Choosing an Alaska adventure cruise with AdventureSmith means choosing an award-winning company founded by a former Alaska naturalist guide. And our greater team of Alaska cruise specialists have lived, worked and explored the region in depth. Let us help you create a rare and unique adventure, through firsthand experience and insight. Need more reasons to book your small ship Alaska cruise with AdventureSmith Explorations?
Work one-on-one with an Alaska cruise specialist to research, purchase & prepare for your trip.
We offer an unmatched selection aboard more than 25 small Alaska expedition ships.
Our founder is a former naturalist guide who helped pioneer Alaska adventure cruises.
Take advantage of deals & other Alaska cruise perks. Our buying power means you save.
Find a Small Alaska Cruise for Your Interests
Alaska is an incredible, close-to-home vacation destination, and our team is here to match you with a small boat Alaska cruise that suits your interests. Two of the most popular topics we consult on are family travel and how to see Glacier Bay National Park. Learn more with our curated selection of the best Alaskan cruises for families, featuring the top Alaska cruise tours to consider when traveling with kids. Or navigate to our curated listing of Glacier Bay cruises and Alaska Inside Passage cruise itineraries.
Looking for luxury? You don’t have to trade luxury for adventure on an Alaskan cruise. With our curated selection of Alaska luxury cruises you can have it all. Expect only the finest yachts and small ships, plus top-notch expedition ships, with upscale amenities, larger cabins, superior service and gourmet cuisine.
Chartering a Small Yacht
Looking to design your own experience of North America’s premier wilderness? Our Alaska adventure cruises are perfect for small groups and family travelers seeking a custom cruise in the Alaska Inside Passage, Prince William Sound and beyond.
Navigate to a trusted, quality charter with our curated options that focus on itineraries aboard 8- to 22-guest ships. Booking a private small ship Alaska cruise like this ensures your experience matches your interests, and our vetted list of Alaska yacht charters makes the logistics seamless and stress free. Learn more about our private group cruises to Alaska.
Ask Our Alaska Cruise Specialists
AdventureSmith sends hundreds of passengers aboard small ships to Alaska each year; thus, we answer a lot of questions about cruising. Our team can be a personal resource for you throughout the selection, booking and trip preparation process.
What are the current Alaska travel advisory considerations? What are the best Alaska cruise lines? Where do small Alaska cruise itineraries embark? What’s the best Alaska cruise for adults? For kids? Which Alaska passages offer the most glaciers? What is the most sustainable eco cruise? Browse our Alaska Cruise Guide to research some of our most popular Alaska small ship cruise FAQ topics, or simply contact us for a one-on-one answer now.
“A small boat Alaska cruise is a journey into remote, wild places inaccessible by land.”
How to Choose Your Alaska Cruise
What’s the best way to choose your Alaska cruise? The experts at AdventureSmith Explorations have years of experience answering this question, and we’ve put together these Alaska small ship cruise comparison, tips, advice and information to help you select the small ship and trip that’s right for your travel style. Read on for our detailed guide about small ship Alaska cruises or head straight to our Alaska Cruise Finder to start your cruise search.
In many ways this is the golden age of small ship cruising in Alaska. There are currently more ships and trips than ever before. There are small ship cruises for every interest, ability and budget from traditional small ships visiting popular ports and wilderness areas to active adventures aboard intimate yachts crewed by local Alaskans. With all of these options it can be difficult to decipher what’s the best Alaska cruise for you and your travel companions. Contacting small cruise lines to Alaska directly does not always answer critical questions about how much activity there is, what the cabins are like, what is included and so on. Use these handy Alaskan cruise tips to better understand what cruising this destination has to offer and to make an informed decision when booking your Alaska small ship cruise.
Small ship cruises in Alaska are limited, the season is short, vessels are small and spaces fill up fast. The most popular Alaska small ship cruises are often sold out 6-9 months in advance. For the best selection of Alaska cruises and available cabins, advance reservations are encouraged and often required. Planning ahead also equates to savings in many cases due to early-booking deals and being able to plan out all the nuances of ways to save on your trip: see our Small Ship Alaska Cruise Deals for more tips and ways to save.
When to Go to Alaska
The Alaska adventure cruising season begins in April and runs into October. If you are considering a land extension to Denali National Park, the season is even shorter, beginning in early June and ending in early September. Read our considerations for timing your Alaska cruise by the seasons below. For even more detail on the best time to visit Alaska, view our month by month guide.
Early Season: April to Mid-June
This time of year snow is present in the mountains, driving hungry bears, which have been hibernating all winter, down to the coast for a meal. Small ships, which can sail close to the shore, take advantage of these springtime encounters. In April, the Pacific herring migration is a main attraction. Humpback whales begin to arrive and orca are prevalent, seeking out the abundant herring. Waterfalls are copious in the spring as they gush down fjord walls. While temperatures are cooler, May is the driest month along Alaska’s coast. You will find the best prices of the year on Alaska cruises in April and May, and likely fewer younger passengers aboard as schools are still in session. This is the season for solitude: fewer crowds in both town and on the water, and the earliest visitors in April may even catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
High Season: Mid-June, July & Early August
During Alaska’s high season, travelers will find the best combination of long days, good weather and abundant wildlife, including greater numbers of whales that congregate in predictable feeding pods putting on quite a show. Coastal Alaska is a temperate rainforest, and you should expect rain at any time of year here. Typically weather becomes wetter as the summer progresses. Mosquitoes are usually not a problem aboard small ship cruises, but they can be a nuisance in Alaska’s interior. Bugs are at their height in July and slowly disappear by mid-August.
Autumn: Mid-August to September
Fall comes early in Alaska, and by mid-August trees are changing color, bugs are gone and days are getting shorter and wetter. Whales and wildlife are active as they prepare for a long migration or winter hibernation. The fall colors in Alaska’s interior and Denali National Park can be spectacular. If you hope to see the aurora borealis (also known as northern lights), then plan your trip for April, mid-August or later. Viewing the aurora borealis aboard a small ship cruise is fairly rare, but it is possible if you travel late or very early in the season due to darker skies.
How Much Time to Spend in Alaska
Most travelers will make only one trip to Alaska in their lifetime and of course want to make the most of it. Like any wilderness-oriented trip, the longer you stay in the backcountry, the better chance you have of seeing animals. For travelers who have only one week we suggest they consider an Alaska coastal cruise. An Alaska cruise offers the most bang for your buck, the best opportunity to view whales and wildlife, and the convenience of only unpacking once while the ship does the traveling. Travelers who have two weeks should consider a cruise plus a land extension into Alaska’s interior. Our most popular land trip is the Denali Backcountry Explorer. Combining a coastal cruise with Denali offers an opportunity to experience much of what Alaska offers from temperate rainforest, whales and glaciers to boreal forest, tundra, Denali, bears, moose and more. See our Alaska land tours for a full selection of trip extensions and land-based tours.
Most cruises are one week, although there are some shorter and longer options. Look for shorter cruise packages from Anchorage that are perfect to combine with a trip extension to Denali. Down in the Alaska Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise and Alaska Fjords & Glaciers are both 8 days, but are designed so travelers can combine them and have no overlapping explorations. Longer cruises of up to 15 days are also available as spring and fall positioning cruises from Seattle, Washington, or by combining cruises.
Choosing Your Alaska Small Ship
Once you have an understanding of where you want to cruise and what style of travel you seek, it is time to consider your small ship. Our small ships to Alaska are handpicked and scrutinized for safety, service, itinerary and expedition leaders. We are Alaska cruise experts who have cruised aboard or personally inspected every ship on our website, and we are here to make sure you choose the best small ships to Alaska for your interests, ability and budget. Learn all about small sized Alaska cruise ships, and the difference between expedition ships, mid-size cruisers and yachts. If you have any questions about ships please do not hesitate to call us. See Small Ship vs Big Ship for further details.
Choosing the Best Alaska Small Ship Cruise – for You
With so many choices (we offer dozens of Alaska cruises aboard over 25 small ships) how does one begin to decide? To find your own best Alaska cruise, we suggest that travelers first consider where they would like to cruise. Coming to our specialists with a good idea of which Alaska region you’d like to visit allows them to determine which cruises are best for you. Then you can consider and hone in on which itineraries and ships offer the level of activity, comfort and amenities that fit your travel style.
Other important considerations include your group size and ages of travelers, if you plan to also travel by land and so on. Choosing the best Alaska small ship cruise honestly comes down to enlisting the help of an Adventure Specialist, who can factor in all these considerations with ship availability and intimate cabin knowledge to really get you on board.
Alaska’s Inside Passage
This is by far the most popular small ship cruise destination in Alaska. It’s the closest region for North American travelers to access since it’s located on the Southeastern Alaska arm of land that hugs the shoreline of northern British Columbia. The Inside Passage hosts the majority of small ship cruises in Alaska, and is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds as well as culture-seeking travelers. The coastal mountain ranges, glaciers and islands make for excellent wildlife viewing and opportunities for outstanding boating, fishing, kayaking and hiking. And Glacier Bay cruises & tours are accessed from this region.
Learn more about our Inside Passage cruise small ship itineraries and the region on our dedicated trip listing page, featuring more than 30 routes in this iconic location. Since the options for a small ship Inside Passage cruise are vast, there are lots of considerations once you hone in on this region, including whether you want a more culturally-focused trip, maximum activity and wilderness, top-tier education and onboard amenities, or a custom charter.
Southcentral Alaska – Prince William Sound & Katmai
Like the Inside Passage, Southcentral Alaska offers remote wilderness, but it is linked via roads and numerous communities that can serve as base camps for land adventures. In fact, this region is home to over half of Alaska’s population, so small Alaska cruises here embark from unique road-accessed port towns like Whittier and Homer, with the city of Anchorage being the hub for your travel.
Numerous options to explore beyond your cruise include world-class fishing on the Kenai Peninsula or further exploration inland to Denali National Park. Southcentral Alaska’s terrain ranges from volcanic landscapes in Katmai National Park, home to an impressive population of brown bears, to the windswept Aleutian Islands that make a 1,000-mile sweep toward Asia.
Our partner cruises in this region are aboard smaller vessels, great for charters, with unique itineraries. Southeast of Anchorage, explore Prince William Sound and the nation’s second largest national forest, the Chugach, on the Prince William Sound Discovery. And farther west, along the shoreline of Katmai National Park, embark on The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter, a bear-focused cruise accessed by floatplane from Kodiak.
Positioning Cruises to/from Seattle
Looking to embark or disembark in Seattle? While in the summer, small ships are busy exploring up in Alaska, each spring you’ll find them repositioning from Seattle to Alaska, and each fall they return from Alaska to Seattle. These “positioning” cruises offer a longer expedition covering the entire Inside Passage as well as British Columbia and often the San Juan Islands. These cruises range from 14 to 15 days and often represent a significant value. For two options, see Treasures of the Inside Passage aboard National Geographic vessels and Inside Passage & Glacier Bay Wilderness Cruise.
Cruise from Vancouver to Alaska via Small Ship
For those looking to cruise Vancouver to Alaska by small ship, a select few routes exist. See the Alaska Odyssey aboard an activities-focused expedition ship, for departures either embarking or disembarking in Vancouver, Canada. Routes that reach Vancouver mean time exploring Canada’s Inside Passage, with protected waters, incredible mountains, varied wildlife and strong cultures.
Ready to go? Start your trip search with the full selection of Alaska small ship cruises found on our Alaska Small Ship Cruise Finder. Our experts can lead the way so the selection process becomes a part of the fun adventure and the Alaska cruise you choose is your perfect match. All our cruises are aboard ships averaging only 45 guests, and are tried and tested by our team.
Getting to Your Alaska Cruise
There are a variety of ports where small Alaska cruises begin and end including Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka and Anchorage. A cruise from Vancouver to Alaska by small ship can also be arranged. Flights to Juneau and Anchorage are common while smaller ports of call may require a bit more planning. Travelers connecting from the west coast of North America will have little difficulty getting to Alaska and embarking their ship the same day (although a pre-cruise overnight is nice). Travelers east of the Rockies will require a pre-cruise overnight in order to safely embark their ship on time. Many major airlines offer flights to Anchorage; Alaska Airlines services Juneau and the small ports used by Southeast Alaska small ship cruises. Flights to this region will route through Seattle, Washington.
At AdventureSmith, we are small ship cruise experts not airfare experts, and as such we do not book flights for our clients. But our Adventure Specialists will work closely with you to make sure your flights are scheduled to seamlessly coincide with your Alaska vacation. We advise travelers to purchase flights only after their Alaska trip is confirmed.
Seasickness is typically not an issue on most Alaska small ship cruises. Most cruises travel in the protected waters of the Alaska Inside Passage or Prince William Sound and rarely travel more than a few miles away from shore. Positioning cruises and cruises that venture close to the open water of the Gulf of Alaska are more prone to exposure to ocean swells for brief periods of their itinerary. If you are sensitive to seasickness, consult our guide on how to prevent and treat seasickness on cruises and tell your Adventure Specialist—we can advise you which ships and itineraries may have a chance to encounter these conditions.
While families are invited to enjoy any Alaskan small ship cruise, a number of small ships offer dedicated family departures. These Alaska family cruises offer specialized programs with guides who are experienced working with younger travelers and may include special educational programs, unique activities, family-friendly meal options and more to enhance the family cruise experience. These family cruises also offer the added benefit of traveling with other likeminded families with kids of similar age. For information about traveling with children aboard a few boats in our fleet, contact an AdventureSmith Specialist or read some recommendations in our best Alaska cruises for families page.
A Word about Guides
The experience and demeanor of your Alaskan guide will have a profound impact on your overall experience. All of the small boat Alaska cruise options AdventureSmith offers in Alaska have naturalist guides on board. Todd Smith, AdventureSmith founder and president, worked as a lead naturalist for Alaska small ship cruises for 10 years and knows the importance of a good guide. The quality of onboard guides is one of the most important criteria we think about when considering which small ships we represent. To find the best Alaskan cruise line for you, read all about small Alaskan cruise lines and compare them.
What’s It Really Like?
What are Alaskan cruises like? There are now countless Alaska small ship cruise and travel review websites on the internet. Many offer honest advice, but many need to be taken with a grain of salt. Use online Alaska cruise reviews tips as a tool but don’t rush to judgment when you read a poor review. Often this is a result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were on. The best type of Alaska cruise review is a personal referral. Ask your booking agent to put you in touch with a past client that has traveled to Alaska on a comparable trip. Reputable Alaska small ship cruise agencies will gladly refer their past clients.
Pre & Post Cruise Tours
AdventureSmith Explorations also offers a full selection of land- and lodge-based tours that are perfect as small ship cruise extensions or standalone trips. Independent tours can be scheduled at any time based on availability to explore Glacier Bay, visit Denali National Park or view brown bears at Katmai National Park, for example. Guided small group tours, designed with the same focus on intimate exploration as our small ship cruises, explore the Kenai Peninsula and Denali with activity options such as hiking, kayaking, rafting, flightseeing and more. For a full selection view our Alaska land tours.
More Alaskan Cruise Tips – Get Our Expert Advice
Most important when choosing your Alaska cruise, speak with an experienced Alaska small ship expert. Our specialists are armed with the best Alaskan cruise tips from years of experience traveling and working in the region. They’re also knowledgeable about what’s new for Alaska small ship cruises, to get you the most up-to-date selection. You will not get the whole picture when booking direct, and a company with experience aboard all the ships can make all the difference.
At AdventureSmith Explorations, we are award-winning Alaska small ship cruise and Alaska travel specialists with a focus on guided small group nature tours and custom travel for individuals, couples, families and small groups. Our founder and president Todd Smith helped pioneer expedition cruising, and our staff has decades of experience guiding, arranging and selling wilderness adventures and small Alaska cruises. We offer firsthand knowledge, personal service, key Alaska cruise tips, sustainable practices and unbeatable prices.
Thanks for reading AdventureSmith’s Alaska small ship cruise guide and comparison, and contact us with any further questions on how to choose your Alaska cruise.
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When to Cruise Alaska
The Alaska adventure cruise season begins in April and runs into October. Small boat tours of Alaska make the most of the summer months, running May through September, when passengers can enjoy warmer temperatures, long days with late sunsets and accessible wildlife. Throughout the summer, weather is variable ranging from warm sunny days in the 70s or 80s to chilly rainy days in the 50s and 60s. The climate data listed above is for Anchorage, Alaska, but there are Southeast coastal and Arctic microclimates to consider depending on your small Alaska cruise itinerary. For even more detail on the best time to visit Alaska, view our month by month guide.