Is an Alaska Cruise Worth it: Honest Thoughts from a Non-Cruiser

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When Holland America reached out to me inviting me on their 7-day Alaska cruise I had mixed feelings. Alaska looked beautiful and I’d heard so many good things. But I’m not a big cruise ship person. I identify most as an adventure traveller, a slow-traveller and to me, a big cruise trip was neither of those things. However, I was curious about the experience. Plus, an Alaska cruise was one of my mom’s dream trips and I was kindly offered the option to bring a plus one. So, I decided to give it a shot and I said yes to an Alaska cruise with Holland America. I’m so glad I did because I fell in love with exploring Alaska from the water and it completely changed my opinion about cruising. So, if you are wondering if an Alaska cruise is worth it- here’s my honest take as a non-cruiser.

My Alaska Cruise Itinerary

As I said above, I was invited on a 7-day Alaska cruise with Holland America Lines. Our ship was the Koningsdam and we started and ended in Vancouver. This 7-day Alaska cruise had port stops: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. We also had a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay. The other two days were sea days as we departed and arrived back in Vancouver. These days we cruised through the inside passage; passing by the BC and Alaskan coastlines, Vancouver Island, Haida Gwai, and a number of tiny little islands.

About Holland America’s Alaska Cruises

Holland America is celebrating 150 years in 2023, which says quite a bit about its success in the industry. While our ship seemed huge to me as a newbie cruiser, it’s actually not that big at all. The Koningsdam has space for 2650 passengers and 1025 crew.

Now, as a non-cruiser, I can’t compare one cruise line to another. But I can tell you what stood out to me as extra-special on this Holland America Alaska cruise.

The biggest advantage of choosing Holland America for an Alaska cruise is that their Alaska cruise ships are small enough to go into Glacier Bay. Not all Alaska cruise lines have access to this incredible National Park. We learned on board that only two cruise ships can visit per day and Holland America is one of very few cruise lines that are small enough to visit and have permission to do so. As I said above, this was my favourite part of the cruise and, in my opinion, Glacier Bay is a must-see in Alaska.

View from the deck of the cruise ship into Glacier bay and a distant mountain range

I also appreciated the extra Alaska touches that Holland America Line had in place during our Alaska cruise. From educational seminars on Alaska, its animals, and people to Alaskan dishes on the menu. There were even special glacier ice cocktails from the bar and on Glacier Bay day, special coffees and hot chocolates. These little touches added something special to make our Alaska cruise more of an Alaska experience.  

Holland America also had several naturalists and park rangers come on board. We had one on the bow with us for part of Glacier Bay to point out different wildlife, tell us about the National Park, and point out different features as well as stories and history of the glacier. I really enjoyed that extra insight.

Another thing that I looked for were the environmental and accessibility factors. After all, it’s no secret that cruises have been a huge contributor to many environmental concerns. That being said, cruising also offers accessible travel to many individuals who may otherwise not be able to experience travelling to these destinations. As I explored the ship and its amenities I was pleased to notice a few changes had been made to be more environmentally conscious.

I asked for water to go and had it given to me in a can rather than the usual plastic bottle. I was surprised and told them I’d never seen water served in a can before. I was told it was part of their attempt to reduce plastic as much as possible- the metal was easier to recycle.

On the menus, I noticed that the Holland America Line proudly promotes sustainable seafood on their Alaska cruises. In 2022 Holland America Line was awarded Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification- the first cruise line to do this.

Is there a long way to go when it comes to cruises and the environment? Of course. The same can be said for plane travel. But as an able-bodied traveller, I think it’s also easy to forget the accessibility factor that cruises can provide. Seeing the smiling faces of elderly and young alike using wheelchairs and scooters being able to join small boats for whale-watching tours or other excursions that catered to their needs was fantastic. I think the travel industry as a whole also has a long way to go in terms of accessibility and while I am no expert, I applaud Holland America Line for the options and opportunities I saw available for those with mobility issues.

Another thing that I think is worth noting; the ports we visited rely heavily on tourism dollars. We spoke to locals at each stop who expressed their gratitude for the cruise ships and business from the passengers that contributes to the local economy. Alaska is expensive and 2 of the 3 ports are only accessible by plane or ship. The vast majority of food and supplies need to be brought in for the locals which increases the cost of living, so cruise ship tourism dollars are a big deal to these small communities.

Is an Alaska Cruise Worth it? A Breakdown of the Pros and Cons

The Staterooms

Sunset from the balcony of my stateroom with the emergency lifeboat in the view

Our Holland America Alaska cruise offered a variety of cabin options. We had a stateroom with a balcony on the fourth level. The room was incredibly spacious- especially the bathroom which really surprised me. The shower was significantly larger than I had expected (and great water pressure!).

I loved having a balcony, however, ours did have a partially blocked view. And while a couple of seagulls thought the emergency lifeboats made a great perch while ashore, it drove me crazy. I wanted clear views for whale watching and spent more time outside of my room than in it. Which isn’t a bad thing but it did seem silly to have a balcony and barely use it.

Since it was a scenic cruise, I would recommend getting a balcony with a clear view. I personally loved being outside and watching the landscapes go by. I was constantly on the lookout for whales (I saw tons) and it would have been nice to do that from the comfort of my room rather than having to leave and go down a level or so to stand outside.

In terms of what level to stay on, I actually think the lower levels are better because you are closer to the water which means it’s easier to see the whales and little otters and seals around the boat.

My take: A balcony is worth it. Get one with a full view, and stick to levels 4 & 5 for optimal sea life viewing.

Dining & Drinks

Three meals a day in the dining room and/or at Lido, which is a cafeteria-style space, are included in the cruising package. There was also a pizza spot, a burger spot, and a little café with sandwiches and treats that were also included. These menus did have some items that you could order as an upgrade (ie: lobster tail in the dining room) at an additional fee. Room service was also included.

On top of the included restaurants, you could make reservations at one of several restaurants on board. These are smaller, less busy areas that felt a little more upscale. Meal portions were also slightly larger than in the dining room. I tried Pinnacle Grill (Seafood and Steak) which I loved and would definitely recommend and Canaletto (Italian) which was very good but didn’t stand out to me as spectacular.

For the most part, we ate in the dining room. Meals were okay but I wasn’t blown away. I had a couple of hits and a couple of misses. We often did breakfast at Lido as they had a lot more options. I’m usually a breakfast OR lunch person so didn’t do lunch much but I will say the mac and cheese in the dining room for lunch was fantastic.

In terms of drinks, you can have tea/juice/coffee at breakfast and other than that your meals only include water. You can order something different for a fee. There are two types of drink packages, the quench package for non-alcoholic options (up to 15 per day) and then packages that do include alcohol (there is a limit here as well in terms of number or drinks and cost of drinks). Personally, I drink mainly water so I barely used my quench package. At the most, I got 3 non-alcoholic drinks per day and that’s when I grabbed a couple of cans of water.

My take: The included dining options are great. If you want something a little special try a restaurant. If you aren’t a big drinker, then the alcohol packages probably aren’t worth it. It’s likely better value to just buy a single drink (alcoholic or not) when you want one.

On-Board Activities

One of the things I was concerned about was being bored during the sea days. However, the ship has a lot on offer to keep you busy. Each day we were provided with an itinerary breakdown of all the options which included things like:

  • art classes
  • fitness classes (at an additional cost)
  • EXC talks and presentations on Alaska and the local culture
  • movies, dance shows, and/or live music in the evening
  • wildlife viewing with an onboard expert
  • trivia and card games
  • pickleball
  • mixology classes and/or wine and beer tastings (at an additional cost)
  • Free seminars at the spa, jewellery shops, or art gallery
  • Meetups for specific groups (ie: solo travellers, military members etc.)
  • And more…

There was also a library, a swimming pool, and plenty of little seating areas around the ship where you could spend your time with a book, chatting with friends etc. If you are travelling as a family, there is a kids club and activities meant for a younger crowd. On top of this, you could also make an appointment at the spa or visit the casino.

Personally, I loved the EXC talks to learn more about Alaska, the people, and the wildlife but as I mentioned earlier I spent a lot of time outside on the deck whale spotting and enjoying the scenery which I was very happy doing. I saw several whales a day, some of them just swimming by and others breaching in the distance.

My take: Sea days are quieter than port days but the ship has quite a bit to offer that is included for guests. Your time on board is what you make of it with options for those who want to be busy and active or those who want to relax and take it slow.

Wildlife Spotting 

I assumed the highlights would be the ports but I genuinely loved our cruising days. Glacier Bay was my favourite. I stood on the bow for hours staring and snapping photos of the mountains, the turquoise waters, sea otters, seals, bald eagles, and of course the magnificent glaciers. It was without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Sea days were pretty too. Since it was an inside passage cruise we were always close to land which meant it wasn’t very rough at all (although, to be honest, I don’t think anything will feel rough to me after passing through the Drake Passageway to Antarctica).

I mentioned earlier I spent a lot of my time outside. There are a few areas but I hung out on deck 3, which was the promenade. I saw tons of whales and dolphins and a few seals, otters, and bald eagles. However, the whales especially were often in the distance. You did have to really look for them.

I understood that the ship would announce wildlife from 8am-5:30pm, however, I only heard them make one announcement during the whole journey for a whale. Even though a pod of about 50+ dolphins passed by around 9am on our last sea day. So, if you want to see wildlife, don’t rely on the ship to tell you about them. You’ll have to go outside and look for it on your own.

My take: There’s lots of wildlife out there, but you do need to actively look for it yourself!  


Excursions are an additional cost on top of your Alaska Cruise and they can get pretty pricey really quickly. Even though we only had 3 port stops, the cost of my excursions added up to nearly $500 USD. I met a number of people on board who decided to forgo excursions to save money and instead explore the town and enjoy the ship instead. While I recognize everyone has their own budgets to stick to and different interests, to me, it’s a mistake not to do at least one.

The big draw of Alaska is the wildlife and the scenery and you aren’t going to get that by staying in the port. While the port towns of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan are cute, they are also tiny. You absolutely do not need the entire day to explore them.

I did a different excursion in each port and had varying experiences with them.

In Juneau, I did a whale-watching tour combined with a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. It was epic. We saw tons of whales including a mother and her calf and then a pod who bubble-net fed which I have been dying to see. It did not disappoint. Mendenhall Glacier was also beautiful as were Nugget Falls, an easy and flat 3.2km or 2-mile roundtrip walk at the Glacier. I would highly recommend this tour.

View of Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau Alaska against a blue sky with Nugget falls waterfall off to the right

In Skagway, I did the Ghosts and Good Time Girls tour, which shares the history of Skagway through the eyes of a streetwalker (or prostitute). It had a strong focus on women’s history and provided a lot of interesting information as well as laughs. I loved it, but it was only two hours and we had the entire day in the port. I know several people did the train ride and really enjoyed it and I wished I had done that on top of the walking tour. Especially when so many people told me they saw a bear. Apparently, there were a few around that day!

Madame Enya Dreams from the Red Onion giving a tour in Skagway

In Ketchikan, I did the Misty Fjords Tour. I’ll be honest, it was very long for what it was. We did see an active humpback who bubble net fed (I felt so lucky seeing this twice) and a bald eagle but that was it in terms of wildlife. The scenery was pretty, but it was 2+ hour boat ride each way for about 45 minutes in the fjord. I’m not mad about the experience but I wouldn’t do it again and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

Humpback whale jumping out of the water bubble net feeding

My take: Do at least a couple of excursions on your Alaska cruise. I highly recommend whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau!

The Passengers

One of the things that surprised me was the varied group of passengers on my Alaska cruise with Holland America. I was told in advance that Holland America passengers were typically an older crowd but we had a real mix. There were families with younger children, older couples, young couples and groups of friends, several mom and daughter duos, and even multi-generational groups as well as solo travellers. Alaska seems to be a popular destination for everyone!

My take: This Alaska cruise is for everyone. It’s not a party cruise, however, if you are hoping for a quieter cruise with a more senior crowd, then you may be surprised.

How Much is an Alaska Cruise? Costs to Keep in Mind.

Hannah in a neon pink sweater looking over a railing with colourful houses behind her

The cost of an Alaska cruise really depends on your travel style and how you choose to spend your money. It can vary a lot from one person to another.  I’m going to break down all the costs to be aware of below so you can have a better idea of how much to budget for an Alaska cruise with Holland America.

  • Base Cruise Cost: This is the cruise itself which includes your stateroom, meals, onboard entertainment etc. There are a few different options when it comes to staterooms with inside rooms being the cheapest option.
  • Flights: Or other transportation to get to/from the cruise ship.
  • Shore Excursions: While you can sign up for shore excursions on board, I recommend signing up well in advance as some options book out very quickly.
  • Beverage package and/or non-included drinks: This includes alcohol, soft drinks, and speciality coffees.
  • Onboard restaurants: There are several restaurants that are not included in the meals offered on board but you can make reservations and dine in at an additional cost.
  • Various spending: Souvenirs, the onboard casino, gym classes, or spa, any spending on shore etc.
  • Internet: Wifi is an additional cost if you want to be able to use it. There were multiple packages to choose from depending on your needs.
  • Tips: Our cruise charged $16 USD per passenger per day for tips to go towards the crew. I chose to tip extra to my stateroom attendant on top of that. If you order drinks at the bar or restaurant, you will also be automatically charged 18% gratuities on top of the cost of the drink.

A Few Final Things to Note

Orange and red and purple sunset over the ocean

For any non-cruisers such as myself, there are a couple of extra things worth noting. The main one is you are on a tight schedule and if something happens then you should expect some setbacks.

There was a labour strike in the port of Vancouver when we left. This meant we were about 4 hours late departing since we didn’t have all the supplies on board. While the captain did speed up to make up for lost time, it still impacted our schedule. Those who had booked an excursion to Tracy Arm Inlet had their tours cancelled and our port stop in Juneau was shorter than expected. It was a bummer, but things like this do happen.

I also found the onboarding process incredibly slow. It took most people about 2 hours to get checked in, go through security and immigration and board the ship. It was painful and I kept jokingly making sheep sounds as we shuffled through the lines. I was told by more frequent cruisers that the boarding time was not usually this long. So, that could also have been tied to the strike but either way, be prepared to wait.

Is an Alaska Cruise Worth it?

Hannah in a blue sweatshirt and her arms up in the air looking out at Margerie Glacier, Alaska

So, is an Alaska cruise worth it? As I said, I was sceptical at the beginning but I can honestly say yes. It was a relaxing way to travel that still offered me so many opportunities to see wildlife, scenic views, and to learn more about Alaska.

My Alaska cruise experience changed my opinion on this method of travel. It was much more of an adventure than I expected and I would absolutely consider doing another scenic cruise again. As for Alaska? Well, my mom and I have both already decided this trip was just the beginning. I now understand why some people go several times. Alaska is magical and an Alaskan cruise is the perfect way to experience it.

Ready to Book Your Trip?

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  1. Sarah on April 2, 2024 at 7:42 am


    This sounds like a wonderful trip! I’ve always wanted to cruise Alaska, but was deterred by the enormous size of the ships, but this sounds ideal!

    What time of year did you go? It sounds like you were able to see tons of wildlife

    • Hannah Logan on April 2, 2024 at 8:26 am

      Honestly give it a shot! Boarding day did feel a bit overwhelming with all the people but when everyone was on and set up to go it didn’t feel nearly as busy. I went early July and had amazing weather and so many whales!!

      • Sarah on April 8, 2024 at 6:51 pm

        Awesome, thanks!

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