Planning a cruise through the pristine wilderness of Alaska? Your first decision is whether to set sail northbound or southbound. Each direction offers its own unique charms, so it’s essential to consider your preferences before embarking on this breathtaking journey. From the majestic glaciers of the north to the enchanting wildlife of the south, this article explores the merits of cruising in both directions, ultimately helping you make an informed choice for a truly unforgettable Alaskan adventure.
When it comes to cruising in Alaska, the weather plays a crucial role in determining your overall experience. The temperature in Alaska can vary significantly depending on the time of year and the region you are visiting. In general, the summer months of June, July, and August offer the warmest temperatures, with average highs ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 21 degrees Celsius). However, it is essential to pack layers and be prepared for cooler weather, especially when exploring glaciers or spending time out on the water.
Alaska is known for its abundant rainfall, so it’s wise to anticipate some wet weather during your cruise. The coastal regions, where most cruise ships venture, tend to receive more precipitation than the interior parts of the state. The rainiest months are typically August and September, while May and June are known for their drier weather. Packing a waterproof jacket and wearing sturdy footwear will ensure that you stay comfortable and dry, even if a shower or two surprises you during your voyage.
One of the unique aspects of cruising in Alaska is the dramatic variation in daylight hours throughout the year. During the summer months, Alaska experiences the “Midnight Sun” phenomenon, where the sun can stay above the horizon for 24 hours a day in some areas. This extended daylight provides ample opportunities for sightseeing and outdoor activities. However, if you are cruising in the shoulder season or off-season, be prepared for shorter daylight hours, which may impact the amount of time you have for exploring the stunning landscapes and engaging in various excursions.
Alaska boasts some of the most breathtaking glaciers in the world, making glacier viewing a must-do activity during your cruise. The most famous glaciers, such as Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay, can be found along the southeastern coast of Alaska. Witnessing the majestic ice formations calving into the water is a truly awe-inspiring experience that you won’t want to miss.
Alaska is a wildlife lover’s paradise, encompassing diverse ecosystems that support a wide range of animal species. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to spot various wildlife, including eagles soaring through the sky, playful otters frolicking in the water, and even majestic humpback whales breaching the surface. Alaska’s pristine wilderness offers a unique chance to observe wildlife in their natural habitat, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
The fjords of Alaska are an integral part of its scenic beauty. These narrow, winding waterways are surrounded by towering mountains and stunning landscapes. Cruising through the fjords, such as Tracy Arm or Kenai Fjords, allows you to immerse yourself in the raw and untouched wilderness that Alaska is famous for. Marvel at the cascading waterfalls, vibrant blue glaciers, and untouched forests as you navigate these breathtaking natural wonders.
Alaska is home to some of the most impressive mountain ranges in North America, including the iconic Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), which stands as the tallest peak on the continent. Whether you catch a glimpse of the towering peaks from your cruise ship or opt for a land excursion to explore them up close, the rugged beauty of Alaska’s mountains is sure to leave you in awe.
An Alaskan cruise isn’t complete without encountering colossal icebergs floating in the frigid waters. As glaciers calve, massive chunks of ice are created, each with its unique shape and texture. The ethereal beauty of these ice sculptures makes for stunning photo opportunities and adds an element of grandeur to your journey. Witnessing the vibrant blue hues and intricate patterns of icebergs up close is an experience that will undoubtedly take your breath away.
Alaska’s coastal waters are teeming with marine life, including an abundance of whales. Humpback whales, known for their acrobatic displays and hauntingly beautiful songs, are a common sight during Alaska cruises. Orcas, or killer whales, are also frequently spotted, showcasing their strength and agility as they search for prey. The opportunity to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is undoubtedly one of the highlights of an Alaskan cruise.
Seals and Sea Lions
Alaska’s rugged coastline provides the perfect habitat for seals and sea lions, both of which can be spotted during your cruise. Keep an eye out for these charismatic animals as they bask in the sun on rocky outcroppings or playfully swim alongside your ship. From the sleek harbor seals to the boisterous Steller sea lions, observing these marine mammals in their element is a joyous experience.
Alaska is an avian paradise, attracting bird enthusiasts from around the world. Bald eagles, with their majestic presence and impressive wingspan, are a symbol of Alaska’s untamed beauty. Puffins, known for their colorful beaks and adorable clumsiness, are another popular bird species found in the region. Birdwatchers will have a field day spotting these and many other feathered creatures as they soar through the sky or perch on the cliffs.
For those seeking a true wildlife adventure, Alaska offers the chance to observe bears in their natural habitat. From brown bears fishing for salmon in rushing rivers to black bears foraging for berries in lush forests, watching these magnificent creatures go about their daily activities is a sight to behold. Guided tours or shore excursions organized by cruise lines provide safe opportunities to witness these majestic animals up close while ensuring their well-being.
Alaska has a rich native heritage, with various indigenous communities that have inhabited the region for thousands of years. Visiting native communities gives you a glimpse into their vibrant cultures, traditions, and histories. From exploring traditional art and handicrafts to participating in cultural events and performances, immersing yourself in the indigenous way of life is a unique and enriching experience.
The history of Alaska is as diverse as its landscape. Throughout the state, you can find historical sites that offer insights into its past, such as Russian Orthodox churches, Gold Rush towns, and remnants of the Klondike Gold Rush. Discovering the stories of early settlers, pioneers, and indigenous peoples adds depth to your Alaskan cruise, allowing you to gain a deeper appreciation for the region.
Exploring the culinary scene is an essential part of any travel experience, and Alaska is no exception. Sample the flavors of the North with local delicacies such as wild-caught salmon, king crab, and reindeer sausage. The abundance of fresh seafood and unique ingredients in Alaska make it a haven for food enthusiasts. Be sure to try regional specialties and indulge in the delicious fusion of Alaskan and international cuisines available in port cities along your cruise route.
As the capital of Alaska, Juneau is a bustling city with a vibrant culture and rich history. Explore the State Capitol building, visit the Mendenhall Glacier, or take a tramway up Mount Roberts for stunning panoramic views. Shopping for local crafts, enjoying fresh seafood, and immersing yourself in the bustling arts scene are also popular activities in Juneau.
Skagway’s charming streets and preserved historic buildings take you back to the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. Visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, take a scenic train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, or embark on a hiking adventure in the surrounding wilderness. Skagway is also a popular starting point for scenic drives along the spectacular Klondike Highway.
Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Ketchikan offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and cultural attractions. Explore the historic Creek Street, watch Native American totem pole carvings, or take a guided fishing trip to catch your own salmon. With its charming waterfront, quaint shops, and vibrant arts scene, Ketchikan has something for everyone.
Sitka presents a unique blend of Native, Russian, and American cultures. Explore the Russian Bishop’s House, visit the Sitka National Historical Park to learn about Tlingit heritage, or go on a wildlife excursion to observe marine mammals and majestic bald eagles. Sitka’s picturesque surroundings, with its stunning views and lush forests, are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Although not in Alaska, Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, often serves as a final port of call for many Alaska cruises. This charming city is renowned for its British colonial architecture, lush gardens, and vibrant harbor. Visit the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, explore the world-famous Butchart Gardens, or take a stroll through the charming streets of downtown Victoria. With its mix of history, beauty, and cultural attractions, Victoria is a delightful end to an unforgettable Alaskan cruise.
Glacier Bay National Park
Cruising along the Northbound Route in Glacier Bay National Park offers an incredible opportunity to witness the park’s natural wonders in all their glory. As your ship navigates through the icy waters, you will have the chance to see massive tidewater glaciers, towering mountains, and abundant wildlife. The journey typically begins in Seward or Whittier, with stops at Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, and other stunning locations.
Embarking on the Southbound Route through Glacier Bay National Park allows you to witness the gradual transformation of the landscape as you sail toward warmer climates. Starting in Seward or Whittier, the cruise takes you through awe-inspiring scenery, including magnificent glaciers and fjords, before culminating in Vancouver or Seattle. Be prepared to marvel at the icy wonders and breathtaking vistas that Alaska has to offer.
Getting to and around Alaska is surprisingly convenient, thanks to various transportation options. Many travelers opt for cruises that depart from Seattle or Vancouver, allowing for a scenic journey through the Inside Passage. This option provides an all-in-one experience, eliminating the need for additional flights or long drives to reach the starting point. However, flights to Anchorage or Fairbanks offer an alternative for those who prefer to explore Alaska’s interior before or after their cruise.
Alaska is well-served by several major airlines, with flights connecting major cities in the United States and Canada to destinations like Anchorage and Juneau. If you choose to fly to Alaska to start your cruise, keep in mind that flight schedules and availability can be influenced by seasonal demand. Booking your flights well in advance will help ensure that you secure the best possible options for your travel dates.
Alaska offers several embarkation ports, each with its unique characteristics and charm. Ports such as Seattle and Vancouver are popular starting points for cruises, offering easy access and a range of amenities. Alternatively, ports in Alaska itself, such as Seward or Whittier, provide an authentic Alaskan experience right from the beginning of your journey. Consider your preferences, travel logistics, and desired cruise itinerary when choosing your embarkation port.
Alaskan cruises typically span seven to fourteen days, providing ample time to explore and immerse yourself in the wonders of the region. Shorter cruises may focus primarily on the Inside Passage, while longer itineraries offer opportunities to venture deeper into Alaska’s wilderness or combine it with other destinations, such as British Columbia or the Pacific Northwest. Selecting the duration of your cruise depends on your desired level of exploration and the time you have available for your vacation.
In addition to the time spent on the cruise ship, many itineraries offer land excursions that allow you to experience Alaska beyond the coastal areas. These excursions can range from helicopter rides to landing on glaciers, dog sledding adventures, or exploring Denali National Park. Incorporating land excursions into your cruise itinerary allows for a more comprehensive exploration of Alaska’s diverse landscapes and gives you the chance to engage in a variety of activities.
Alaska is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, and every aspect of your cruise provides countless sightseeing opportunities. From the moment you set sail, you’ll be treated to mesmerizing vistas, whether it’s the sight of towering mountains, the majesty of a calving glacier, or the wildlife encounters you’ll experience along the way. Keep your camera ready as you never know when the next breathtaking moment will appear.
Crowds and Prices
The peak season for cruising in Alaska is typically during the summer months, when the weather is the warmest and the wildlife is most active. Expect larger crowds and higher prices during this time, as Alaska’s stunning landscapes draw visitors from all over the world. If you prefer a lively atmosphere and the chance to witness the Midnight Sun, the peak season may be the ideal time for your Alaskan cruise adventure.
For those seeking a balance between fewer crowds and good weather, the shoulder seasons of May and September might be the perfect compromise. During these times, the temperatures are milder, and the landscapes are just as stunning, albeit with fewer visitors. Cruising in the shoulder season allows for a more intimate and serene experience while still enjoying favorable weather conditions.
The off-season for cruising in Alaska typically falls in the months when most cruise ships are not operating, primarily October through April. Although the weather during the off-season can be colder and less predictable, some advantages come with cruising during this time. Reduced prices and the chance to witness the elusive Northern Lights make the off-season an excellent choice for travelers seeking a unique and more affordable Alaskan adventure.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, the opportunities for adventure in Alaska are boundless. From hiking through picturesque national parks to kayaking along pristine coastlines, the state offers a wide range of adrenaline-pumping activities. Consider choosing an itinerary that includes plenty of time for outdoor pursuits, ensuring you can make the most of Alaska’s natural wonders.
Alaska’s jaw-dropping landscapes offer endless opportunities for photography enthusiasts. The breathtaking glaciers, towering mountains, and abundant wildlife provide the perfect subjects to capture stunning images. Make sure to bring a quality camera and plenty of memory cards to preserve your memories and share your Alaskan experience with friends and family.
Immersing yourself in the local culture adds depth and authenticity to your Alaskan cruise. Take the time to interact with locals, visit native communities, attend cultural events, and sample traditional cuisine. Learning about the history and traditions of the region enhances your understanding of the land and its people, making your cruise a more enriching and fulfilling experience.
If witnessing the awe-inspiring phenomenon of the Northern Lights is high on your bucket list, consider cruising during the off-season or shoulder season. The clear, dark skies of Alaska provide excellent viewing conditions for this natural light display. Be prepared to stay up late or wake up early, as the best chances to see the Northern Lights are typically in the late evening or early morning hours.
Alaska Marine Highway
For those looking for a more unique and flexible way to explore Alaska, the Alaska Marine Highway System offers an alternative to traditional cruises. This ferry system allows you to navigate through the stunning coastal waters of Alaska while giving you the freedom to hop on and off at different ports along the way. This option is ideal for travelers who prefer a more independent and customizable Alaskan adventure.
In conclusion, whether you choose to cruise north or south in Alaska, each direction offers its own unique highlights and experiences. From the stunning glaciers and abundant wildlife to the rich cultural heritage and picturesque port cities, an Alaskan cruise is a journey of a lifetime. Consider your personal preferences, the desired duration of your cruise, and the weather conditions when selecting your itinerary. No matter which route you choose, Alaska’s natural beauty and captivating landscapes are sure to leave an indelible mark on your heart. So, pack your bags, embark on your Alaskan adventure, and prepare to be amazed.