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Why Book a Small Ship Alaska Cruise?
Here are 8 Great Reasons

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When you think about your upcoming Alaska cruise, what comes to mind? Moments of peace where you can hear the gentle lapping of water, exhalation of humpback whales, and call of eagles from the trees of nearby shoreline? Or the relentless hum of giant giant engines, plowing through the deep waterways that they can fit in, passing smaller fjords and bays where the wildlife and wilderness can be found?

Despite having worked for a large cruise ship company earlier in my career, I’ve become a passionate advocate for small ship cruises – especially in Alaska (where I’ve cruised with both UnCruise and Alaskan Dream Cruises). There’s something about the way a smaller ship can really squeeze into the quiet, wild places in Southeast Alaska that makes it the ideal way to experience what I consider to be the true beauty of this huge state – and how I want others to experience it.

Reasons to Book a Small Ship Alaska Cruise Hero

While I have cruise resources for all different sizes of ships, hopefully, you’ve gotten the point that small ship cruising is my preferred way to cruise in Alaska – and the way I recommend to everyone when they ask my opinion. There are lots of reasons why you should book a small ship Alaska cruise, which I want to touch on in this post. If you’re ready to be completely sold on booking a small ship Alaska cruise, read on.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is primarily the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Tlingit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

1. Ability to Visit Smaller Ports in Southeast Alaska

As I mentioned in the first section of this post, not all ships can visit all ports in Alaska. Only smaller ships can make port in the small Alaskan communities and visit the narrow fjords and waterways in certain parts of the Inside Passage. If you want to have the most options about which ports to visit, a small ship Alaska cruise the way to go.

Which ports, exactly? Ports that only smaller ships can dock at include:

  • Cordova
  • Gustavus
  • Kake
  • Pelican
  • Petersburg
  • Wrangell

If you’re looking to get away from those big cruise crowds, these smaller ports are the place to do it – and that means cruising on a smaller ship.

2. Flexible Itineraries for Wildlife & Weather

Alaskan Dream Cruises Reviews - Glacier Bay Weather

The midsized and mega cruise ships know their itineraries and are pretty much set when they embark on their Alaska cruise routes. It takes serious weather to force a diversion, and they don’t dawdle much for experiences like wildlife or glacier viewing. There’s a timeline to stick to – and profits to consider!

Small ship Alaska cruises, on the other hand, are almost entirely flexible. The captain can make decisions each day and rearrange the itinerary as much as he sees fit. Bad weather in Glacier Bay? Detour for a few days. A giant group of humpback whales? Let’s spend a few hours here and less time somewhere else.

3. More Intimate Experience

As you might imagine, the experience on a small ship is inherently more intimate. The common spaces on small ships are cozier and more comfortable; they begin to feel like “your” space almost immediately.

There are fewer staff, of course, but the ratio of staff-to-passenger stays about the same between the bigger ships and small ships.

Best of all, you really get to know the staff, including the captain, and many small ships have an open bridge policy. (Meaning you can visit and spend time on the bridge unless the crew is dealing with a situation.)

4. Easier to Make Friends

Unlike bigger ships where you might not even know the folks in the cabins next to you, small-ship cruising creates one big family of guests. You’ll share dinner tables with other cruisers, toast at the bar together, hop on the skiff with them, do a polar plunge together, and so on. In my case as a younger traveler, I almost always get adopted by an older couple and showered with sage advice.

And yes, you’ll know your cabin neighbors in every direction.

5. Better Whale & Wilderness Experiences

Smaller ships are less disruptive to wildlife and the environment, giving you the chance to get much more up-close and personal with them. Every time I’ve been on a small ship, I’ve had incredible animal encounters, from the humpback whale we met off the coast of Maui to the moose (and wolf tracks) we spotted on a beach in a wilderness cove beach.

The big ships literally scare the animals away. The small ships don’t.

6. No Wifi

Disconnecting from our digital world is hard, especially for someone like me who works online. But it’s also really good for our mental health and happiness… so force yourself into a dopamine detox on one of the small ships.

While bigger ships have wifi and allow you to stay connected the entire trip – yes, that means work emails alongside sharing your adventure on social media – small ships generally don’t have wifi and allow you to disconnect, look up from the screen, and soak in the beauty of Alaska.

7. No Lines, No Crowds

I’ll be clear (in case it wasn’t obvious): I am not a crowds and lines kind of person. (Can you imagine how much fun I am at TSA???) I don’t love amusement parks, and will happily pay more to avoid feeling like cattle during an experience I want to enjoy.

So for me, the idea of cruising through Alaska with 2,000+ of my new not-best friends sounds awful. Lining up for the bar or buffet? No thanks. Slow shuffling every time I want to get off the boat? Nope, I’m good.

Small ships aren’t like that. With so few guests, lines literally aren’t a thing. There are no crowds. It’s freakin’ great.

8. Culturally Immersive Experiences

In line with the last point, it’s hard to have a true cultural experience when you’re being shepherded around on motorcoaches. Instead, the small ship Alaska cruise companies arrange with local tour operators to provide these kinds of experiences to only the passengers on the boat – which often means a group smaller than many college classes.

Just imagine listening to a woman sing in her native Tlingit tongue, learning about carving from a man who doesn’t need a mic to be heard in the back, or hearing the history of Alaska Native schools from a woman whose mother attended them. These are the types of culturally educational experiences that change you as a traveler.

As you can tell, there are some great reasons to book a small ship Alaska cruise, and I’m assuming you agree if you’re still reading at this point. Have any questions about why small ship Alaska cruises are the best? Let me know in the comments below!


Keep Planning Your Cruise!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Charla GilmoreGilmore

    Do you have a pro/con list between the two smaller ships you recommend?!? Or something to breakdown the difference in the two? They both look amazing

    • Valerie

      I don’t pro/con them as I’ve worked with both companies and they both have something special to offer. I’m assuming you’ve read my dedicated reviews to both? To me there are clear differences in what they offer that appeals to different travelers 🙂

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