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When you see Alaska from a ship, you’ll be awed by glistening glaciers, sunning seals and gorgeous fjords. When you visit Alaska’s interior, you’ll see vast forests, mountain ranges, moose, caribou and bear (if you’re lucky).

If you can’t decide which side of Alaska most appeals to you, why not see both? An increasingly popular option is an Alaska cruise tour, which adds inland explorations before or after a cruise. Take a train, ride a bus, rent a car or an RV. Do a quick sightseeing tour of Denali National Park, or spend several days there hiking and wildlife-watching. We’ll help you figure out how to plan your perfect Alaskan adventure.

Six Questions to Help You Plan an Alaskan Cruise and Land Tour

Large ship or small ship? That’s the first decision you’ll have to make. Two of the world’s biggest cruise ships now visit Alaska: the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Cruise Line ship Bliss and Royal Caribbean’s 5,000-passenger Ovation of the Seas.i The advantage of a large ship is that you’ll never be bored on board. The Ovation, for instance, offers roller skating, bumper cars, a skydiving simulator and robot bartenders. The downside is that serenity’s hard to find in such large crowds, which can overwhelm small towns at port calls.

Small Alaskan cruise ships — which range from modest yachts to vessels carrying around 100 passengers — offer a more intimate experience and access to places large ships can’t go. You also have a better chance of seeing wildlife from the deck.

Organized land tour or self-guided? The easiest way to travel around Alaska is with a pre-planned tour. You may find yourself feeling rushed, however, as these tours often leave early each morning and pack in a full day of activities.

If you prefer to set your own itinerary, rent a car (don’t forget the rental car insurance!) and head out on your own. “DIY tours put a focus on what you want to see with less time restraints,” Cruise Critic notes, “whether it’s majestic moose, leaping salmon and prowling bears, or calving glaciers and breaching whales.”ii

Adventure tour or relaxed sightseeing? For active travelers, some Alaska land tours include hiking, kayaking, fishing, and even a zipline through the rainforest canopy. Senior cruisers, or those with young children, may prefer a more sedate land tour that includes stops at the Alaska Native Heritage Center near Anchorage or Gold Dredge 8 in Fairbanks.

Three days, seven days or more? Travelers with limited time can opt for a three-day Denali tour before or after a cruise, which includes a train journey from Fairbanks to Denali National Park, and then a day-long bus tour of the park.iii

Such a short tour will likely leave you hungry for more, however. If you have at least 14 days to spend on your cruise/land tour, look for a land segment that allows you to spend more time in Denali, as well as visit the Kenai Peninsula and Katmai National Park.

When do you want to go? The Alaskan cruise season generally runs from late April to September, with the most popular (and warmest) months being June through August. May and September offer cheaper cruise fares and fewer mosquitoes. Just keep in mind that weather may affect land tours, and the single road in Denali National Park isn’t fully open until June.iv Hoping to see the Northern Lights? You may get lucky if you travel in September, but the prime aurora viewing season is winter.

How much do you want to spend? Budget-minded travelers can save money by opting for an interior cabin on a large cruise ship, traveling in the shoulder season, and planning a DIY land tour. On the high end, it’s possible to spend $10,000 or more per person on a luxury, small-ship Alaska cruise tour. Whatever your budget, it’s essential to protect your Alaska vacation with travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance. Get an insurance quote for your cruise in just one minute.

Alaska Cruise Tour Itineraries

Where can you go on an Alaska cruise/land tour? Here’s a sampling of itineraries for large and small ships alike. Offerings and prices change frequently, so research what’s available in your vacation time frame.

12-Day Small Ship Cruise/Land Tour: From Fairbanks, travel by vehicle to Denali National Park and spend two nights in a wilderness lodge. In the port town of Whittier, board a small cruise ship and spend six days sailing through Prince William Sound, where you can watch wildlife, kayak among icebergs and watch glaciers calve. Disembark in Anchorage.v 

11-Day Large Ship Express Cruise/Land Tour: Embark in Vancouver, B.C. and cruise the Inside Passage to Skagway, then onto Glacier Bay. Disembark in Seward and a bus will take you to Denali for a brief tour. Return to Fairbanks by

15-Day Large Ship Cruise/Land Tour: A 7-night cruise takes you to see the massive Margerie Glacier as well as the ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. On your return, take a train ride to Denali National Park, where you’ll stay in a lodge and choose your excursions: hiking, flightseeing, golfing or even cuddling some sled dogs.vii

18-Day Small Ship Adventure Cruise/Land Tour: Begin with a four-day escorted land tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, where you can try hiking, river rafting, mountain biking and dog sledding. Then board a small ship in Juneau. Look for sea lions in Icy Strait, bears on Chichagof Island and humpback whales in Frederick Sound. Sail through the Inside Passage on your way to disembark in Seattle.viii

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