Cruising to Alaska with Holland America was unexpected — in a good way! We cover itinerary options, port stops, when to visit and more!
Cruising is not always my preferred way to travel, but there are certain destinations where cruising is the perfect way to get a taste of a lot of different destinations in a short amount of time. Alaska is one of those destinations!
A bulk of the action in Alaska is out on the water — with glacier viewing and whale watching — so a cruise makes sense, especially if you’re not sure which towns you want to visit. I loved getting a feel for the different areas of Southeast Alaska on this cruise and it helped me figure out which spots I’d like to plan a future trip to.
I also want to note that Holland America offers Cruisetours to Alaska, which includes a few nights on land. That particular itinerary was my first choice, but because of timing, I chose the 7-Day Alaskan Explorer cruise from Seattle to Seattle on the Eurodam — which ended up feeling like the perfect amount of time on this trip!
What To Expect On An Alaskan Cruise
The Experience On The Ship
Holland America has been my go-to cruise line for several years. I wouldn’t travel with just any cruise line, but I love cruising with Holland America because they cater to a specific type of traveler and, additionally, they are the first and only Alaskan cruise line to be certified by the Responsible Fisheries Management!
The atmosphere on Holland America is fun but not too crazy, which is perfect for me. I personally wouldn’t enjoy a cruise where a bunch of young adults are getting wasted every day or a lot of kids running around. There were a few kids on my cruise, but these cruises don’t seem to be geared towards children so it’s usually the more mature ones.
The views of Alaska from the hot tub at the Seaview pool area were amazing on this cruise. I love the new addition of the cabanas by the pool that you can rent — for a little more privacy during those days at sea.
You can also visit the Greenhouse Spa and Salon on board. They offer many different options for treatments as well as a thermal suite with a hydropool.
Dining On The Eurodam
There are 8 dining options on board the Eurodam ship, most of which are included in the price of your cruise — with a couple of extra charge options for a more upscale dining experience. In addition to the restaurants, you can also order from the 24-hour room service menu.
I was impressed with the gluten-free and vegetarian options on this cruise. There were gluten-free options for pasta, bread rolls, and even the hamburger and hot dog buns at the Dive-In Grill. They tasted even better than a lot of the gluten-free options I have at home.
For the vegetarians, there were plenty of vegetarian dishes, mixed vegetables and Beyond burger and hot dogs. It seems they have made a lot of changes in relation to dietary restrictions within the last couple of years.
Their on-board Navigator app makes everything extremely easy and cuts down on the amount of paper used. Excursions tickets, your on-board statements, dining menus, and daily itineraries can all be found on the app. I liked that I could save the activities that interested me and the app alerted me about an hour before each activity.
Read more: 17 Days in the South Pacific With Holland America
7-Day Alaskan Explorer Cruise Itinerary
Juneau is the capital of Alaska and the gateway to glaciers, whale watching and hiking. I booked the Evening Whale Quest which included a catered meal aboard a small covered vessel. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, so you don’t need to worry about being too cold if the weather is rainy — and it rains a lot in Juneau!
If you do walk around the downtown area of Juneau (it’s gorgeous and easily walkable right from the ship), I recommend making a stop at Red Dog Saloon for an authentic Alaskan experience from the mining era. You’ll find sawdust floors, great hospitality and entertainment!
Other highlights in Juneau include Mendenhall Glacier, the Mount Roberts Tramway, dog sledding on a glacier, flightseeing, Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure (I visited on a previous trip and loved it!) and many hiking trails.
Read more: Surrounded by Whales in Stephens Passage, Alaska
We cruised through Glacier Bay National Park and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I honestly was shocked at how close we were able to get to the glaciers. I recommend getting a room with a balcony because you will want it for this portion of the trip!
We spent a good amount of time stopped at Margerie Glacier and the captain made sure to give both sides of the ship ample time to take photos. If you don’t have a room with a view, you can take photos from one of the many outdoor decks — or just admire it from the dining room.
The best part for me, though, was sitting on my balcony with coffee in hand, watching the icebergs float by with mountains as the backdrop. I love that only two large cruise ships are allowed per day in Glacier Bay so it really gives you the feeling of being the only ones out there.
Read more: See a Glacier – Limited Time Only!!
Icy Strait Point
Icy Strait Point — located on Chichagof Island — is not a city or a town; it’s a cruise port stop to give passengers an authentic Alaskan experience. The port features replications of the culture and history of the Huna people as well as a restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum.
Chichagof Island is home to the largest concentration of bears in the world. It’s another fantastic port for whale watching tours and the likelihood of seeing bears and whales on a tour is very high.
Sitka was a surprise for me. I didn’t know much about this island city tucked between the mountains and the sea. Sitka feels unique because it’s not on the road system so it’s only accessible by air or water.
I took the Hot Italian Glass tour in the heart of town and I learned so much about the area and the active arts community in Sitka. I normally do more adventure and wildlife tours and I’m so glad I took a chance on something different!
We learned about hot Italian glass making that dates back hundreds of years — and we even got to make our own cane! Canework is the technique that Italian artists use to create intricate colors and patterns in their glass pieces.
I had plenty of time after the tour to explore more of Sitka. I recommend eating at one of the many food trucks along Lincoln Street. The fresh fish tacos I ordered were amazing. Sitka is definitely a place I would travel to again and stay for a longer visit!
Read more: 8 Bucket List Experiences You Don’t Want to Miss in Alaska
This was my second visit to Ketchikan and it was just as amazing as the first time. Creek Street is a quick 5-minute walk from the cruise ship dock and I highly recommend a visit! This part of town was the red light district many years ago. It is said to be “where both men and salmon went upstream to spawn.”
Dolly’s House Museum is definitely worth a stop. It was once the residence of Dolly Arthur, a woman who offered female companionship to loggers, miners and fisherman who came through the area. As you walk by the museum, the women working at the museum will often make cat calls to the tourists.
If you follow the creek, you’ll find the fish ladder where — during spawning season — you can watch the salmon jump in the air as they try to swim their way upstream to reproduce.
Before you head back to the ship, make sure to stop and grab a coffee at Sweet Mermaids!
Read more: See What You’re Missing in Southeast Alaska
I was really excited to see Victoria this trip because it’s a place I’ve been wanting to explore for a while now. We were originally scheduled to reach the dock at 8pm which wouldn’t give us any daylight on land, but our captain got us in a little early so we did get about an hour of light. Some of their cruises will get you docked into Victoria at 6pm, so I recommend choosing that one, if possible.
There is a shuttle you can take to downtown Victoria, but since I had limited time this trip, I decided to walk from the cruise ship dock to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s an easy 10-minute walk and the most adorable wharf with restaurants, live music and houseboats. You can also take a quick water taxi from Fisherman’s Wharf to downtown.
If you do make it downtown, make sure to visit Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown. The alley was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens. It’s a great photo opportunity at night too!
Also, on your way from Ketchikan to Victoria, look for whales! I saw tons of spouts and whales flapping their fins along the top of the water.
The Best Time To Take An Alaskan Cruise
The best time to take an Alaskan cruise is during the months of May through September. June through August will give you a higher chance of sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the possibility of seeing whales. It’s also when a bulk of tourists travel to Alaska.
The months of May and September are considered the shoulder season. Reasons why you might want to visit in May are fewer crowds, it is the driest month of the year, you have a better chance of being able to explore an ice cave, and you’ll get to see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
The month of September cools off significantly compared to summer, but you will also have a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights!
Read more: The Perfect Road Trip Itinerary to Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley
What To Pack For An Alaskan Summer Cruise
I’ve been to Alaska twice during the summer and have found there are a few essentials that are always needed — which I have included below. (To see exactly what I pack for my trips to Alaska in the summer, visit my detailed Alaska packing list.)
Moisture Wicking Base Layer: Moisture wicking base layers are a necessity in cold weather. This thermal top is designed for warmth and comfort with a close-to-body fit and a tag free label.
Fleece Jacket: Perfect for layering, this fleece jacket will keep you warm, it’s fitted (so it can be worn under a waterproof coat), and it comes in a variety of colors.
Waterproof Jacket: A Waterproof jacket with a hood is another must have for layering and for the inevitable rain. Yes, even in the summer!
Hiking Boots: These comfortable, waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry whether you’re out on a skiff, walking through town or hiking in the rainforest.