If I had to choose between a Caribbean cruise or an Alaska cruise, I would always choose Alaska.
I have cruised to Alaska every year for the last three years and it has quickly become my favorite cruise destination. The scenery, wildlife, and port-intensive itineraries in Alaska are unlike any other North American cruise destination, and I can’t get enough of it.
Those who have never cruised Alaska may find the concept of an Alaska cruise confusing. Why would anyone pay to be cold vacation? What good is a cruise if you can’t tan on the pool deck?
An Alaskan cruise is honestly very different from a traditional Caribbean cruise experience. You will trade a bathing suit for a jacket, sandals for boots, and sunglasses for binoculars.
Despite the colder weather, Alaska cruises offer unique ways to explore this fascinating region of the world, from booking a whale watching tour to dog sledding on a glacier.
While there are some things I don’t like about Alaska cruises, namely the ultra-expensive shore excursions, I still prefer traveling to Alaska over Caribbean itineraries, and here are 8 reasons why.
My favorite thing about Alaska cruises is taking in the scenery as I sail from port to port.
As much as I love visiting Alaska cruise ports, I enjoy taking in the scenery on board even more.
In the Caribbean, your cruise ship spends most of its time at sea sailing in the open sea. Most of the time, once her ship leaves port, she won’t see land until she arrives at her next port of call.
Related: Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruise Guide
Alaska cruises offer breathtaking scenery as your ship sails from port to port. Once you enter the State’s Inside Passage, your ship will be surrounded by land on both sides. You’ll see small islands, jagged cliffs, waterfalls, and glaciers from the comfort and warmth of your cruise.
When I cruise to Alaska, I spend hours admiring the scenery from the sundeck, pool deck, or a quiet lounge. It’s hard to beat sipping a hot chocolate while looking out your window at mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes!
I love the tropical views on a Caribbean cruise, but to me, it doesn’t compare to what you’ll see in Alaska.
As an active traveler, I love the outdoor adventure opportunities that Alaska offers.
I’m always looking for outdoor activities when I cruise, and there’s perhaps no better place to explore the great outdoors than Alaska.
Alaska’s wilderness is vast, rugged, and remote, but there are outdoor activities accessible to all guests. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a novice outdoorsman, you can easily find ways to explore the state’s wilderness during an Alaska cruise.
Related: Alaska Cruise Excursions
Many shore excursions in Alaska have an outdoor focus. You’ll find plenty of hiking, biking, kayaking, and even rock climbing excursions at Alaska cruise ports.
If you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars on a tour, it’s easy enough to explore nature without an organized tour. I prefer to explore the ports on my own and have found outdoor activities at every cruise port, from day hikes in Sitka to bike rides in Juneau.
You can certainly still enjoy the outdoors in the Caribbean, but it’s hard to beat the outdoor activities on offer in a place like Alaska.
Alaska’s wildlife viewing opportunities are unmatched when compared to other cruise destinations.
Alaska is home to some majestic wildlife. There are an estimated 30,000 bears in the state along with an equal number of eagles. Additionally, eight species of whales frequent Alaska’s cold waters during the summer months, including humpback, gray, orca, and minke whales.
Wildlife viewing is a big draw for those booking a cruise to Alaska, and you’ll almost certainly see these animals during your week in the state.
I am currently aboard an Alaska cruise, and yesterday I saw a mother black bear and two cubs through my binoculars from the ship. Later in the evening, a humpback whale made an appearance on the starboard side of the boat while we were relaxing in the Solarium.
Related: What is the best time of year to see wildlife in Alaska?
In fact, I have seen two whales since I started writing this blog post!
Beyond viewing wildlife from the boat, you can book a variety of wildlife-focused shore excursions. From whale-watching tours to sea otter searches to visits to a bear rehabilitation center, there are plenty of ways to get up close (but not also close!) with wildlife on an Alaska cruise.
You can book a one-way Alaska itinerary to further explore the state, and I love having this option.
When it comes to booking an Alaska cruise, you have two options: a roundtrip or a one-way itinerary.
Round-trip cruises depart from Seattle and return a week later. Throughout the week, they visit three Alaskan cruise ports and also call in Victoria, British Columbia.
Roundtrips are convenient as passengers can book a roundtrip flight and if they drove to the cruise port, they can park their car in Seattle for the week.
One-way voyages, on the other hand, travel in one direction, starting at one port and ending at another. Northbound itineraries begin in Vancouver, Canada and end in Seward, Alaska. Southbound cruises go in the opposite direction.
Related: Top 50 Alaska Cruise Tips
One-way itineraries allow passengers to travel Alaska in greater depth, stopping at four Alaska cruise ports instead of just three.
Additionally, beginning or ending the cruise in Seward, Alaska allows guests to explore the interior of Alaska before or after the cruise. Visiting sites like Denali National Park and Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park are just a few hours’ drive from the cruise port in Seward.
Having one-way itinerary options is another reason I prefer Alaska cruises to Caribbean itineraries. One-way itineraries are not common in the Caribbean and are typically only found on long repositioning cruises.
Although I sail often, I enjoy vacations ashore for the chance to explore a destination at a slower pace. Booking a one-way itinerary allows you to experience the best of both worlds in Alaska.
Glacier viewing days are another reason I prefer Alaska cruises to Caribbean itineraries.
Most Alaska cruises include a day of scenic glacier viewing, and these spectacular days are another reason I prefer Alaska cruises to Caribbean cruises.
Most round-trip itineraries visit Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier, a 600-foot-tall, 30-mile-long glacier at the end of Endicott Arm Fjord. Some itineraries also visit Tracy Arm Fjord and the twin Sawyer Glaciers.
One-way itineraries often visit Hubbard Glacier, a 75-mile glacier that empties into Disenchantment Bay in southeast Alaska. At 400 feet tall and 6 miles wide, seeing this glacier makes for an unforgettable day of sailing, and something you’ll never see on a Caribbean cruise.
Related: Hubbard Glacier vs. Glacier Bay: which glacier is better to see on a cruise?
On glacier viewing days, your cruise sails through a narrow fjord between colossal cliffs and tall, narrow waterfalls. As your ship approaches a glacier, you’ll see icebergs and maybe even wildlife like seals, eagles, and whales.
Once on the glacier, the boat will rotate 360 degrees, allowing guests to view the glacier from anywhere on board.
Pictures don’t do Alaska’s glaciers justice – the scale and majesty of these massive ice sheets must be seen in person to truly appreciate their grandeur.
I am a destination-focused traveler, and Alaska cruises are more focused on the destination than the cruise itself.
In the age of mega-cruises, it’s easy to focus more on the ship itself than the destination. After all, today’s biggest cruise ships are destinations unto themselves, with distinct neighborhoods, dozens of dining options, and endless activities and entertainment.
When cruising in the Caribbean, most passengers choose a cruise based on the ship rather than the itinerary. The ports seem almost secondary to the characteristics of the cruise itself. In fact, some passengers don’t even disembark at ports of call, preferring instead to spend time enjoying the ship’s amenities.
Related: Comparison of Royal Caribbean ships sailing in Alaska
In Alaska, by contrast, the focus of the vacation is on the destination and not on the ship. For most guests, visiting Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they are excited to enjoy every moment as much as possible.
You’ll reel in more passengers by researching ports of call, watching the sails from the outside decks, and visiting monuments and museums about the state’s culture. There’s a sense of excitement in the air when cruising Alaska that I haven’t yet seen on a Caribbean cruise.
As someone who lives on the West Coast, it’s hard to beat the convenience of cruising to Alaska.
I live in the western United States and Seattle is much easier for me to get to compared to east coast ports like Miami, New York and Port Canaveral.
For this reason, I always prefer to book a cruise from a West Coast port, such as Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Doing so means I can take a short two-hour flight instead of a twelve-hour travel day with long layovers.
Related: Seattle Cruise Port Guide to Alaska Cruises
This also means that flight prices are significantly cheaper than those in Florida. I recently booked a flight to Seattle for $150 round trip; flights to Miami, on the other hand, can cost upwards of $600. At that price, you might as well fly to Europe instead of Florida!
Also, the lack of time difference when cruising from the West Coast leaves me much less tired for the first few days of the cruise. Instead of recovering from jet lag and late night flights, I can start my vacation feeling more energized.
I enjoy the break from the summer heat when I travel to Alaska, even if it’s a little chilly.
If you live in a warm climate like Arizona, visiting Alaska in July is similar to someone from Minnesota booking a Caribbean cruise in January.
Instead of sailing during the sunny days to get through the winter, you are sailing during the cold and cloudy days to help you survive the summer!
Temperatures in Southeast Alaska generally range from 55 to 70°F during the summer months, averaging around 65 degrees most days. While it’s warm by Alaskan standards, temperatures will feel cool for most passengers starting in the lower 48 degrees.
Booking a Caribbean cruise during the summer brings drastically different weather. It’s not uncommon to see highs above 90 degrees in Cozumel in July, and that’s not to mention 80% humidity.
I personally prefer sailing somewhere cooler in the summer months rather than traveling to a warmer climate. Although you won’t find me traveling to Alaska in January, I’m always eager to escape the summer heat with a cold-weather cruise.