It’s no wonder that Alaska is often at the top of many travel bucket lists. With its unspoiled stretches of lush forest, mountain peaks that stretch to the sky, and numerous species that make the wilderness their home, Alaska almost feels otherworldly.
Sailing Alaska is a popular way to tour the state because it provides an ideal balance between beautiful coastline cruising and fun days spent in port. Scenic cruising allows passengers to immerse themselves in stunning destinations around Alaska, taking in nature’s landscapes while never leaving the ship. If time and budget allow, cruise tours take an Alaska trip to the next level, providing even more sightseeing experiences.
What is Scenic Cruising?
Scenic cruising destinations are listed on Alaska itineraries and reference the places the ships sail to view specific sights, usually glaciers. It is often accompanied by naturalist talks that are broadcast through the ship’s televisions and/or intercom system. Passengers do not disembark at these destinations, instead watching and listening from their staterooms or the upper decks of the ship.
What to Expect During Scenic Cruising
Gasping at calving glaciers, hearing the white thunder of the ice, filming the breach of a humpback whale, or spotting a meandering brown bear at the water’s edge are all iconic moments that can happen while scenic cruising. Onboard naturalists provide stellar live commentary that is both interesting and informative, ensuring passengers learn about the area while basking in its beauty. Bundling up and sipping a hot beverage to listen and watch from a stateroom balcony really elevates the Alaska cozy factor, while taking in the sights from the upper decks of the ship provide an alternative experience with other passengers.
Scenic Cruising Destinations
Scenic cruising destinations vary by cruise line and itinerary, but here are a few of the most notable destinations:
Glacier Bay: Often considered the must-see destination in Alaska, Glacier Bay has dramatic scenery that is punctuated by the creaks and groans of living ice. Seven wide tidewater glaciers are viewable, including the mile-wide Margerie Glacier that is known for spectacular ice calving. Binoculars and a camera should be handy for breaching humpbacks and wandering bears.
Hubbard Glacier: The “Galloping Glacier” moves up to seven feet per day, and its massive size is truly breathtaking. Depending on weather and light, the colors of the glacier ebb from stunning deep blues to lighter shimmering shades. The largest tidewater glacier in North America, the Hubbard Glacier dwarfs approaching cruise ships. This glacier is also known for a lot of ice calving.
Inside Passage: This network of waterways winds through fjords and temperate rainforests along the rugged coast of Southeast Alaska. A haven for wildlife like humpback whales, orca, and bald eagles, the Inside Passage provides plenty of opportunities to snap great photos.
Stephens Passage: Beginning at Frederick Sound, one of the best whale watching areas in Alaska, Stephens Passage is known as a sort of “scenic shortcut” for ships and wildlife alike. Nature really shows off here, with mountains that encroach on the sea, gentle waves lapping the shores, and spruce and hemlock trees that line the water. The contrast from the blue water (areas are over 1,000 feet deep here!) to green vegetation is truly striking, and the purple-tinged glaciers also impress.
College Fjord: Located in Prince William Sound, College Fjord flaunts a dramatic series of glaciers named after colleges (Amherst, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Harvard, Smith, Vassar, and Yale), and even has an area where eight glaciers can be viewed simultaneously. A trip through Prince William Sound follows the path of the 1899 Harriman Expedition, whose professors notoriously snubbed Princeton by omitting it when naming the glaciers. This is a very active destination for ice calving.
Endicott Arm / Dawes Glacier: Endicott Arm is a 30-mile fjord that weaves through Tongass National Forest (part of Tracy Arm Fjord) and ends at the 600-foot stunning Dawes Glacier. Regular rumbles of white thunder permeate the sky, brilliant blues, grays, and jades of the water and ice mesmerize, and waterfalls cascade down the lush mountainsides. Because it is located within a protected national park, spotting wildlife like brown and black bears, harbor seals, mountain goats, and breeding humpbacks is common.
We’d love to hear about your favorite Alaska scenic cruising destinations if you have sailed with us. If you’re ready to experience these incredible natural landscapes for yourself, our team can help you plan a great itinerary!