No matter which Alaska cruise line or routing you pick, you'll have opportunities to see wildlife, head to the skies for gorgeous vistas or learn about native Alaskan culture. In addition, all Alaska cruises include visits to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan and at least one day of scenic cruising in a fjord or by a glacier. So how do you choose between a typical round trip sailing or a one-way itinerary that begins or ends in Alaska? If you're narrowing down your cruise options, we can help you figure out which trip is best for you with a list of pros and cons.
Updated October 2, 2018
Pros and Cons of a One-Way Alaska Cruise
Seasonal one-way cruises sail either southbound from Seward or Whittier in Alaska or northbound from Vancouver. The biggest benefit of starting or ending your cruise in Alaska is that you can plan a pre- or post-cruise trip or tour into the state's interior, since cruising only shows you a small slice of America's biggest state. One-way itineraries typically have two days of scenic cruising and tend to spend more time in Alaskan ports, often with no calls in Canada. Many lines also offer one-way repositioning cruises to Alaska, so if you don't mind sailing early or late in the season, you can choose from longer itineraries or find one-ways from ships that normally only offer round trips.
There's an array of cruise lines offering one-way sailings, including Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean, as well as luxury lines like Silversea, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas and Ponant.
The downside to one-way Alaska cruises is that you have to book one-way airfare, which means added costs (especially as one of the legs is from Alaska). Depending on where you live, the flight to or from Anchorage might necessitate a plane change, rather than flying nonstop. Many one-way cruises skip Victoria, a beautiful port of call in western Canada. In addition, the Gulf of Alaska can be rough, especially at the end of the season.
Pros and Cons of a Round Trip Alaska Cruise
Round trip Alaska cruises sail mainly out of Vancouver and Seattle, though Princess offers a few out of San Francisco. The main benefit is the convenience of cruising out of and back to the same homeport; it's easier for passengers who are driving to their cruises, and it's often cheaper for those flying. If you're looking to spend a bit of time pre- or post-cruise in your departure city, Seattle and Vancouver are lovely, vibrant and can be more affordable than pricey Alaska. Another beautiful coastal city is Victoria, which is more often included as a port of call on a round trip cruise than a one-way.
If you prefer to cruise mainstream lines, all the big players -- including Disney, Carnival and Norwegian -- offer round trip sailings, while not all offer one-ways. However, Oceania is the only upscale line to cruise round trip; the rest of the luxury lines stick to one-ways.
Another major drawback to round trip cruises is that you generally get less time in Alaska. Because Seattle itineraries require a stop in Canada to meet U.S. regulations, round trip sailings often only visit three ports in Alaska and offer one day of scenic cruising, whereas one-way sailings might visit four Alaska ports in a week and/or offer two days of scenic cruising in places like Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage and Hubbard, Sawyer or College glaciers. Without an embarkation or debarkation port in Alaska, you won't have any pre- or post-cruise time to explore additional Alaskan destinations. Finally, you might encounter some rough seas when sailing in the open Pacific Ocean to reach Alaska.
One-Way vs. Round Trip
You really can't go wrong with any Alaska cruise, but if you're still debating, here's what we recommend.
Choose a round trip cruise if cost is the most important factor, you just want to get a taste of Alaska and don't need (or have the time) to explore in depth, or you'd like to spend a bit more time in Canada or Seattle.
Choose a one-way cruise if you want to see as much of Alaska as possible, you want to do a pre- or post-cruise tour, you're not on a tight budget or you enjoy scenic cruising.