The elegant alternative: Small ship cruises in Alaska

Small ship cruises in Alaska: one of the best ways to properly see Alaska’s real nature, and a perfect alternative to the large cruiselines.
Small ship cruise, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Cruising in Alaska

As you may have heard, Alaska is an ideal destination for cruises. The classic route starts in Vancouver, meanders along the western coast of British Columbia and through the Inside Passage, and end a week later in South central Alaska, in Whittier (an hour south of Anchorage) or Seward (two and a half hours south).

There are quite a few variations. You can start in Alaska and end in Vancouver, you can take two back-to-back cruises and complete a two-week loop and so on. That being said, almost all cruises end up stopping in the same places. The towns along the way (most notably Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway) enjoy the tourist traffic, the cruise companies enjoy the business, and most tourists also enjoy the experience. Food is served around the clock, entertainment options are endless, and parents have their children taken care of. Even the prices aren’t bad (usually $800-$2,000 per person, and there are many bargains). So far so good.

So what’s the problem?

Glad you asked. Cruiselines may not charge much for the cruise itself, but they do a fantastic job selling shore excursions. Nobody wants to get off the boat and sit at a café for eight hours, and the result is a classic mass-tourism trap. While some shore excursions could be worth your time and money, many of them are overpopulated and way overpriced. Folks have to get back to port in time, and as a result most shore excursions are limited in range and can only visit areas close to town. As thousands of tourists disembark their boats simultaneously, most of them end up going to the same places, paying too much and seeing too little of what Alaska really has to offer.

Imagine this: on a typical summer day, Skagway (roughly 500 year-round residents) welcomes 10-15 thousand visitors. The result, to put it mildly, is Disneyland for grownups. Not surprisingly, locals tend to flee town in early summer. Most of us would have done the same.

The alternative: Small ship cruises

Does this mean you should drop the Alaskan cruise idea? Absolutely not. A few companies operate small-ship cruises in Alaska, and this is one of the best ways to properly see Alaska’s real nature.

Unlike big cruise ships, most of which carry over 2,000 passengers and resemble floating cities, small ships only carry around 50-100 and typically have no more than three floors. The experience is very different – imagine the difference between seeing whales, icebergs or a big waterfall from sea level, comparing to watching from the tenth floor.

Smaller ships can enter smaller fjords, into which the big ships cannot go. Their schedule is much more flexible, and they’re capable of changing plans on the spot in order to avoid bad weather or to maximize wildlife encounters.

Unlike big cruises, port of calls play a much smaller role in small ship cruises. The Small boats often anchor in wild sheltered bays, where passengers go on guided trips by foot or kayak. Price-wise, this is usually more expensive than a big-ship cruise, but there are no surprises – no fees for shore excursions, and in most cases everything is included in the ticket price.

Bottom line

If you’re mainly interested in a cruise as a vacation, and you don’t really care if it’s in Alaska, Greece or the Caribbeans, a large cruise ship will probably be a good choice. However, if your main goal is to experience Alaska up close and get the most out of your visit, a small-ship cruise is the way to go.

What we offer

We work with a variety of small ship operators, from companies who run a full fleet of vessels to small yacht operators (4-12 passengers). If you would like more information, call us! We would love to work with you and go over your options. Our rates are the same as the rates you will find on the operators websites. If you wish to extend your small boat cruise and add a number of days on land, we’ll be happy to put together a land-based itinerary too. If you are interested, contact us and we would be happy to help.