A first-timer’s guide to cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage

Cruise through icy water, surrounded by snowy mountains on an Alaskan cruise.


Alaska is a region of dramatic landscapes, contrasting colours, the sounds of nature and an unparalleled selection of wildlife. Here, awe-inspiring glaciers and rugged mountains set the stage, while breaching humpback whales, brown bears, orcas, otters and seals are just some of the stars of the show.

What to know about holidaying in Alaska

On an Alaskan cruise, experienced tour guides keep you entertained with informative commentary.

With limited access by road, cruising is the best method of experiencing all that Alaska has to offer. A network of waterways, known as the inside passage, provide several days of continuous, calm cruising, and the wide, deep channels are one of the few locations in the world where cruise ships can get so close to the edge of sheer mountain walls. Made up of small islands, fjords, coves, coastal towns and villages, cruising here allows you to catch a glimpse of everyday life in this remote part of the world.

Often sailing out of Vancouver or Seattle and making their way north, some cruises continue beyond the inside passage to cross the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage. This option provides a good opportunity to move from a cruise to a land-based tour and a chance to get up close to more glacial scenery.

When you’re not spotting wildlife or enjoying the excursions available, being aboard a cruise ship provides a fantastically comfortable base from which to take in the view or prepare for the next stop. Personal butlers ensure you have refreshments on hand, gourmet meals prepared by highly qualified chefs are served in five-star dining rooms and knowledgable, experienced tour guides keep you entertained with informative commentary.

What do you see on an Alaskan cruise?


One of the first stops for many ships, Ketchikan is famous for the largest collection of totem poles in the world. The arrival of cruise ships during the summer means there’s a definite buzz to the area, including an active arts collective.There are even opportunities to join floatplane trips to the fjords. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of frontier lifestyle history to explore, and as the town bills itself as the ‘salmon capital of the world’, there are a number of angling trips available for those keen.

However, one of the more surprising elements of a stop in Ketchikan is the nearby rainforest that you can explore either by ziplining above the canopy, a more sedate hike or a serene Native American canoe trip.


Rather than looking for the bright lights of the big city, you’ll have your eyes peeled for local wildlife as you approach Alaska’s capital. Unaccessible by road despite being on the North American main land, here you have the opportunity to head out on a whale-watching tour, explore glaciers by kayak or dog-sledding and take a scenic ride on the Mt. Roberts Tramway.

You can also head to the Pack Creek Brown Bear viewing platform to see the creatures in their natural environment. The area is protected and is home to the highest number of brown bears in one area. As another city that came to be what it is today as a result of the Gold Rush, you can learn more about the founding and history of what was once a busy mining town by taking in some of the museums and local buildings.


Much of the town of Skagway is a part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a great stop to try your hand at gold panning. Explore the national park by horseback if you’re keen for a different experience. Also make time for the Skagway and White Pass Steam Railway Tour, an antique train car which retraces the steps of those searching for gold many years ago, taking in the scenic Klondike Highway with champagne and private attendants.

Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier

Spanning 3.3 million acres, this national park has more than 50 named glaciers, with several that ‘calve’ into the ocean. As you cruise through the glacial landscape, it’s not just the magnificent blue and white ice sculptures that’ll captivate you – the park is also home to seals, bears, moose, eagles as well as humpback and orca whales.

Meanwhile, the largest glacier on the North American continent is the Hubbard Glacier, situated a little further into the gulf. It makes for impressive viewing with the front wall alone measuring in at over 9-kilometres wide, and the source more than 120 kilometres inland.


A fabulous town for stretching the legs, Sitka has an interesting blend of cultures, having its history not only in Alaskan Native culture but also Russian and American. It’s as beautiful as the rest of the region, but adds an interesting twist by being ocean facing. The cultural centre at the Sitka National Historical Park is worth a visit, as is the Alaska Raptor Centre if you wish to get a little closer to the native birdlife.


The furthest point for most vessels, and the destination for Gulf of Alaska cruises, Anchorage is a city surrounded by majestic fjords and is perfectly positioned for playing in the snow – and on the ice. Excursions include husky sledge rides and helicopter flights amongst guaranteed snowy mountains. You’ll also find world-class cuisine, mountain biking tracks and spectacular views of the Chugach mountain range.


When to cruise in Alaska

Cruises only operate from April through to October, which is the northern hemisphere’s summer season and when temperatures are better suited to being outdoors. May is slightly cooler, while the main summer months of June to August bring with them a midnight sun, and September is the time to witness an autumnal change of colours across the landscape.

For travel advice you can rely on, reach out to FBI Travel today. Our cruise partners offer packages to suit every traveller, and we’ll help you tailor each step of your trip for a once in a lifetime experience.



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