3 Types of Alaska Cruise Itineraries

Glacier Bay in Alaska

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison

One million cruise passengers sail Alaskan waters during the short five-month cruise season, and it is one of the top five cruise destinations for U.S. travelers. When planning your Alaskan cruise, you will have over 30 Alaska ports of call on three basic itineraries to choose from: the Inside Passage, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea.

Many cities and sites are inaccessible by road in the 49th state, and a cruise ship provides passengers with a view of many natural wonders and parts of Alaska that cannot be seen on a land vacation. For example, Juneau, Alaska's capital, cannot be reached by land and can only be reached by ferry, cruise ship, or plane. The city is is almost always included as a port of call on cruises of Alaska's Inside Passage. 

Off Icy Straits Point - a favored cruise destination of the Inside Passage, Alaska USA.
Jon Bower at Apexphotos/Getty Images 

Inside Passage

Cruises embarking in San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver and visiting ports such as Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway are considered Inside Passage cruises.

This area of southeast Alaska is a protected sea route along the western coast of North America. It stretches for about 950 miles from Seattle along the coast of British Columbia to the northern part of the Alaska panhandle near Haines and Skagway, Alaska.

Cruises usually include stopovers in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and the famous Glacier Bay National Park. Sailing roundtrip often means cheaper airfare since you embark and disembark in the same port.
Small cruise lines, like Un-Cruise Adventures, The Boat Company, and Lindbald Expeditions, are primarily based in the Inside Passage of Alaska because the waters are much calmer and the distances are not as far. They usually sail from Juneau or Ketchikan.

Gulf of Alaska

Working north from Vancouver, the south central coast of Alaska is added to the Inside Passage for Gulf of Alaska cruises. Ships sail one-way between Vancouver or Seattle and Seward, the closest port to Anchorage. Your embarkation and disembarkation points are different, but you have the opportunity to see much more of Alaska's spectacular scenery, including the glacier-clad Gulf of Alaska and the Hubbard Glacier. Large and mid-sized ships often cruise this itinerary since the waters of the Pacific Ocean are sometimes more rocky than the quiet waters of the Inside Passage.

Bering Sea Cruises

Expedition ships sail this historic sea between North America and Asia. Most of the larger, mainstream cruise lines do not venture this far north. Some mainstream and luxury ships sail this northern route when repositioning between Alaska and Asia.

Many cruise lines offer cruise tour packages to "add-on" to your cruise. These packages can last anywhere from a couple of days to over a week and include visits to inland Alaskan sites, such as Denali National Park. Cruise lines also offer extensions to the Yukon Territory of Canada and Fairbanks, which is north of Denali National Park. When planning your cruise, you might want to think about staying a few extra days to experience more of this magnificent part of North America.