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Alaska

How to Choose an Alaska Cruise Line

Seabourn Quest has only 229 cabins. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Seabourn Quest has only 229 cabins. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Choosing which company to use for an Alaska cruise may seem daunting because more than 20 of them are available.

It helps to break them down into three groups: affordable major lines, luxury lines and specialty lines.

Affordable Major Lines


The affordable major lines are well known to anyone who has taken a cruise to the Caribbean or elsewhere. They include Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean. Families are more likely to use one of these cruise lines because of affordability.

These cruise lines usually have larger ships, more frequent trips and lower prices as a result of spreading their costs over larger ships. Even within this group, prices vary somewhat. For example, Disney is often more expensive because of its powerful brand and the onboard amenities, especially the entertainment.

These ships usually have more than 1,000 passengers and in some cases 2,000 to 3,000 or more. The staff to passenger ratio is much lower than the luxury lines -- around one crew member for every two or more passengers.

They all have three main types of restaurants: hectic cafeterias, quieter sitdown restaurants and specialty restaurants that usually cost more.

Cabin prices vary widely because large ships often have a half dozen or more cabin options. For example, the basic choice is an interior cabin with no windows or balconies versus an exterior cabin with a choice of window or balcony. They also have a variety of suites and staterooms that vary in total square feet.

Major cruise lines often have more sailings but for shorter lengths of time, such as six to 10 days.

They often discount heavily depending on the demand for each ship and sailing date. For example, a random search on a major travel booking site showed one Alaska cruise in September that was originally priced at $1,218 for seven nights per person or $174 per night. The discount price was $441 or $63 per night.

These discount prices usually apply to the least desirable cabins on lower decks, near entertainment venues, etc.

Luxury Lines


Seward Harbor
Seward Harbor. © 2021 Scott S. Bateman
High-end luxury cruise lines include Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking and Windstar. These cruise lines often have smaller ships, more amenities and a higher ratio of staff to passengers.

Prices run as high as $5,000 per person or more for a seven-night cruise or more than $700 per night.

Some, like Crystal, have a nearly one to one ratio of crew to passengers. Passengers tend to be older empty nesters with higher disposable income.

Ships usually have less than 1,000 cabins and in some cases as few as 200 to 300.

Many of these ships have verandas and private balconies for a majority of the cabins. In some cases, every cabin has a veranda.

Luxury lines have upscale dining and specialty restaurants. Cafeterias are rare to non-existent.

Specialty Lines


A handful of cruise lines fall into a specialty category. They include American Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions, Ponant and UnCruise Adventures.

Lindblad and UnCruise target passengers seeking more adventurous explorations of the Alaska coastline. They often travel to places the large ships can't reach.

American Cruise Lines and Ponant emphasize national heritage.

American Cruise Lines has small ships built in America and staffed only by Americans. Ponant is the only French-owned cruise line with French staff and specializes in emphasizing a "French touch" with its cruises.

These ships are among the smallest yet. Some of them have as few as 20 to 30 passengers while others are "mega yachts" that may have 100 to 200 cabins.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
July 05, 2021