When you are sailing through calm waters, admiring the majesty of nature’s wilderness and such jaw-dropping sights as the giant ice walls of a massive glacier, you’ll understand why cruising is the best way to see Alaska.
The scene in America’s Last Frontier is breathtaking from the water. As you cruise Alaska, past vast forests, fjords, and rugged coastline, you may spot eagles flying overhead, whales and Steller sea lions in the water, and bears on the beach.
Your ship also brings you to extraordinary coastal towns where frontier life and Alaska Native culture are on display, and wilderness exploration is just steps away. Here are some of the reasons a cruise is the best way to see Alaska.
Get up Close to Glaciers
Of all the amazing sights you’ll see from the sea, the most fascinating is Alaska’s glaciers. Your ship’s captain will navigate slowly and carefully past floating icebergs to bring you a front-row seat to a startlingly blue and giant wall of active, advancing ice. A cruise is the best way to see Alaska’s magnificent natural phenomenon.
You’ll have the opportunity to admire glaciers from your veranda or one of your ship’s open decks as the glacier sheds massive chunks of ice—some as large as a five-story building—into the sea, a process known as calving. This is one of the many reasons why Alaska is one of the best places to cruise to in the world.
Calving can be a surprisingly visceral experience. You hear the glacier crack and then a sound like thunder. As the ice crashes, you may feel cool air on your cheeks and perhaps the ripples of a wave passing under your ship.
Hubbard Glacier, in Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, is North America’s largest tidewater glacier. The view here is a massive blue wall of ice as tall as a 30-story building above the waterline (and 250 feet below), stretching seven miles wide. Named for Gardiner Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society, the glacier originates some 76 miles away.
When the ice comes to its dramatic end here, you are watching a process that began with mountain snowfall some 500 years ago. Admiring this natural treasure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of Mother Nature in all her glory.
Hubbard is not alone on the dramatic glacier list. Some ships visit Endicott Arm, the southern edge of Tracy Arm, in a massive wilderness area near Juneau. Here, Dawes Glacier is a sight to behold, more than 600 feet tall (or equivalent to a 55-story building) and a half-mile wide.
Dawes is known for its spectacular and frequent calving. Endicott Arm is also one of the largest breeding grounds for harbor seals. You may spot moms and their pups on the floating ice.
See Amazing Wildlife From the Sea
Much of the coastline in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska is a wilderness comprised of snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, green rainforests, and stunning fjords. A cruise is the best way to see Alaska because you’ll have a viewing advantage where wildlife roams in their natural habitat. You may even wake up to views of eagles or whales outside your cabin window.
Look for harbor seals lounging in drifting icebergs and Stellar sea lions hanging out in groups on craggy outcrops. Look to the sky to spot soaring eagles. Use your binoculars to check mountainsides for Dahl sheep and mountain goats with big black horns. Scan isolated beaches to search for lumbering bears. Always be on the lookout for whales—their blows are often the first thing you see.
On your ship, a naturalist will be looking for wildlife. Announcements from the bridge will let you know when whales are sighted in the distance.
Alaska attracts 16 species of whales. Small white beluga whales hang out in the Kenai Peninsula near Seward. Humpback whales, which may grow to 53 feet, may be spotted near Icy Strait Point and in Sitka Sound. Orcas (killer whales), the ocean’s top predator, tend to like the Inside Passage.
Visit Fascinating Towns
Exploring Alaska by land is not necessarily easy. You’re visiting the largest state in the U.S. in terms of land area, and in wild Southeast Alaska, many of the towns can only be reached by sea or air. Juneau, for instance, is the only U.S. capital you can’t drive too—it’s surrounded by water, mountains, and dense wilderness.
Your cruise ship is your easy transport, and you don’t have to switch hotels or deal with local airports and arranging for ground transportation, which is why it’s the best way to see Alaska.
In Juneau and such small frontier towns as Ketchikan, Skagway, and Sitka, you’ll discover Alaska’s colorful history and heritage and meet people who embrace the outdoors as a way of life. For many, being close to nature is what drew them to Alaska in the first place.
You’ll have the opportunity to learn about Alaska Native culture and the 19th-century Gold Rush in towns that feel as American as they do quirky. Where else can you hear tales from fishermen, lumberjacks, modern-day gold seekers, Native elders, and Iditarod dog sled racing champions in one place?
Swing through the doors of an authentic old-time saloon in Juneau. Learn the stories told in tall Tlingit and Haida totem poles in Ketchikan. Watch an authentic Russian dance performance in Sitka, and visit an Alaska Native village near Icy Strait Point. Step back in time as you wander around original Gold Rush buildings in Skagway. Amazing experiences abound here.
Endless Options for Exploration
At each port of call, exciting Alaska shore excursions abound, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure experiences, to kick back and enjoy the sights, to eat as much fresh salmon and crab as you can handle, to explore local art and culture, or to ride the largest ZipRider in the world.
How to see Alaska is a personal choice, and we make it easy. Carefully crafted shore excursions help you make the most of your time in port and bring you into the spectacular wilderness.
Flightseeing by floatplane or helicopter is a particularly popular and unforgettable way to see what’s just beyond Alaska’s port towns. Among the more extraordinary choices is a helicopter tour, where you land at a dogsled camp on a glacier in the Juneau Icefield, then go for a ride on the snow on a dog sled pulled by a team of huskies. Or land on a glacier, put on crampons, and trek through an icy wonderland. Both tours come with extreme bragging rights.
For a more leisurely pursuit, you might hop onto a floatplane from Juneau for the amazing experience of viewing several glaciers, icefields, vast forests and high mountains, and then land at a remote lodge for a traditional salmon bake, the delicious fish cooked over an alder wood fire.
In Skagway, a popular excursion is a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway to the Canadian border or beyond. You follow a steep train route with tunnels and trestles alongside a treacherous trail that the gold-seekers of 1897-98 traveled on foot—and laden with supplies for their time in the goldfields of the Yukon. Guides provide commentary and historic context.
Shore excursions like biking, kayaking, and rainforest hiking in Alaska let you explore wilderness areas, bringing you up close to the flora and sometimes the fauna, too. On a quiet paddle, you may have salmon leaping across the bow while eagles fly overhead. ATV tours add the thrill of rugged terrain. In Ketchikan, there is an opportunity to see Alaska’s colorful undersea world with cold-water wetsuit snorkeling.
At each port, you can spot Alaska’s incredible wildlife. On a whale-watching cruise excursion, you may find a whole pod of the giant creatures frolicking before your eyes. Excursions take you to safely view eagles and other raptors, and black and brown (grizzly) bears in their natural habitat or at rescue centers.
Owned by Alaska Natives, Icy Strait Point offers extraordinary natural and cultural experiences. It’s also home to the ZipRider, which takes guests 1,330 feet down Hoonah Mountain on a wire at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Sitka was once the capital of Russian North America. One of the best things to do in Sitka is to visit the spot where the first U.S. flag was raised after William H. Seward, secretary of state under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, negotiated the deal to buy Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million in 1867.
Fishermen, whether novice or experienced, will want to get into the spirit of Alaska on tours with experienced captains who know where to find salmon and halibut. You may even reel in “the big one.” You can send your catch back home as Alaska souvenirs, keeping your freezer full for months. On a Chef’s Market Discoveries tour in Ketchikan, a local fishmonger and chef will help you prepare your catch for a feast that same evening.
Discover Alaskan cuisine with a culinary tour to sample local favorites like crab chowder, kelp salsa, and reindeer sausage. Alaska also has a wealth of craft breweries and distilleries worth exploring.
Discover Alaska’s Interior
If you want to explore Alaska’s interior, you can book a cruisetour to awe-inspiring destinations like Denali National Park & Preserve and the Canadian Rockies. You’ll stay in authentic lodges and explore the wilderness on remote roadways and via scenic train rides in gorgeous domed rail cars.
Spend time in charming little Talkeetna, Alaska and wake up to views of Denali, North America’s tallest peak. On a park tour, look for Alaska’s Big Five: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears. Choose from incredible experiences like dogsledding through a forest, white river rafting, and driving an ATV across the tundra.
Cruisetours also explore in and around Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city—though still with a hometown ambiance—and get you up to rugged Fairbanks, where you might try your hand at gold panning.
Discover the Last Frontier on a luxury cruise. Browse cruise itineraries on our website and book an unforgettable journey to Alaska today.