trip Alaska cruises is the convenience of departing from and returning to the same port, which can be convenient for travelers who prefer not to deal with one-way transportation arrangements.

This option also makes it easier for passengers who are driving to their cruises, and it's often cheaper for those flying. If you want to spend some time pre- or post-cruise in your departure city, Seattle and Vancouver are lovely, vibrant and more affordable than pricey Alaska. Another beautiful coastal city is Victoria, B.C., which is more often included as a port of call on a round-trip cruise than a one-way.

Note that round-trip Alaska cruises sail mainly out of Vancouver and Seattle, though Princess Cruises offers a few out of San Francisco.

Round-Trip Alaska Cruise: Cons

View from Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska
View from Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

While most mainstream lines -- like Disney, Carnival, Royal and Norwegian -- offer round-trip sailings, not all offer one-ways. However, that's not the case for luxury lines. Oceania is the only upscale line to cruise round trip in Alaska; the rest of the luxury lines stick to one-ways.

Another major drawback to a round-trip Alaska cruise is that you generally get less time there. Because Seattle itineraries require a stop in Canada to meet U.S. regulations, round-trip sailings often only visit three ports in Alaska and offer one day of scenic cruising.

In contrast, one-way sailings might visit four Alaska ports in a week and/or offer two days of scenic cruising in places like Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage and Hubbard, Sawyer or College glaciers. Without an embarkation or disembarkation port in Alaska, you won't have any pre- or post-cruise time to explore additional Alaskan destinations. Finally, you might encounter some rough seas when sailing in the open Pacific Ocean to reach Alaska.

One-Way vs. Round Trip in Alaska: The Bottom Line

Carnival Spirit docked at Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Carnival Spirit docked at Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

There aren't any Alaskan cruise itineraries that will steer you wrong, but if you're still debating, here's what we recommend. Choose a round-trip cruise if cost is the most important factor, you want to get a taste of Alaska and don't need (or have the time) to explore in depth, want convenience, or you'd like to spend a bit more time in Canada or Seattle.

Choose a one-way cruise to Alaska if you want to see as much as possible, you want to do a pre- or post-cruise tour, you're not on a tight budget and/or you enjoy scenic cruising.

No matter what cruise you choose, Alaska cruises offer a unique way to explore the landscapes, wildlife and rich cultural heritage of the Last Frontier.

Publish date October 02, 2018
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