Cruises to Alaska offer an experience like none other… but the price tag can be considerable as well. And that’s not to mention things like the the cost of airfare to get to the port or the prices for pricey excursions.
So it’s not surprise that someone browsing Alaskan cruises may be asking if they are worth it. After all, while you can easily go on a quick and short trip to ports in The Bahamas or Mexico for a few days and a few hundred dollars, the cost of an Alaskan cruise is going to be in the thousands and require much more vacation time.
Our opinion is as clear as can be: Cruises to Alaska are worth the money. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else and completely different than sailing a typical cruise. But for those wanting some more detail, we cover the ins and outs of the value of a cruise to the “Last Frontier” below.
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How Much Do Alaskan Cruises Cost?
First things first, don’t be surprised if when you search for a cruise to Alaska and see prices that are higher than what you’re used to. A trip to the Caribbean? You’ll find headline prices around $200-$300 for a three or four-day trip from Miami.
Cruises to Alaska can vary greatly, but even a good deal will typically be $500-$700 per person as a minimum for an interior cabin. Trips during the peak months can start higher than that. Of course, then you have port fees and taxes, as well as gratuities, onboard spending, and more.
Part of the higher prices is due to the longer trips. You won’t find 3/4 day cruises to Alaska. A 7-day cruise is usually the minimum. In reality, compared to similar length trips to the Caribbean, prices to Alaska often seem higher… but not that much higher.
Of course, prices will vary widely depending on cruise lines, dates, itineraries and more. For someone wanting to sail in a balcony cabin (a popular choice since you are seeing so much scenery), then we’d estimate a price of the cruise itself with fees/taxes/gratuities of roughly $1,200-1,400 per person.
Onboard Spending & Excursions
From our estimates, a couple sailing to Alaska would spend nearly $3,000 on the cruise itself. Then there is everything you’ll spend in addition, including drinks, wi-fi, casino play, spa, souvenirs, and meals (both specialty restaurants on the ship, and eating in port).
Excursions are also a must at least once or twice during your cruise, and they carry price tags that on average are more expensive than what you’ll find on a typical Caribbean cruise. For example, in the Caribbean you might head on a snorkeling tour with lunch and drinks for $80-100. In Alaska, you might go kayaking near the Mendenhall Glacier for $169 per person.
What you spend in these areas will vary widely depending on your spending habits, but from our experience, $500-800 per person is a good estimate.
Grand Total of an Alaskan Cruise
All told, we think about $1,700-$2,400 per person for a 7-day cruise to Alaska is a good estimate.
Keep in mind your total can be higher or lower, but this should give you a ballpark idea of what you’ll pay.
Don’t Forget Airfare (It Can be Expensive)
There is another component to sailing to Alaska that can run up the price tag — airfare. While there are Alaskan cruises sailing from ports up and down the West Coast, the majority of them sail from Seattle and Vancouver. Since most people don’t live within driving distance of these ports, it means flying in.
Airfare is notoriously volatile, but you can expect the price tag to be high. For now at least, the days of cheap plane tickets seem to be over. At a minimum, you should anticipate paying $300 to fly to Seattle, but many times it can be higher… much higher (we recently paid more than $700!). As well, ticket prices for times outside of early morning or late night hours can be even more expensive.
You also might consider trying one of these cheaper late night flights the day before your cruise and simply finding a hotel for the night. It could be that this combination is less expensive than paying for a higher-priced ticket that has more desirable times.
What Makes Alaska Cruises Special
It’s clear that taking a cruise to Alaska can be a big hit to the wallet. So why are they so popular?
Put simply, sailing to Alaska gives an experience that you don’t get anywhere else.
Alaska is a remote part of the planet. It’s not feasible for most people to drive there. And even if you flew into the state to visit, you’d be relatively constricted in getting around. That’s why the ship is such a great way to travel.
First, you get to travel from port to port easily. That gives you the ability to see way more area than you ever could otherwise. For instance, in a matter of days you can visit glaciers, towns, and remote areas that are otherwise hard to reach by car or too expensive to visit by plane.
Second, traveling by water provides a breathtaking experience. If you’ve taken an cruise to the Caribbean, then you know that once a ship leaves port, there isn’t much to see except open water. On a cruise to Alaska, apart from the day at sea to get there and the day at sea to return home, there is always something spectacular waiting.
Mountains with waterfalls are everywhere along the cruise. And we’re not talking miles and miles in the distance. They literally line the channels that the ship sails. Wildlife is abundant and can be spotted at possibly any moment, including whales and seals.
From the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, there is spectacular scenery. The entire day is an experience, not just your time in ports.
And those ports of call are also something that makes Alaska special. Let’s be honest, Caribbean and Bahamian ports are nice, but they are almost always built around serving cruise ships, giving a very touristy feel.
That’s not to say you won’t see some of that in Alaskan ports of call. They definitely cater to tourists, but places like Sitka and Juneau also have other industry as well. They are real towns that welcome tourists, instead of tourist towns built solely for ship passengers.
That means what you see and experience can feel much more authentic than what you find in other cruises.
You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune. How to Save on Alaskan Cruises
Will you spend plenty of money on a cruise to Alaska? Absolutely. Finding a trip for a few hundred dollars like you can to the Caribbean isn’t going to happen. But you also don’t have to spend a fortune. There are some major ways to save money on your cruise to bring the budget down.
Sail in Shoulder Seasons: One reason that Alaskan cruises may be pricier is the season is so short. While trips to the Caribbean sail year-round, cruises to Alaska sail from May through September. However, you’ll often find that cruises in May and September (known as the shoulder seasons) offer up lower fares than during the peaks of June and July.
Keep Excursions in Check: With excursions you get to see and experience things you can do nowhere else. The only issue is the price tag. Excursions can easily run into hundreds of dollars, and if you’re taking multiple people, it adds up quickly. The good news is that many Alaskan ports are easy to explore on your own, although that might not be as memorable as kayaking to a glacier or going whale-watching
Let Your Flight Dictate the Cruise Schedule: Most people book a cruise and then figure out the flights. However, with airfare being expensive, it might be worthwhile to work the other way. Prices will vary somewhat for Alaskan cruises depending on when you sail, but will likely be in the same ballpark. Flight prices, however, can vary dramatically.
Are Alaskan Cruises Worth It?
In a word: Absolutely. This isn’t a sort of math equation where you can break down the cost of a cruise to Alaska and compare it to the cost of a traditional vacation or a cruise elsewhere. Instead, it’s a subjective measure.
However, for us, the experience is well worth the money.
First, as mentioned above, it is normally difficult to see much of Alaska at all. The terrain, remoteness, and size of the state make travel difficult. But with a cruise, not only are you able to get access to areas that are typically hard to reach, you also get to visit several spots in a short time. So you can visit Sitka, Juneau, and Skagway back to back instead of having to arrange transportation between them all.
As well, there’s arguably no better way to see the landscape and scenery of Alaska. With trips around the Inside Passage, you don’t just head to port and then out to sea again. Your trip takes you right next to majestic mountains, ice flows, and glaciers. And because you are at sea level, you get to experience the size of the landscape towering over you.
In short, Alaska and its natural beauty is second-to-none. And there is no easier way to experience the area than on a cruise ship. That makes the price more than worth it in our opinion. In fact, we have yet to hear anyone that has sailed Alaska say it wasn’t a fantastic experience.