Vancouver, Seattle, Or Northbound-Southbound?
Years ago, if you wanted to sail to Alaska there was but a single departure port: Vancouver. A few voyages might sail north and south between Alaska and British Columbia but by and large, the vast majority of sailings operated roundtrip from Vancouver.
That all changed in 1999, when Norwegian Cruise Line set up shop in Seattle with their petit Norwegian Dynasty. The ship may be long gone, but cruising to Alaska from Seattle certainly isn’t. This season, there are more options than ever for cruising to The Last Frontier – but sorting out which one is right for you can be a daunting task.
Having sailed all three varieties, we put them to the test here:
The classic Alaska cruise if there ever was one, sailing roundtrip from the iconic sails of Port Metro Vancouver’s Canada Place cruise terminal has a lot going for it. Located at the foot of downtown Vancouver, Canada Place is bookended by vibrant and modern Coal Harbour to the west, and the historic buildings of Gastown to the east.
On a sunny day, nothing beats sailing away from Canada Place with a throng of well-wishers lining the public observation decks to see you off as your ship backs up into Burrard Inlet and begins its journey out into the Inside Passage by passing under the Lions Gate Bridge.
The Inside Passage is the greatest feature of these roundtrip departures, as guests get to spend a day of scenic cruising on their way to and from Alaska. It makes for a powerful introduction to the beauty of the natural landscape here for first-time visitors, and keeps repeat cruisers coming back.
This year, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea Cruises all call Vancouver home. Note that ultra-luxury lines Regent and Silversea have both been staunch supporters of Vancouver for years. There’s a reason for that: their guests demand it.
If there’s a downside, American guests may find it is rather expensive to fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) compared to other destinations in the United States. Which brings us to…
For Americans, sailings departing roundtrip from Seattle are attractive thanks to the lower cost of flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just south of the city. Those who don’t mind long hours on the road can even drive right up to the cruise terminal and park their cars in long-term parking.
Pier 66, primarily utilised by Norwegian Cruise Line, sits right in the heart of downtown, nearly at the foot of the Space Needle. Holland America Line and Princess Cruises use the newer Pier 90/91, just to the west of the city.
There may not be any bridge to sail under upon departure, but the beautiful views of Puget Sound beckon as ships make their way past the impossibly-small-looking ships of Washington State Ferries and out into the open Pacific Ocean.
Because of Seattle’s location further south, ships departing from Seattle don’t typically sail the Inside Passage, preferring instead to swing out into the open (and sometimes bumpy) expanse of the Pacific Ocean. That’s the downside. On the upside, these itineraries more frequently include ports of call like Sitka, Alaska – and nearly all include a brief evening call in Victoria, British Columbia to comply with U.S. Cabotage laws.
But there’s a third possibility that many cruisers prefer thanks to its flexibility:
Northbound and Southbound Voyages (sometimes referred to as one-way cruises) typically sail between Vancouver and the Alaskan ports of Seward or Whittier, or reverse. This will be the de-facto option if you’re interested in an Alaska Cruisetour that includes an overland journey to places like Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Denali National Park.
These one-way journeys are also popular with another segment of cruisers: those who find seven days in Alaska to be all-too-short. North and Southbound voyages can be combined to create Back to Back voyages that depart roundtrip from either Anchorage or Vancouver. If you want to get really creative, you can even switch your ship or even cruise line for one segment of the journey to experience two entirely different styles of Alaskan cruising.
Of course, being based in Vancouver, we’re a little biased in thinking the Vancouver departures are the clear winners. But for those who have yet to sail to Alaska – or those who are looking for something different – it’s hard to go wrong with any sailing to this beautiful, remote, and often mysterious state.
Still have questions about sailing to Alaska? We’re here to help. Get in touch with us online, or give us a ring if you prefer a good ‘ol voice-to-voice chat.