Guide to small ship cruising in Alaska

Alaska is vast. It is the USA’s largest state, it has humungous national parks, the largest national forest at Tongass, North America’s deepest fjords in, the world’s largest population of brown bears, and some of the country’s largest islands, such as Admiralty and Prince of Wales. Or Prince of Whales as it should be called, as the Alexander Archipelago to which it belongs is home to orcas, humpbacks, and so many other greats.
Alaska’s Alexander archipelago has long been home to the indigenous Tlingit. Their language is Lingít, meaning 'People of the Tides'. Now that’s the sort of person you want as skipper here. Which, thankfully, we did.
The best news is that you don’t need vast vessels to explore it – far from it. There are superb small ship cruise options, with ships varying in size from 70-100 passengers, and where activities such as sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and hiking are all about being on the water or the land, rather than on the boat. Unless you are just struck dumb watching whales breach in front of you while you sip your morning coffee on deck, of course.

What does an Alaska cruise entail?

How big is a “small” cruise ship?

How big is a “small” cruise ship?

Most of our responsible cruise ships are expedition boats designed to cope with Alaskan conditions, so they are not tiny, but they are certainly not the behemoths that sleep thousands. Nature is the ruler of the waves on these trips, and our expedition boats sleep between 70-100 guests. If you are going into the wilderness areas of southeast Alaska on a specific wildlife watching vacation, you may find yourself on board a 10-passenger, converted fishing vessel, but with cruising classiness of course.
What are the cabins like?

What are the cabins like?

They may be expedition ships by nature, but they have all been refurbished to cater for happy travelers. The cabins on traditional small ship cruises are clean and comfortable with en suite bathrooms, and most ships offer single, double or triple cabins. On a sailing trip that carries fewer passengers, the norm is about eight double cabins, with a mix of double bunks or twins and shared bathrooms. Solo travelers may need to bunk up on these ones, so ask your tour operator for details.
What about other facilities?

What about other facilities?

The facilities on board Alaskan small ship cruises are all about connecting with nature and the outdoors, rather than counting swimming pools or cinemas. Most have libraries with nature or local history books; underwater cameras which transmit images to the cosy lounge; kayaks, stand up paddle boards, inflatable skiffs, hiking poles and yoga mats, even snorkelling equipment for those who dare. If a hot tub or sauna on deck lit by shooting stars rather than a spa down on level -3 speaks your language, then you are definitely more of a small ship cruise type of person.
Can I travel solo?

Can I travel solo?

If you are traveling solo and there are no single cabins, you usually have two choices: pay around a 50 percent supplement for your own double cabin, or choose to share a twin cabin with someone of the same gender, at no extra cost. If the cruise is not fully booked, you may get lucky and end up with your own double cabin without paying a supplement, but there are no guarantees. Check with your tour operator to see if it is possible to reserve your specific cabin in advance.
Families

Can I travel with my children?

Families are always welcome on board. For a supplement, the ship may be able to put an extra single bed into a cabin to sleep three people. Ask your tour operator for details.

Our top Alaska cruising Vacation

Inner Reaches Eastern Coves cruise in Alaska

Inner Reaches Eastern Coves cruise in Alaska

Awe-inspiring glaciers, wildlife, and rainforests in Alaska

From £2309 to £3465 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 6 Apr, 11 May, 18 May, 8 Jun, 15 Jun, 29 Jun, 6 Jul, 13 Jul, 27 Jul, 3 Aug, 10 Aug, 24 Aug, 31 Aug, 7 Sep, 28 Sep
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Alaska cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
How are they responsible?
The owners don't just support the local community, they are the local community. The vessel belongs to members of the Kaagwaantaan Clans, one of the Tlingit clans of southeast Alaska.

How are they responsible?

Many of the ships on these routes are operated by companies that are members of the 'Passenger Vessel Association Green WATERS Program', or PVA. This scheme recognises commitment to a green and clean marine environment, by reducing fuel consumption, managing waste responsibly, conserving drinking water, using marine friendly cleaning products when possible, and so on. Many trips tie in with local community conservation efforts, by fundraising or collecting donations, and of course by doing plenty of land excursions in order to spread the tourism income. Responsible cruise operators also purchase food supplies locally, with many ships’ chefs being members of a ‘Chefs Collaborative’ to encourage sustainable food supply and respect seasonality. Organisers of these small ship cruises partner with local operators for land excursions such as guided hikes, wildlife safaris and cultural visits to indigenous communities.
Wildlife

Wildlife

Most small ship cruises in Alaska will have on board naturalists, zoologists or marine conservation experts, as well as libraries to keep you well informed about all the wildlife around you. From the Sitka blacktailed deer of the Tongass National Forest to the bald eagles soaring above its temperate rainforest canopy; from the moose and grizzlies on the shores of Misty Fjords, and the orcas and humpbacks of Stephens Passage to the black bears of Prince of Wales Island and many more, these trips are like Attenborough on all cylinders.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Elaine] [Size of the Cruise ship - : Roderick Eime] [What are the cabins like? : Phuket@photographer.net] [Cabin facilities - kayaking: Matt Zimmerman] [Travelingl solo : Ian D. Keating] [Traveling with children: USDA Forest Service Alaska Region] [How are they responsible? : Sam BeebeBy] [Wildlife : USDA Forest Service Alaska Region]
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