When Choosing the Best Alaska Cruise for Your Family, Ship Size Matters

Large, mid-size, and small ships offer very different experiences on an Alaska family cruise.
UnCruise in Alaska (Photo: UnCruise)
UnCruise in Alaska (Photo: UnCruise)

Is exploring America’s Last Frontier at the top of your family vacation ideas list? I’ve enjoyed family cruises all over the world, but there’s something unique and special about Alaska cruises. In my opinion, cruising in Alaska is an unforgettable way to experience the state’s magnificent scenery and wildlife that can’t be replicated on any other kind of vacation.

Imagine savoring panoramic views of glacier-dotted shores and snow-caped mountains as you glimpse humpback whales at play from your ship’s deck. Now picture your family disembarking to experience it all up close in a different port each day. On the best Alaska cruises for families, the shore excursions allow you to dive into the state’s unique culture and beauty, including in active ways like kayaking, dog sledding, and whale watching that fully engage kids of all ages.

The Best Alaska Cruises for Families

With a variety of cruise lines sailing to Alaska, though, how can you decide which is the best fit for your family? Large, mid-size, and smaller ships offer very different experiences, so I’ve broken it down for you by ship size and cruise line to help you choose—with the one unifying factor being Alaska cruises with special perks for families. From a mega-ship that feels like floating city to a small vessel that offers eco-friendly comfort, there’s an Alaska cruise to suit every age and interest.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Alaska Cruise Tips: When to Go, What to Pack, How to Choose, and More 

Alaska Family Cruises on Large Ships

The biggest cruise ships in Alaska go equally big on family-friendly activities, dining options, and entertainment. Maybe the biggest benefit of these mega ships is that complaints of boredom are highly, even if you’re traveling with a tough-to-please teen. Large cruise ships carry more than 2,500 passengers, so expect to have company on the sprawling decks and towering atriums. But if variety is the spice of your life, a large ship is a jackpot.

1. Princess Cruises

Best large-ship Alaska cruises for families who love nature

Glacier viewing on a Princess cruise in Alaska (Photo: Princess Cruises)
Glacier viewing on a Princess cruise in Alaska (Photo: Princess Cruises)

With seven ships sailing Alaska, Princess leads the pack with more Alaska cruises than any other line. If you want an itinerary that visits the snow-globe scenery of Glacier Bay National Park, for example, Princess has more ships journeying to this icy wonderland than any other large ship cruise line. 

On my most recent Alaska cruise with Princess, the onboard naturalist went above and beyond his scheduled lectures and presentations, making nightly appearances on Deck 16 for hours of casual conversation with enthusiastic guests like my family.

Amenities on Princess Cruises in Alaska: Live entertainment, swimming pools, multiple hot tubs, and movies under the stars are a few of the many bells and whistles. Children’s programming includes supervised clubs with ice-cream parties and DJ booths, as well as a teen club with video game tournaments and mocktails. The cruise line’s Junior Park Ranger program and irresistible Puppies in the Piazza, a meet-and-greet with sled dogs, are a big hit with little kids. 

For a window into Alaskan culture, Princess’s North to Alaska program brings Indigenous Alaskans and resident experts onboard, from mountain climbers who have scaled Denali to totem pole carvers. Princess offers an array of shore excursions, including tours that are crafted with families in mind. 

Best perk on Princess Cruises in Alaska: I cannot say enough about the self-service laundromat. We washed and dried our dirty clothes for only a few dollars per load, avoiding the high per-item fee that the ship’s laundry service charges. 

2. Royal Caribbean 

Best large-ship Alaska cruises for energetic families

Pool area on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Pool area on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Royal Caribbean cruises to Alaska from both U.S. and Canadian ports. Kids of all ages love the cruise line’s adrenaline-pumping shipboard offerings and high-energy family programming.

Amenities on Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruises: Royal Caribbean is a match for active kids. In between exploring Alaska, they can enjoy pulse-pounding fun on the Flowrider surf simulator, RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator, a rock-climbing wall, and video arcade. Supervised age-specific programs for children are popular. Outdoor pools double as front-row seats to see the spectacular surroundings, while live entertainment productions are both original and first-rate. 

Best perk: The SeaPlex, the largest indoor activity complex at sea, features bumper cars, a full-size basketball court, and a roller-skating rink. 

Alaska Family Cruises on Mid-Size Ships

Like Goldilocks eating her porridge, sometimes the middle is the sweet spot. Mid-size cruise ships carry between 1,000 and 2,499 passengers and offer a variety of dining, entertainment, and stateroom configurations without the potentially overwhelming size of a large ship. 

3. Holland America 

Best mid-size Alaska cruises for families seeking a nostalgic cruise experience

Sports area on a Holland America cruise ship (Photo: Holland America Line)
Sports area on a Holland America cruise ship (Photo: Holland America Line)

If your family is looking for high-octane, shipboard action like zip lines and go-karts, Holland America is probably not a fit. Holland America has been cruising to Alaska for more than 75 years, and on its Alaska cruises family bonds are strengthened via throwback activities such as ping-pong, board games, jigsaw puzzles, shuffleboard, and family-friendly movies screened under the stars with blankets and popcorn. My kids love the cruise line’s Old World vibe and hilariously started to speak in faux British accents each time we ventured into the dining room.  

Amenities on Holland America cruises in Alaska: Holland America’s trademark style includes lots of polished brass and dark wood details. The look may be classic, but ships are equipped with the modern technology, from interactive televisions in each cabin to video game arcades to state-of-the-art fitness equipment. 

Club HAL is staffed with childcare professionals trained to work with a variety of ages and learning styles. Kids can try their hand at arts and crafts, video game competitions, and scavenger hunts. Supervised evening programs free parents to enjoy live musical performances at the Music Walk.

Best perk on Holland America’s Alaska cruises: All Holland America ships have pickleball courts, the fastest growing sport in America. My family and I watched the tutorial videos on our stateroom TV before we headed to the court.

4. Disney Cruise Line

Best mid-size Alaska cruises for families who love Disney’s entertainment brands

Alaska cruise on Disney Cruise Line (Photo: Matt Stroshane, Disney Cruise Line)
Disney Cruise Line (Photo: Matt Stroshane)

As you might expect, families are at the heart of the Disney Cruise Line Alaska experience. Disney cruises naturally attract Disney fans, but anyone who appreciates family-friendly entertainment and top-notch service will be impressed with the quality of DCL’s Alaska cruises. 

Amenities on Disney cruises in Alaska: Disney’s mid-size cruise ships are known for their immersive entertainment options, from Broadway-caliber musicals to animation classes. Meet-and-greets with your favorite Disney characters are frequent, but while Disney characters are a fixture, Alaska is the co-star of the show. Presentations on wildlife and nature are given by experts who welcome questions from curious kids. All Disney cruises to Alaska start and end in Vancouver.

Best perk on Disney cruises in Alaska: Alaska-centric details include Disney characters wearing special outfits to highlight sense of place, so don’t be surprised to see Goofy dressed like a lumberjack.

Alaska Family Cruises on Small Ships

Small ships offer the possibility to delve into off-the-beaten-path AlaskaThey can navigate closer to shorelines and into narrower waterways, delighting the senses with the thunder of calving glaciers and scenes of bears busy at work.

5. Lindblad Expeditions with National Geographic 

Best small-ship Alaska cruises for active and eco-conscious families

Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic on Alaskan cruises (Photo: Lindblad Expeditions)
Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic on Alaskan cruises (Photo: Lindblad Expeditions)

Adventurous travelers who crave an intimate and immersive Alaskan family cruise will love cruising with Lindblad Expeditions, in partnership with National Geographic. The brand has a fleet of 17 small ships, five of which sail to Alaska. Families looking to inspire the next generation of naturalists, climate protectors, and conservationists will feel right at home engaging in active adventures that are purpose-driven. 

Amenities on Lindblad Expeditions’s Alaska cruises: An emphasis on responsible cruising and planetary stewardship is a welcome departure from the waste found on some cruise ships. Kids and teens may listen a spokesperson from the Alaska Whale Foundation discuss the local whale population, discover marine life with an onboard undersea specialist, and develop observational skills as they record wildlife sightings in their field notebook. Children under 18 save $500 off the adult price. 

Best perk: The attentive staff individually caters to your needs, while onboard programming is enriched by Indigenous naturalists, cultural guides, and guest speakers.

6. UnCruise Adventures

Best family cruises in Alaska for anyone who thinks they don’t like cruising

Kayaking on an Uncruise in Alaska (Photo: UnCruise)
Kayaking on an Uncruise in Alaska (Photo: UnCruise)

With a maximum of 86 passengers, UnCruise Adventures is committed to small-ship cruising. The personalized attention should please even those who think they are cruise averse. 

Amenities on UnCruise Alaska sailings: Onboard naturalists provides hands-on experiences and engaging presentations on wildlife, ecology, and local culture. A high crew-to-guest ratio ensures personal attention. An emphasis on sustainability is a big part of the brand’s ethos.

Best perk: Children ages eight to 17 receive a $500 discount off the adult price. Activities, such as kayaking, hiking, and skiff excursions, are suited to a range of skill levels, ensuring that nearly everyone can participate. 

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.