August 18, 2019

Anne’s Tips for Cruising to Alaska

Anne Vipond gets close to her work on an iceberg in Tracy Arm.


The weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for anything, from warm sunny days to non-stop rain. The common advice is to dress in layers. Start with long pants and a light shirt, followed by a warm sweater, sweatshirt or fleece jacket, and topped with a rain slicker. A wide-brimmed hat is good for keeping both rain and sun off your face, and comfortable walking shoes are a must. When a ship draws close to a glacier the air can be very chilly, so a warm jacket and even a toque and gloves would be useful.

A good lens helps in getting great pictures in Alaska.


Viewing the rugged coastal scenery is a major incentive for cruising to Alaska and a balcony cabin maximizes your viewing opportunities. If you’re taking a one-way cruise between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier, keep in mind that the mainland mountain ranges will be best viewed from a starboard cabin if northbound, and a port cabin if southbound. If you’re taking a round-trip cruise from Vancouver or Seattle, it’s not critical which side of the ship your cabin is on. Also, regardless of whether you are on a one-way or round-trip cruise, once your ship pulls into a fjord for a close-up look at a glacier, the captain usually positions the ship first with one side facing the glacier, then turns the ship around so passengers on the other side can have a good look. Of course, any of the public decks at the bow are good places to view the scenery as is the uppermost deck where you can enjoy a 360-degree view.

Humpback whales in Alaska can usually be seen near Juneau and Glacier Bay in summer months.


I think some people assume they will see lots of marine mammals from the ship. But this is not a given, especially on the large ships. Fortunately, the selection of shore excursions offered in Alaska is amazing and many are designed to take viewers up close (but not too close) to specific species of wildlife. If, for example, seeing a humpback whale is apriority, I would highly recommend booking a whalewatching excursion out of Juneau, where humpback whales feed throughout the summer in nearby channels. Allen Marine Tours works with the cruise lines and offers half-day excursions on catamarans that are designed for stability and equipped with waterjets for speed and maneuverability. With deep roots in Alaska, the Allen family expanded its reach a few years ago with the launch of Alaskan Dream Cruises.

The unique itineraries offered by smaller expedition cruise companies operating in Alaska, will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and curiosity. Passengers are taken off the beaten path in vessels that can navigate narrow channels and anchor in remote coves where further exploring is done in Zodiac inflatables or sea kayaks for close-up views of marine life. Beach landings and activities ashore include rainforest hikes and visits to native villages to learn about Tlingit culture and art, such as the carving of totem poles.

Expedition cruising is thriving in Alaska, but even if you’re booked on a large ship the shore excursions offered include wilderness adventures such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking and rock climbing, not to mention helicopter rides to sled dog camps where you can take a turn at mushing across a glacier.

Small ships such as the Seabourn’s 450 passenger Sojourn let you get much closer to Alaskan scenery.


For the best of both worlds, a luxury cruise on Seabourn’s 450-passenger Sojourn provides not only spacious accommodations and impeccable service but an expedition-style itinerary that follows narrow, twisting channels and stops at unspoiled hideaways, such as the Inian Islands, where the ship’s expedition team leads shore excursions in Zodiacs and sea kayaks. Sea otters are abundant in the waters off this cluster of small islands in Icy Strait, as are Pacific white-sided dolphins, orcas and humpback whales.

It’s actually quite difficult to recommend one specific Alaska cruise over another, because it really depends on what style of travel a person is looking for. A multi-generational family might prefer a large ship for the variety of facilities on board, such as a playroom for children and age-appropriate activities for teens, whereas an active couple might be happier on an expedition-style cruise. One of my favorite choices for cruising to Alaska is Holland America Line, which has been taking passengers to Alaska since the 1970s. With their flag-blue hulls and “dam” names, these modern mid-sized ships are run by Dutch officers and retain traditional features from the Golden Era of ocean liners, including teak wrap-around promenade decks lined with steamer chairs. Princess Cruises is another premium line with decades of experience in Alaska and a network of luxury lodges for passengers who want to combine a land tour with their cruise.

Anne Vipond About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.