Last-minute cruises as low as $279 for seven days in Alaska!
When it comes to Alaska cruises we usually find the best prices in May and September - what are called the "shoulder seasons," so let's get a jump on Alaska cruise bargains, and see what's still on sale.
While Alaska appears as a great solid block of contiguous land mass three times larger than Texas on the map - that is true only in a geographic context. But if you look where people actually live in Alaska you find the main cities like Juneau, Sitka, Seward and Ketchikan are mostly located on coastal islands, not connected to the mainland at all - especially by highways or railroads.
The means the best way to see the most interesting parts of Alaska is by sea. In fact, although Alaska is big, the vast part is unsettled with wild terrain. Few major cities are not located along the coast, mainly in the panhandle region that stretches down and hugs the western border of Canada. For this reason cruise ships bring over 90% of Alaska's visitors.
What to See in Alaska
Along the coastline barrier islands of Alaska are a number of natural attractions, from glaciers feeding into the sea water to pods of whales and dolphins. The water is very rich in plankton, which attracts feeding baleen whales under the best conditions for observation. There are also sea lions, bears, eagles and salmon swimming upstream from the ocean to their natural fresh water spawning grounds.
If you also want to see the great interior, such as Denali, that tallest mountain in North America, you can do that as well. There are land trips available as add-on attractions to cruises, which generally last three to five days as a roundtrip journey you take either before or after a cruise.
The Best Current Alaska Cruise Prices
First, let's explain the various Alaska cruise options. There are seven-day roundtrip cruises from either Vancouver (Canada) or Seattle. These cruises have the advantage of leaving from ports that are close to home, so you only have to fly to roundtrip to the Northwest area of the U.S. (or Southwest for Canadians) to catch the ship. This year we found roundtrip airfare from Phoenix to Seattle for just over $200 per person - quite a bargain.
The next option is the one-way Alaska cruise, which either starts in Seattle or Vancouver and ends in Alaska, or does the opposite. These cruises alternate weekly, sailing to the north, for example, where many people then take an overland journey to Denali. Then the following week the next cruise starts in Alaska after a trip to Denali, to bring people back to the United States via cruise ship.
The third option is the "All Alaska, all the time" cruise where you fly to Juneau (most often) and take a roundtrip cruise just within the state of Alaska. These cruises are usually offered by smaller, more immersive and expensive cruise lines, often considered "expedition" cruises.
The best Alaska cruise I ever took was on such a vessel, American Safari Cruises, now called Innersea Discovery Cruises. The boat picked us up in Juneau and we spent the next seven days on the water in the tranquil barrier islands of southern Alaska. We only stopped to visit a port of call twice during the entire seven days, and each time it was only for two or three hours. The rest of the time we spent watching humpback whales feeding, orca (killer whale) dolphins hunting sea lions, bears catching salmon in the streams near Mendenhall, and witnessing some of the best glacier calving action I have ever seen.
2013 Alaska Cruise Bargains
The cheapest last-minute cruises we see right now, and there are quite a few of them, are on Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America.
Norwegian Sun has a May 20th sailing selling for as little as $279 per person (inside stateroom) with balcony cabins for just $499. But even later in the season; June 17th, you can still get the same inside stateroom for just $399. This cruise sails Northbound from Vancouver to Whittier, Alaska, and while this is a fantastic price, the drawback is sailing north to Alaska (against the prevailing current which means the water is usually choppier than southbound); and the airfare from Whittier.
The Southbound sailing will likely be a smoother ride and it sails May 27 starting at just $299 per person ($549 balcony). As late as June 24th this cruise is still just $389 per person.
The Best Value: When it comes to airfare & convenience, most likely the best value is Norwegian Jewel sailing roundtrip Seattle. On May 25th this cruise can be had for just $349 per person (inside cabin) and you save a lot on airfare, especially if you live in the area.
When it comes to the lowest prices and a classy ship you can't beat Holland America Zaandam sailing from Seward southbound to Vancouver, where an inside cabin on May 19 is just $299. The cruise stops in Haines, Glacier Bay, Juneau, and ends in Vancouver, British Columbia. With a visit to Glacier Bay, known as having some of the most active glaciers in the state in terms of calving (where large shards of ice break off and smash into the sea), this cruise is a steal.
But for low cruise fares, a classy ship and the least expensive airfare possible, the Oosterdam is much newer and nicer and sails roundtrip Seattle to Tracy Arm, Fjord, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, B.C. starting at just $429 inside and with balcony cabins for just $699 per person all the way through June 2 departures. This is an excellent value.
Princess Cruises - also well known for Alaska cruises - has the Star Princess sailing roundtrip Seattle, saving on airfare, with cruise prices starting at $399 (inside) for May 11. Stops are Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, B.C.
Carnival only has one ship in Alaska this year; the Carnival Miracle has replaced the Carnival Spirit (it has relocated to Australia). While Carnival's last minute cruises are not the cheapest in Alaska right now, as the season goes on through July and August, this ship will most likely become the best value with balcony cabins staying under $1000 per person all season long. Miracle is an almost identical sister ship to Carnival Spirit - a very nice small but modern ship.
Different Kinds of Ships
If you are a fan of Royal Caribbean, the newly remodeled Radiance of the Seas offers several of the line's signature onboard experiences such as the Brazilian steakhouse Samba's Grill, Park café, Rita's Cantina, The Dog House and Giovanni's Table Italian trattoria. Cruises start at $549 person for inside staterooms through June 21st. This is a one-way cruise with Vancouver and Seward as the end points.
Celebrity will be sending a Solstice-class ship to Alaska for the very first time this year as well - highly recommended, especially for people who live in the area who mat care more about the ship than the destination. This is a ship worth seeing that is new to the west coast.
Solstice is sailing 7-night round trip cruises from Seattle with visits to Ketchikan, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, B.C. Prices start at $699 if you book soon (inside cabin). Call the line directly for the best prices left in May.