6 best Alaska cruises for families

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Adorable sled dog puppies, graceful whales, fascinating totem poles, crazy lumberjacks, majestic glaciers — Alaska has much to offer families of all ages. But if you’re looking for the best Alaska cruise for kids, which ship should you choose?

Families have great choices when sailing up north, including a ship full of Disney characters, one with laser tag and a go-kart race track and many with expansive play spaces for kids, waterslides and family-focused onboard activities. Look for bigger ships with plenty of amusements; smaller and older ships might not have as many kid-friendly attractions.

I’m not mentioning luxury cruise ships here because they are geared for adults, but families looking for a more upscale, smaller-ship cruise to Alaska should know that many high-end lines will put on some kid programming during summer-break cruises to Alaska with a higher-than-usual number of children on board.

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If you’re ready to cross Alaska off your bucket list, here are our recommendations for the best Alaska cruises for families.

7-night Alaska Adventure cruise on Quantum of the Seas

Quantum of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

The 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas is not one of Royal Caribbean’s largest-in-the-world Oasis Class ships that boast zip lines, ice skating rinks and AquaTheaters. But it still offers a great mix of activities, including a skydiving simulator, high-tech theater with robotic “dancing” screens, an escape room, indoor basketball court/bumper car pavilion and dedicated spaces for both kids and adults.

Kids can gobble up hot dogs and pizza at themed eateries, while adults can enjoy date night at Wonderland with its imaginative molecular gastronomy or Jamie’s Italian, created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Seven-night Alaska cruises sail round-trip from the easily accessible port of Seattle and visit Sitka, Skagway and Juneau, Alaska; as well as Victoria, British Columbia. One day is spent cruising through the scenic Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier. Sailings depart between late April and September.

Related: Alaska cruise packing list: What to pack for a sailing up north

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7-night Alaska cruise on Disney Wonder

Fisherman Mickey on Disney Wonder in Alaska. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Disney Cruise Line’s 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder (which can carry 2,713 guests when completely full) is the perfect size ship for a family cruise to Alaska. It’s smaller than many of the megaships catering to families in this part of the world, so guests can view glaciers and enjoy shore excursions without feeling too crowded.

The ship is full of Disney magic — photo ops with Mickey and friends and Disney princesses, restaurants themed to “The Little Mermaid” and “The Princess and the Frog” and a musical stage show of “Frozen.”

Cabins are thoughtfully designed for families, with plentiful bunkbeds and split bathrooms so two people can get ready for bed at once. Waiters assist with cutting up food for little cruisers or bringing pureed baby food, and the imaginative kids clubs keep little ones happily occupied when you’re not exploring in port.

Disney Wonder’s weeklong Alaska cruises sail round-trip from Vancouver, so all Americans, even kids, will need passports to fly in to the departure port. The ship visits Juneau, Ketchikan and either Skagway or Icy Strait Point, with glacier viewing at the Stikine Icecap. Seasonal sailings run May to September.

Related: Alaska cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

7-night Alaska cruise on Carnival Spirit

A Skagway shore excursion. CARNIVAL CRUISES

Carnival Cruise Line’s Alaska cruises aboard the 2,124-guest Carnival Spirit might not be the cheapest sailings the line offers, but you get a lot for your money. Families will appreciate not having to pay extra for kid-friendly eats at the onboard pizzeria, Mexican outlet, Guy Fieri’s burger joint and all-day soft serve ice cream station. Comedy shows (both family-friendly and adults-only), an onboard water park, mini-golf and kid, tween and teen clubs are also included in the fare.

Cabins are no-frills but tend to be roomier than comparable cabins on competitors’ ships. Many rooms sleep four, but connecting cabins will get you more space and an extra bathroom while still keeping the family together.

Carnival Spirit spends summers in Alaska from late April to mid-September. It sails round-trip from Seattle and visits Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC, with scenic cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord.

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Related: Best time to cruise Alaska

7-night Glacier Bay cruise on Norwegian Encore

Norwegian Encore docked in Ketchikan, Alaska. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Norwegian Cruise Line offers one of the longest cruise seasons in Alaska, and Norwegian Encore is based in the region from April through October each year. This might not help the typical family, but if your kids are young, you homeschool or have atypical breaks, a shoulder-season deal might be waiting for you.

The 3,998-passenger ship is NCL’s biggest, and families will be amazed at how much there is to do on board (though be prepared to pull out your credit card for the best activities). The ship features a laser tag arena, go-kart race track, virtual reality pavilion and water park.

Norwegian is also known for its entertainment, and after a day hiking on glaciers or chowing down at salmon bakes, you can take in the spectacular “Choir of Man,” sing along to the Beatles tribute show at The Cavern Club, or laugh yourself silly at The Social Comedy Club.

Like many of the best Alaska cruises for families, Norwegian Encore sails round-trip from Seattle, stopping in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria. The standout day on this itinerary is scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, which only a limited number of ships can visit each year. Save more by taking advantage of Free at Sea perks, which often include a free beverage package, Wi-Fi, shore excursion credit, specialty dining and — perfect for families — free third and fourth guests in each cabin.

Related: Alaska cruise mistakes you never want to make

7-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise on Royal Princess

Royal Princess in Glacier Bay, Alaska. PRINCESS CRUISES

Families with a little more vacation time might want to tack a visit to the Alaskan interior before or after their cruise, either independently or with a cruisetour. For this, you’ll need a one-way cruise that begins or ends in an Alaskan port.

A top candidate for this kind of family vacation is a seven-night cruise on Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess sailing between Vancouver and Whittier, Alaska. The ship stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and either Skagway or Sitka, with scenic cruising in Glacier Bay and either College Fjord or Hubbard Glacier, depending on the itinerary.

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It’s then up to you whether you spend you pre- or post-cruise time in the Kenai Fjord area, in Anchorage or traveling north to Denali National Park, Fairbanks or into the Arctic.

Royal Princess is known for its fan-favorite Alfredo’s pizza, Movies Under the Stars (when the Alaskan weather permits) and snacks and entertainment in the central Piazza. With its special North to Alaska activities, families can cuddle some adorable sled dogs on board the ship and meet Iditarod winners and other notable locals. Kids can become junior rangers with the help of the park rangers who come aboard the ship in Glacier Bay.

7-night Kids in Nature cruise on Wilderness Legacy

Family on shore walk by Lamplugh Glacier. UNCRUISE ADVENTURES

Suppose your family isn’t into the big-ship lifestyle and wants a small-ship, off-the-beaten-path experience that’s also geared toward families with kids and teens? In that case, the best family cruise to Alaska for you might be the “Kids in Nature” departures of UnCruise Adventures’ 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy.

The ship sails round-trip from Juneau on “Glaciers & Wildlife” itineraries. These seven-night cruises include hiking and biking on Chichagof Island, daytime and evening kayak and skift tours in places like Patterson Bay and Robert and Crow Islands, exploring Glacier Bay’s less-visited “Outback” and visits to the LeConte and Baird Glaciers.

On three departure dates in June and July 2024, the Wilderness Legacy will staff up with “Kid Wranglers” who will lead the kid-focused activities. The minimum age to sail is 8 years old, but plenty of tweens and teens join the fun as well.

Bottom line

You no longer have to wait until you’re retired to explore Alaska. Take the kids on a weeklong exploration of the 49th State, and you’ll have plenty of cruise ships and itineraries to choose from. The best Alaska cruises for families combine action-packed itineraries with vessels designed for family fun, but we’re sure your family can find a way to have a great time up north no matter which cruise ship you choose.

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