If there is one place in the world where anyone can try an adventure cruise experience, it is Alaska. America’s 49th state is superbly equipped to provide a great range of outdoor activities and expeditions, and you don’t necessarily need to be on a small ship to take advantage of them.
In simple terms, Alaska is the world’s great nature theme park. It is tailor-made for cruising in the south-east and it opens the door to a magnificent array of activities, from salmon fishing to sledge-dog rides and kayaking to glacier trekking.
Travelling by sea opens up a vast range of territory in what remains largely untouched wilderness, and there are fully 18 cruise lines that will be offering voyages in this region starting next month when the ‘season’ officially opens.
You can travel with Carnival, Norwegian or Royal Caribbean; Holland America, Celebrity or Princess; Oceania, Azamara or Windstar; and ultra-luxe lines Regent, Crystal, Silversea or Seabourn. There are also specialist small-ship companies such as National Geographic and UnCruise Adventures.
It is a positive cornucopia of choice, but the bottom line remains all the ships visit largely the same areas, albeit the two specialists get more off the beaten track. But, if you’re on Holland America or UnCruise, the opportunities to get adventurous off the ship are likely to be quite similar.
So, with no further ado, here are our magnificent seven Alaskan adventure cruises departing this year:
For the standard Alaskan cruise experience, Celebrity Cruises are one of the most tried and trusted operators in the region, and this seven-day voyage provides a typical cross-section of the area, visiting Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as the Endicott Arm fjord, home to the massive Dawes Glacier. Options ashore include a canoe and nature trail excursion at Ketchikan; a glacial dogsled adventure in capital Juneau; and the Grizzly Falls ziplining expedition in Skagway. Nature lovers can also sample the Skagway Yukon Discovery Adventure and the chance to watch for wildlife through this amazingly scenic territory.
Here’s another great opportunity to experience Alaska at the height of summer (when it can be as warm as 20C), with a 10-night Oceania Cruises sailing round-trip from Seattle and featuring Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka, in addition to a day cruising Icy Strait and around the Hubbard Glacier. The range of shore excursions run the gamut from Gold Mining & Panning in Juneau to a 4×4 Nature Safari at the Russian-heritage port of Sitka. Signature Oceania Select Excursions offer a Helicopter Glacier Trek to the famous Mendenhall Glacier just outside Juneau and an exciting Hummer Adventure to Emerald Lake at Skagway.
Safari Endeavour, June 16
UnCruise operate from the heart of Alaskan cruise territory in Juneau, with 7-day sailings that explore the ship route less travelled hereabouts. The only major ports are Sitka and the gold-rush era town of Haines, but that just means there is more opportunity to really see – and feel – the essence of this amazing state. With the 88-passenger Endeavour being equipped with her own fleet of kayaks, paddle-boards and inflatable skiffs, this provides maximum exploration potential for those who like to be as adventurous as possible in places where the humpback whales and other wildlife is likely to pop up all around you.
Just because the upscale style of Crystal Cruises sails sparingly through Alaska this summer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t chances to be adventurous when this 11-night voyage sets sail from Seward (the port for Anchorage) to Vancouver. Not only does this enticing voyage pay a rare visit to the port of Hoonah (where the native Tlingit people have carved out an existence for hundreds of years), it also calls at Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan, i.e. the very essence of the Alaskan cruise experience. Hoonah would be the crown jewel, though. Situated on Chichagof Island, it is home to the world’s largest brown bear population, as well as record numbers of whales in the offshore waters, ensuring it is a wildlife watcher’s paradise.
Any cruise that includes the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska is worth seeking out, and Windstar Cruises manages to include this in its 11-night itinerary from Seward to Vancouver, travelling south via the small-scale ports of Haines, Sitka and Wrangell, as well as Ketchikan and Juneau. Rugged Kenai with its fjords is a major fishing destination as well as prime wildlife-watching territory, with whales, seals, sea lions and a proliferation of birdlife all common in these waters. Sailing on the boutique Star Legend is the ideal way to view this near-Arctic landscape, nosing into areas that most ships don’t get to see.
National Geographic Sea Bird, June 24
When you’re looking for an adventure that is truly epic, National Geographic’s small-scale Sea Bird (carrying just 62 passengers) is definitely one to consider as it offers a genuine expedition-style cruise that is specially licensed to visit the Tongass National Forest, as well as the nooks and crannies of Misty Fjords National Monument. Excursions include the chance to raft through the remote Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and hiking in the more secluded parts of Chichagof Island. The ship also carries its own sea kayaks to afford guests the chance to get up close and personal with this fabulous region.
SS Legacy, August 16
If there was ever a ship tailor-made for in-shore Alaska, it is this gorgeous little replica 1890s coastal steamer of UnCruise Adventures, as it provides a wonderfully personal voyage through the Inside Passage on a grand 14-night sailing from Juneau to Seattle. With the ability to tailor its schedule to the wildlife en route, it visits the small-scale charms of Haines and Petersburg, as well as bustling Ketchikan, but also features hiking and biking excursions in Haines, paddle-boarding and kayaking in Misty Fjords, and the wildlife-rich waters of the San Juan Islands. It concludes with a stop for Olympic National Park in Washington, and a chance to hike Hurricane Ridge, with amazing views to the mountainous interior. Exciting? You bet. Memorable? Without a doubt. But then that sums up Alaska – America’s adventure cruise frontier.
What most appeals to you about Alaska? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.