For Alaskan cruising, you have two main options: go big or go natural. We’ll explain.

There are two main sizes of cruise ships that travel Alaska: there’s “small”, and there’s “incredibly large”. Passengers choose “large” mostly for the extravagant onboard amenities (like casinos and spas), endless buffets and swaths of different people they can meet.

A small cruise ship drives alongside a massive liner

With all that, why would someone go “small”, or “midsize”?

Well, certain passages of Alaska are too narrow for big ships, and can only be accessed by smaller ships. Smaller ships can also travel through shallower areas and secret inner passageways, getting so close to natural surroundings that passengers could literally reach out and touch them.

Further, big ships can’t always get to a port, so they require smaller ships to shuttle people back and forth to port. Small ships, on the other hand, can move where they want.

Basically, it’s luxury or adventure. And if you choose the latter, here are some of the other things you’ll see:

El Capitan Cave

El Capitan is a geologists’ and historians’ dream. Its excavations have revealed fascinating insights – fossils that date back over 10,000 years from species like giant brown bears, wolverines, red foxes and black bears. The oldest fossils, those of a black bear, date back 12,295 years. Reaching two miles from the entrance to back, there’s still more to be explored in El Capitan.

Dawes Glacier

The word for a glacier breaking off is called “calving”, and it’s one of the most rousing ways to experience the power of nature. Dawes stands over 200 feet tall and is quite active, meaning it’s always calving and producing new icebergs. Small ships can get you so close you can hear the thunderous crack as part of the ice shelf breaks off and floats into the water.

Wildlife of Tongass National Forest

Amongst America’s largest national forest resides some of its most fascinating species: orcas, black bears, moose, bald eagles and, last but not least, Steller sea lions. There’s still parts of this 17-million acre forest that are largely untouched by humans, though the area has been inhabited by Alaskan Natives for thousands of years. A highlight here is watching brown bears catch salmon at the tops of waterfalls…it’s truly magnificent!

Humpback Whales and Other Mammals

With many species of plankton and other microorganisms, Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage are like cafeterias for humpback whales, making them prime areas to spot them during spring migrations. Hundreds of whales pass through these waterways and can be seen as they surface and “breach”, the term for jumping and whirling around. Here’s a fun fact: the song of a humpback whale is “probably the most complex (sound) in the animal kingdom”. Most ship operators will carry headphones that allow you to listen in!

Our Wilderness Explorer and Wilderness Discoverer give you exclusive access to these sites, and many more. Our ships can navigate these channels while still offering all sorts of onboard amenities. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Now is the time to start booking your Alaskan trips, if you’re looking to depart in 2017. Spots are filling up fast!