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Alaska Small Ship Cruises
with AdventureSmith

Small ship cruise Alaska with AdventureSmith. Our award-winning company was founded by a former Alaska naturalist guide. And our greater team of Alaska cruise specialists have lived, worked and explored the region in depth. Let us help you create a rare and unique adventure, through firsthand experience and insight. Need more reasons to book your small ship Alaska cruise with AdventureSmith Explorations?

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Work one-on-one with an Alaska cruise specialist to research, purchase & prepare for your trip.

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We offer an unmatched selection aboard more than 25 small Alaska expedition ships.

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Our founder is a former naturalist guide who helped pioneer Alaska adventure cruises.

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Take advantage of deals & other Alaska cruise perks. Our buying power means you save.

A small ship Alaska cruise specialist poses in front of glaciers wearing a blue jacket and grey hat with AdventureSmith Explorations logo

Ask Our Alaska Cruise Specialists

AdventureSmith sends hundreds of passengers on small ship cruises to Alaska each year; thus, we answer a lot of questions about Alaska cruising. Our team can be a personal resource for you throughout the selection, booking and trip preparation process.

Where do small Alaska cruise itineraries embark? What’s the best Alaska cruise for adults? For kids? Which Alaska passages offer the most glaciers? Should you choose an Alaska Inside Passage cruise, go to Glacier Bay, Prince William Sound or Katmai?

Use our handy how to choose your Alaska cruise tips below to better understand what cruising this destination has to offer and to make an informed decision when booking your Alaska small ship cruise. Or simply contact us for a one-on-one answer now. We are here to help you find the best Alaska cruise.

How Small Is an Alaska Small Ship?

On average, about 45 guests is what you’ll find with our curated Alaska small ship cruise vessels. But look for options up to 100 and as few as 8 passengers. There are many reasons to choose a small ship vs big ship, but at the top is that small ships to Alaska focus on immersive, off-ship activities in wilderness areas. In Alaska, large cruise ships are synonymous with cruising, but they really just cruise (fast) past it all.

Wave goodbye to busy ports to instead view bears, hike, paddle, take skiff rides by glaciers and forge local connections in small towns. Small ships to Alaska offer a flexible schedule, capitalizing on wildlife encounters and the collective whims of the group. Fellow travelers become friends. The atmosphere is casual. And the all-inclusive booking encourages everyone on board to participate, while making the experience equitable and carefree. Sound like your style of travel? Let’s go.

A child in a red life jacket paddles a yellow kayak towards a small ship cruise in Alaska with mountains and blue glacial water
A blue hulled small ship Alaska cruise seen at anchor near a rocky shoreline dotted with green brush.

Private Small Cruise Ships to Alaska

Looking to design your own experience of North America’s premier wilderness? Our Alaska small cruise ships are perfect for groups and family travelers seeking a custom trip.

Navigate to a trusted, quality charter with our curated options that focus on itineraries aboard 8- to 36-guest ships. Booking an exclusive small ship Alaska cruise like this ensures your experience matches your interests, and our vetted list of Alaska yacht charters makes the logistics seamless and stress free. Learn more about our private group cruises to Alaska. 

“Small Alaska cruises are journeys into remote,
wild places inaccessible by land.”

How to Choose Your Alaska Cruise

Wondering how to choose an Alaskan cruise? The experts at AdventureSmith Explorations have years of experience answering this question, and we’ve put together this list of small ship Alaska cruise considerations to guide you.

Plan Ahead!

The number one step when looking into how to plan an Alaska cruise is to start early. Small ship Alaska cruise departures are limited, the season is short, vessels are small and spaces fill up fast. The most popular small boat Alaska cruise itineraries are often sold out 6-9 months in advance. Planning ahead also equates to savings in many cases due to early-booking deals and being able to figure out all the nuances of ways to save on your trip: see our Alaska small ship cruise deals for more tips and ways to save.

Planning ahead also allows for the excitement of anticipation. While a last-minute trip is better than no trip, it’s certainly more fun to have the time to learn about the destination and feel the flutter of anticipation longer.

Choose When to Go

Next up in choosing an Alaska cruise is often deciding when to go. This deciding factor can sometimes dictate what region is best to cruise. The Alaska adventure cruise season begins in April and runs into early October, but the majority of Alaskan cruise options are found in the heart of the summer months, which offer the best combination of long days, good weather and abundant wildlife. If you are considering visiting Denali National Park, this narrows your travel window from June through early September.

Look to the spring for statistically drier albeit colder weather, more solitude and the best prices of the year on Alaska small ship cruises. Darker skies in the early spring and late fall can be a chance to spot the northern lights, or aurora borealis. For even more detail on each month, view our best time to visit Alaska guide.

Decide How Much Time to Spend

The length of your travel window can also help you figure out how to choose the best Alaska cruise. Most travelers will take only one Alaska cruise in their lifetime and of course want to make the most of it. Like any wilderness-oriented trip, the longer you stay in the backcountry, the better chance you have of seeing animals.

< 7 Day Alaska Cruise

While most small Alaska cruise itineraries are one week, there are some shorter options. Look for shorter cruise packages from Anchorage that are perfect to combine with a trip extension to Denali. And there are an increasing amount of 5- and 6-day options to choose from in Southeast Alaska.

7 to 12 Day Alaska Cruise

The bulk of small ship Alaska cruises fall within this range, so if you will have the most choices if you have right around a week’s time, with some flexibility reaching into a second week. About 50% of our set itineraries fall at the sweet spot of 8 days, which allows for 6 full days of sailing and exploring.

Two Weeks+ Alaska Cruise

Travelers who have two weeks can really do it right. You can combine itineraries, take longer small ship cruises to Alaska from Seattle or consider a cruise plus a land extension into Alaska’s interior or other national parks. See our Alaska land tours for a full selection of trip extensions and land-based tours.

A Note about Your Travel Days

Take note when making your small Alaskan cruise comparison that there are a variety of ports where cruises begin and end including Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka and Anchorage. And some will require more time to arrive and depart.

Flights to Juneau and Anchorage are common, while the smaller ports of call used by many Southeast Alaska small ship cruises may require a bit more padding on your travel days in and out. A pre-cruise overnight is always recommended in case of delays. Travelers east of the Rockies will certainly require one in order to safely embark their Alaska small ship cruise on time.

Choose Where to Cruise in Alaska

Another key step in deciding how to pick a small Alaskan cruise is where you would like to cruise. Coming to our specialists with a good idea of which region you’d like to visit allows us to determine which small ship Alaska cruises are best for you. Then you can consider and hone in on which itineraries and ships offer the level of activity, comfort and amenities that fit your travel style. Here’s a primer on some key cruise regions to consider when choosing an Alaska small ship cruise:

Southeast Alaska – Inside Passage & Glacier Bay

Southeast Alaska is by far the most popular cruise destination in Alaska. It’s the closest region for North American travelers to access since it’s located on the arm of land that hugs the shoreline of northern British Columbia. It hosts the majority of cruises in Alaska, so there are numerous Alaskan cruise options here for both outdoor enthusiasts and culture-seeking travelers. The coastal mountain ranges, glaciers and islands make for excellent wildlife viewing and there are opportunities for outstanding boating, fishing, kayaking and hiking.

Learn more about the region on the following pages: our Inside Passage cruise small ship itineraries, featuring more than 20 routes in this iconic location; and our more than 15 Glacier Bay cruises & tours.

Since the options here are vast, there are lots of considerations once you hone in on this region, including whether you want a more culturally-focused trip, maximum activity and wilderness, top-tier education and onboard amenities, or a custom charter.

Southcentral Alaska – Prince William Sound & Katmai

Like the Southeast, Southcentral Alaska offers remote wilderness, but it is linked via roads and numerous communities that can serve as base camps for land adventures. In fact, this region is home to over half of Alaska’s population, so small Alaska cruises here embark from unique road-accessed port towns like Whittier and Homer, with the city of Anchorage being the hub for your travel. Numerous options to explore beyond your cruise on an Alaska land tour include world-class fishing on the Kenai Peninsula or further exploration inland to Denali National Park.

Southcentral Alaska’s terrain ranges from volcanic landscapes in Katmai National Park, home to an impressive population of brown bears, to the windswept Aleutian Islands that make a 1,000-mile sweep toward Asia. In between lies a massive bay of blue ice, which can be experienced on a Prince William Sound glacier cruise.

Our partner cruises in this region range from smaller vessels with local captains who intimately show you their home waters, to expedition ships that sail into farther reaches such as Valdez and Cordova. Or go on a grizzly bear-focused cruise (The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter) embarked only by floatplane. This is the region for the adventurous!

Alaska Small Ship Cruises to/from Seattle

Looking to embark or disembark in Seattle? If your dream itinerary includes Seattle, this definitely makes how to choose an Alaska cruise easier as there are fewer overall options. Why? In the summer, small ships are busy exploring up in Alaska. But each spring you’ll find them repositioning from Seattle to Alaska, and each fall they return from Alaska to Seattle.

These “positioning” cruises offer a longer expedition covering the entire Inside Passage as well as British Columbia and often the San Juan Islands. Small ship cruises from Seattle to Alaska range from 13 to 15 days and often represent a significant value. For two options, see Treasures of the Inside Passage aboard National Geographic vessels and Inside Passage & Glacier Bay Wilderness Cruise.

Aleutian Islands Cruise + Alaska to Japan & Russia

For a more epic route, consider an Alaska to Japan cruise, an Aleutian Island cruise or a voyage from Alaska to Russia. These small ship expeditions in the Bering Sea are longer and provide rich culture, unique and abundant wildlife, and dramatic coastline. Select departures even venture across the Arctic Circle.

Consider Your Special Interests

Even if you’ve narrowed down where you want to cruise, it can still be overwhelming. We advise next considering your special interests and travel needs to find the best small ship Alaska cruises for your group.

By this we mean, considering your group size, ages of travelers, if you plan to also travel by land, your activity interests, how customized you like to travel, and so on. These considerations can strongly focus your Alaska cruise comparison to help you hone in on the perfect match.

For example, a number of small cruise ships to Alaska offer dedicated Alaska family cruises with guides who are experienced working with younger travelers and may include special educational programs, unique activities, family-friendly meal options and the added benefit of traveling with other likeminded families.

Head to our curated Alaska yacht charters if you’re seeking the ultimate customization and savings on per-cabin costs on small ship Alaska cruises. Or perhaps you’re seeking larger cabins with upscale amenities like balconies and gourmet cuisine? You don’t have to trade luxury for adventure on an Alaskan cruise. With our curated selection of Alaska luxury cruises you can have it all.

Or maybe you are seeking the highest level of education and guides? The experience and demeanor of the guides on your Alaska small ship cruise will have a profound impact on your overall experience. All of the small boat Alaska cruise options AdventureSmith offers have naturalist guides on board. The quality of onboard guides is one of the most important criteria we think about when considering which Alaska small ship cruises we represent.

Look for cruises aboard ships branded with National Geographic if you are seeking the highest level of education. The naturalists and expedition leaders aboard these ships are experts in their field and may include professors, authors, scientists, researchers, photographers and generalist guides who have a lifetime of experience in Alaska. To learn more about these unique guides, read our review of Lindblad Alaska.

Another consideration some travelers ask us about is seasickness. Seasickness is typically not an issue on most Alaska small ship cruises. Most cruises travel in protected waters, rarely traveling more than a few miles away from shore. Positioning cruises and small ship Alaska cruises that venture close to the open water of the Gulf of Alaska are more prone to exposure to ocean swells for brief periods of their itinerary. If you are sensitive to seasickness, consult our guide on how to prevent and treat seasickness on cruises and tell your Adventure Specialist—we can advise you which ships and itineraries may have a better chance to encounter these conditions. Or you can book a small Alaska cruise charter to make your own itinerary.

Finally, consider exploring new areas if you’re a past Alaska traveler. Prince William Sound cruises are a popular option for those who’ve already experienced the classic sites of Southeast Alaska.

Choose Your Small Cruise Ship to Alaska

Once you have an understanding of where you want to cruise and what style of travel you seek, next in your how to choose an Alaskan cruise quest is selecting your small ship. Among our selection of vessels ranging from 8 to just over 100 guests, find more than 20 small cruise ships in Alaska, ranging from high-tech expedition ships to family-owned yachts.

There are numerous considerations for choosing your ship when you are looking at the options for small ship Alaska cruises. Size is certainly one of them, and style is another. Considerations include private balconies, the onboard programming, the crew-to-guest ratio, the adventure equipment aboard, family-friendly programming and so on.

Larger expedition-style Alaskan cruise ships in the 50 to 100 passenger range typically have larger cabins, many with view windows, more deck space for watching wildlife and more common areas. Not to mention additional adventure gear aboard and more guides to diversify your experience. Smaller motor yachts carry 8 to 22 guests and range from rustic floating B&Bs to luxurious yachts. Paying attention to the varied amenities, cabin sizes and other features that are important to you is key in choosing among the many small cruise ships to Alaska.

We have cruised aboard or personally inspected every small ship to Alaska listed on our website, and we are here to make sure you find the best Alaska small ship cruise for your interests, ability and budget. Continue your Alaska cruise ship comparison by viewing all our Alaska ships for detailed information, reviews, cabin descriptions, photo galleries and deck plans.

Ask an Expert or Past Traveler

This is the final step we recommend for those seeking how to choose an Alaskan cruise, but it could also easily be your first! What are Alaskan cruises like? To truly find honest answers and your own best small ship Alaska cruise, it often involves talking with a trusted resource.

Contacting small ship Alaska cruise lines directly does not always answer critical questions about how much activity there is, what the cabins are like compared to other operators and so on. There are also now countless travel review websites on the internet. Many offer honest advice, but many need to be taken with a grain of salt. Use online reviews as a tool, but don’t rush to judgment when you read a poor review. Often this is a result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were on.

Thus, the best type of Alaska cruise review is a personal referral. Ask your booking agent to put you in touch with a past client that has traveled to Alaska on a comparable trip. Reputable Alaska small ship cruise agencies will gladly refer their past clients.

Most important when choosing your small Alaska cruise, speak with an experienced Alaska expert, who can factor in all these considerations with ship availability and intimate cabin knowledge to really get you on board. At AdventureSmith Explorations, our Alaska small ship cruise specialists are armed with years of experience traveling and working in the region. They’re also knowledgeable about what’s new for Alaska small ship cruises. A company like us with experience aboard all the ships can make all the difference.


Alaska Small Ship Cruises

Temperature & Rainfall

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High (F) 22 26 33 44 55 62 65 63 55 40 28 22
Avg. Low (F) 9 12 17 28 39 47 52 49 41 58 16 10
Avg. Rainfall (Inches) 0.7 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.7 1.0 1.9 2.7 2.6 1.9 1.0 1.1
Avg. Daylight (Hours) 5.5 7.5 10 13 17 19 19 17 14 11.5 8.5 6

Timing an Alaska Adventure Cruise

Small ship Alaska cruises make the most of the summer months when passengers can enjoy warmer temperatures, long days with late sunsets and accessible wildlife. Throughout the summer, weather is variable ranging from warm sunny days in the 70s or 80s to chilly rainy days in the 50s and 60s.

The climate data listed above is for Anchorage, Alaska, but there are Southeast coastal and Arctic microclimates to consider depending on your small Alaska cruise itinerary. For even more detail on the best time to visit Alaska for your Alaska adventure cruise, view our month by month guide.

Want to Learn More About Alaska’s Climate?