By Lissa Poirot
More than 50 percent of travelers to Alaska visit by boat, but considering the Alaskan wilderness is the state’s greatest asset, the best Alaskan cruises are aboard small ships. These “uncruise” adventures take you into channels and bays larger ships cannot traverse, and in doing so, bring you closer to glaciers, wildlife such as whales and bears, and outdoor activities like kayaking through ice-strewn channels and hiking on remote shores and trails.
Small cruise ships also hold fewer travelers, providing a more intimate vacation with a small group of like-minded travelers. You’ll find bare-bones ships to those with a luxe vibe, especially on these six cruise providers.
1. AdventureSmith Explorations
When Todd Smith began his small ship adventure cruises, it came from his own love of exploring off-the-beaten path destinations. The award-winning cruises available range from eight to 100 passengers, and, can include upscale lodge stays for on-land adventures to get even closer to the Alaskan wildlife and wilderness. Destinations include Glacier Bay, Northern Passage, Inside Passage, glaciers, and fjords.
2. Alaskan Dream Cruises
With its largest ship, the Chichagof Dream, providing 37 cabins for guests, and its smallest ship, the Misty Fjord, offering just five cabins, you’ll never be with crowds when sailing with Alaskan Dream. The ships are small enough to pass through the Inner Passage and the shallow channels, bays, and island-dotted waterways of Southeast Alaska. Traveling with this family-owned, five-ship cruise outfit gets you up close with the wildlife and scenery of Alaska, including glaciers, frontier, whale-watching, and wildlife cruises from spring through fall.
3. American Cruise Lines
Perhaps because American Cruise Lines operates across the country, it offers a more upscale experience for small ship cruises in Alaska. With cruises in Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage, you’ll find first-class staterooms and service, as well as nightly entertainment and fine dining after days exploring the scenery and wilderness. Onshore excursions include kayaking tours, the Yukon train tour, and a cultural Kake experience.
4. Discovery Voyages
This Alaskan-based cruise operator provides small ship cruises in Prince William Sound aboard a 65-foot yacht. The trip will feel more rugged than others, as the ship is historic. Cabins feature bunks versus beds and guests share bathrooms, but the ship also gives passengers an old-fashioned experience reminiscent of early expeditions in these ice-filled waters. Many guests enjoy the photography voyages with an onboard photo-naturalist who assists in capturing the best landscape and wildlife shots to be found.
5. Lindblad Expeditions
Connected to world-renowned scientific leaders National Geographic, Lindblad features expeditions versus vacations around the world. As an outfit that’s operated for more than 30 years, joining Lindblad in Alaska means you’ll be surrounded by Alaskan naturalists, scientists, and guides. Their adventures on both water and land include cultural, wildlife, and outdoor experiences. Lindblad’s Alaskan ships accommodate just 62 people in outside cabins.
6. Uncruise Adventures
For more than 20 years, Uncruise Adventures has been providing just that: uncruises. Onboard, don’t expect a traditional cruise, although you will find hot tubs, fitness equipment, yoga, kayaks, paddle boards, and a wine bar. The focus of these adventures is to get you as close to nature as possible. And from the Northern Passage to the Inside Passage to Glacier Bay, passengers see it all from 22- to 86-guest ships and yachts.