America's 49th state, Alaska is pure poetic wilderness. It's here you'll find the highest mountain in North America, the largest glacier, and (arguably) the most dazzling wildlife. And you don't have to be a Lewis and Clark-level explorer to cross Alaska off your bucket list. Cruising makes this vast landscape easy -- and affordable -- to traverse. But since every major cruise line sails these arctic waters, how can you choose a ship? Don't worry. We've done the vetting for you. The nine ships featured below stand out among the competition, providing the very best environments for whale-spotting and glacier-gazing, which you can even do from the comfort of a deck chair with a mimosa in hand.
Fresh off a 2016 style revamp, Royal Princess represents a new class of design that introduces fresh features while retaining fan favorites. As one of the largest in its fleet, this ship is sprawling with staterooms, but its public venues are well spaced out, ensuring it never feels too crowded. The ship succeeds at achieving a premium lifestyle that is suited to baby boomers and multigenerational groups seeking a good value. Features like expansive kids’ facilities, family-friendly cabins, and a broad selection of entertainment options target a younger demographic. The design highlight of the entire ship is The Piazza. The atrium here really does appear to float on light with double helix staircases and a voluminous central opening. Plus, Princess’ unparalleled loyalty program keeps many guests coming back.
Norwegian Bliss is a hybrid ship that takes the best elements from the previous Norwegian Escape in the American market and Norwegian Joy in the Chinese market. The resulting 4,004-passenger mega-ship is big where it counts — thanks to thrills like a go-kart race track and waterslides — while still feeling intimate. For a mainstream ship, there are plenty of value-added inclusions, especially “Jersey Boys” entertainment, as well as free dining, though several specialty restaurants cost extra. Accommodating all sorts of budgets, cabins run the gamut from compact studios to palatial suites with exclusive access to The Haven ship-within-a-ship complex. This vessel is all about choices, and it offers a competitive array of attractions.
For those looking for an elegant, intimate cruise experience at a doable price point, the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse is almost impossible to beat. It emphasizes the good life in its architecture, art, food, wine, and entertainment. The ship offers a premium cruise experience with standout features like four free dining options, the relaxing Canyon Ranch SpaClub, and a half-acre of actual grass (a signature feature of Celebrity’s) at The Lawn Club. There are (slightly crowded) outdoor pools for families and adults, plus an excellent kids’ club with a slumber party option. Spacious staterooms are decorated to mimic a boutique hotel, and the vast majority of cabins have balconies and ocean views.
Holland America Line’s Eurodam stands out for its traditional style and lack of gimmicks. Introduced in 2008 and renovated in 2016 to spruce up lounges and suites, this mid-size premium ship carries 2,104 passengers in tasteful comfort. Upon boarding, smiling crew members immediately make passengers feel at home. Even more homey are the ship’s cabins: 85 percent have an ocean view, and 79 percent of those have a private balcony. While Eurodam doesn’t have some of the flashier features found on other cruise lines (no sky-diving simulators here), active passengers should be happy with several pools, a nicely outfitted fitness center with a variety of exercise classes, and a free sauna. The spa offers a blissfully tranquil setting for those whose only goal is relaxation.
With a total capacity of 2,500 passengers, the Radiance of the Seas is a mid-size ship that provides a textbook cruise experience. The ship lacks some of the exhilarating, next-generation trimmings found on the line’s more recent launches (no laser tag arena or 10-story waterslide here), and decor looks largely unchanged since the ship’s first sailing in early 2000, but all of the essential bases are covered and executed extremely well. Staterooms have flat-screen TVs and mini-fridges, and the majority have private balconies. Meals at the main dining room and the buffet (included in the rates) are solid, and dinner at five specialty dining establishments can be added for a fee. The main pool is notably small, but there’s a second pool located in a solarium and a dedicated kids’ pool with slides. The crowd ranges from multigenerational families to boisterous reunion groups to couples who have been together for half a century (or longer).
Viking continues to grow its ocean cruise fleet with the beautiful Viking Orion, a fifth sister-ship launched in 2018. The ships are identical for the most part, but this one has introduced a number of new features — the highlight being the Explorers’ Dome, a planetarium-like theater that represents an overall improvement to the luxury line’s entertainment offerings. Viking’s other already exceptional comforts and inclusions remain, with a few enhancements of their own. For being a relatively intimate 930-guest ship, it shines with spacious all-veranda cabins and voluminous public venues throughout. Free shore excursions in every port as well as free unlimited internet and wine and beer at lunch and dinner make Viking both a lavish experience and a superb vacation value — a true rarity in travel.
Delivering on Princess Cruises’ signature “come back new” promise, the 3,080-guest Ruby Princess is strongly focused on rejuvenation, both for its passengers and for the ship itself. New enhancements are elevating the line back to premium, including more comfortable accommodations, livelier activities, tastier food, and grander entertainment, with programs headed up by theater legend Stephen Schwartz and celebrity chef Curtis Stone. And rates have remained reasonable across stateroom categories. Several passengers here are repeat customers, as the line has one of the best loyalty programs in the industry.
The upscale Celebrity Solstice is a ship of “firsts.” It was the first ship in the line’s Solstice class, the first to introduce the Lawn Club feature (adding a real grass lawn on its top deck), and the first to host the popular Hot Glass Show (showcasing the art of glasswork). But other features are mainstays of the Celebrity brand, such as a roster of excellent restaurants, a chic main pool with a playful water jet area, and an indulgent spa that includes ceramic heated loungers. The ship’s intimate size also means it can pull up to smaller, more vivid ports that gigantic vessels can’t manage. Cabins come in a variety of categories, but most have balconies. The ship also has several stellar kids’ and teens’ clubs.
The 848-passenger Crystal Symphony delivers on its luxury promise with excellent food, ritzy touches (alcohol is included in the rates), and great entertainment, all in an attractive ship that draws repeat passengers. While this ship was built in 1995, a 2017 refurbishment has left the vessel looking fresher. It even introduced some fun new dining venues like a Brazilian steakhouse and family-style Chinese restaurant, adding more options to the already solid lineup of restaurants. There’s plenty of entertainment offered, including a wealth of educational activities, great theater shows, and lots of live music, plus an attractive pool and spa.
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