Alaska cruise ships -
size does matter.



Alaska cruise ships are not one size fits all. Is bigger better or do good things come in small packages? You want an extraordinary cruise vacation experience tailored to your habits and travel behaviors. The type of cruise ship you select will significantly impact this experience and is the most important decision you will make.

Alaska cruise ships offer a wide variety of experiences onboard. Assess your travel style and interests based on your own personal preferences. Think about the overall cruise experience you are looking for …

Luxury - Is first-rate cuisine important to you?

Casual - Do you prefer to dress in black tie or is casual dress more your style

Adventure – Do you want to explore remote areas?

Resort-like – Is the pursuit of wellness and relaxation on the agenda with a visit to the spa?

Educational - Are you content with lounging in a deck chair reading a novel or would you rather be exploring new sights or listening to an educational lecture series

Entertainment - Do you like vacations that have planned activities or are you a spur-of-the-moment traveler?

Personal chemistry also plays a role in the cruise experience. Are you a people person? The intimate environment on a small ship enhances interaction on a daily basis. You will meet like-minded individuals and get to know them on a much deeper level. But what if they rub you the wrong way? There is nowhere to hide. Large ships have the advantage here. With plenty of space, opportunities to meet and mingle with fellow passengers are more likely to be sprinkled throughout your trip.



You have come to Alaska to see some of nature’s most breathtaking scenery. Any ship will provide you with opportunities to do this. The key question is HOW?

Do you prefer inspiring views from on deck just above the waterline, indulging in champagne brunch from your private veranda with unforgettable vistas to match or the comfort of a warm cozy lounge with windows made for gazing?

Alaska cruise ships in the big category include the vessels of Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America.

Below are some of our observations highlighting some key points for your consideration:

Big Ships

  • A comfortable cruising experience featuring 1 or 2 formal nights with an overall casual ambience onboard
  • Equipped with ship stabilizers to ensure smooth sailing
  • More powerful engines translates to more ports visited during each trip
  • Warm, personal service
  • Plenty of deck space for relaxation
  • Great range of facilities including swimming pools, health clubs, spas, nightclubs, movie theaters, shops, casinos, bars and kids’ playrooms
  • A wide variety of cabin choices from cubbyholes to large suites
  • Loads of onboard activities including games, contests, classes and lectures
  • Tremendous variety in the cuisine
  • Large dining rooms and buffet areas
  • Deeper drafts (the amount of ship below the water line) prohibits visiting pristine fjords, inlets and narrows
  • Sheer size of these ships tends to keep wildlife at a distance – you will need binoculars
  • Ships carry a lot of passengers you may experience lines at the buffet or in other public areas and it may take more time to disembark.



Mid-size ships offer many of the same amenities but the ambience on board is unique. Crystal and Radisson Seven Seas exude luxury, Holland America a refined adult atmosphere and Norwegian Cruise Lines the hip ultracasual “freestyle” approach.



Alaska cruise ships in the small category will immerse you in an experience you can’t find elsewhere and include the vessels of American Safari Cruises, Cruise West, Glacier Bay Cruiseline and Lindblad Expeditions.

Small Ships

  • Carry fewer than 200 passengers for a crowd free experience
  • Facilitate getting you up close and personal with wildlife and the natural surroundings
  • Due to their shallow draft they can go places larger ships cannot
  • Decks close to waterline
  • Itinerary may or may not include visiting any ports
  • Have flexibility to change route
  • Dining is casual, no formal nights, limited to a single open seating and food plainly prepared
  • Since the experience is adventure-oriented they are more likely to offer expert lecture series
  • Few public areas
  • Cabins tend to be small and basic
  • Facilities are limited
  • No stabilizers the ride can be bumpy but shouldn’t be an issue in the protected waters of the Inside Passage
  • Due to the absence of elevators on some ships travelers with disabilities may have difficulty
  • Do not offer children’s programs or play areas

Okay, you probably have some idea of what size ship you prefer. Now it’s time to compare the Alaska cruise ships in the category you've choosen. Check out our cruise line pages for some insight ...


Return from Alaska cruise ships big and small to Alaska cruises family vacation planning guide.