Exploring Alaska should be on every bucket list, but for a state that could literally take months, if not years to discover, a cruise offers the opportunity to experience most of the key features in one trip. Most port disembarkments last between four to eight hours for you to set out on your own in any manner you like, from hiking and sightseeing to shopping in town. From the ship’s deck, you’ll see bald eagles commanding the Alaskan skies and humpback whales in charge of the deep. Watch glaciers as the calve–or “split off into smaller ones.”

No One Size Fits All
For anyone who has never experienced taking a cruise, the mention of one may garner a response of “ they’re all alike,” but nothing could be further from the truth, and just as the area and destination of each cruise is distinctive, there are a lot of differences between the different ambiances of each cruise line. Know before you go. A significant difference exists between large and small vessels.

Small Cruise Ships
This option includes ships that can sleep from around 8 to 100, and typically depart directly from Alaska. These supply the same comfort and quality while providing a more authentic experience. The caveat? This option can set you back anywhere from $400 to $1200 a night. The quarters are tighter, there’s less entertainment and you’ll definitely feel every bump and wave of the ocean, but if you desire a closer engagement with wildlife, land and nature, this is for you. The atmosphere is more casual and the food is better, too.

Large Cruise Ships
These give the comfort of an all-inclusive floating hotel. They only stop at major ports of call. Excursions include a range, like helicopter trips, zipline tours, kayak and day trips and guided hikes. They’re all different, so check before you buy. A few of the larger options:

  • Crystal Alaskan Cruises: For anyone seeking a pampered and relaxed feeling, here is the level of luxury for you. The somewhat low-key onboard activities include golf clinics, music lessons and yoga. This is a more pricey way to tour, however, most of the amenities are included in the overall price. Often too quiet for some, with limited cruise options.
  • Holland America: Guests are fewer, with a more intimate experience. They offer the largest variety of itineraries among cruise lines, with stops in many less frequented ports of call, like Anchorage, Homer and Kodiak. Lesser verandas and a sedentary nightlife which seem to appeal to the older crowd. Must book early.
  • Princess Alaskan Cruises: For the “life of the party,” here’s the cruise for you!  A lot of people feel the same, so expect big crowds and long lines when disembarking. The food is certainly adequate, so you won’t go hungry, but it is not one of the strong selling points of this line. The entertainment on this floating resort includes movie theaters, Broadway shows, casinos and expansive dining options that include flexible seating arrangements. There are many affordable balcony cabins, and all the views are great.
  • Disney Alaskan Cruises: This is the family cruise. Great for Mom, Pop, the kids and the Grandparents. Plenty of grown-up diversions and a nice fitness center and spa. It does get crowded and noisy–as you would expect with the Disney name attached, but it’s a super friendly family oriented atmosphere with tons of age-specific things to do. Esteemed for its high standard of service, this one may feel too much like a theme park for some.