When most people think about cruises, they tend to picture sunny, tropical destinations like the white, sugary beaches of a Caribbean island or the lush shores of a Mediterranean country. It's true that these kinds of summer cruises are very popular and have a lot to offer, but there are many other kinds of cruises to be enjoyed beyond the classic sand, sun, and sea combinations. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.


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Alaska, for example, is actually one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. The largest American state, Alaska is home to some phenomenal natural landscapes and breathtaking glacial scenery that needs to be seen to be believed, and taking an Alaskan cruise is one of the best ways to explore and appreciate this beautiful part of North America.

Many major cruise lines run trips to Alaska, but the big boats can't quite offer the same experiences as small ship Alaskan cruises. Small ships are able to travel along the Inside Passage, seeing the more isolated, untouched parts of Alaska and visiting charming, little-known port cities like Wrangell or Juneau. These small ships only usually carry 50-100 passengers, with some even carrying far fewer numbers, offering a more intimate, private sort of atmosphere, a far cry from the crowds and noise of the luxury liners.

Best Alaska Small Ship Cruises

Taking a small ship cruise around Alaska tends to be a very relaxing experience and a fun way for travelers of all ages to enjoy the usual amenities and advantages of a cruise, while also feeling like they're heading off the beaten track and enjoying a real sense of adventure as their captain and crew navigate the icy waterways of the Last Frontier. Read on to learn about some of the best cruise lines and options for small ship journeys around Alaska.

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2.Alaskan Dream Cruises - Alaska's Glacier Bay and Island Adventure

Alaskan Dream Cruises - Alaska's Glacier Bay and Island Adventure
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Alaskan Dream Cruises is one of the top names in small ship Alaskan cruises. The company is actually owned and run by Alaskan natives who know the state's waters like the back of their hands. The Alaska's Glacier Bay and Island Adventure cruise is one of the very best options from this line. The cruise lasts for seven nights in total and takes in some of the most beautiful Alaskan scenery you could ever hope to see, voyaging all around the southeastern part of the state. The cruise begins in Sitka and passes through Wilderness Bay, Petersburg, the Frederick Sound, and the Glacier Bay National Park before making its final stop in Juneau.

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3.American Cruise Lines - Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

American Cruise Lines - Alaska Inside Passage Cruise
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American Cruise Lines runs a lot of different routes all around North America, including some small ship cruises in Alaska. Passengers on the Alaska Inside Passage Cruise will climb aboard the American Spirit, capable of carrying just 100 passengers, for a magical journey through the famed Inside Passage. The cruise actually starts off in Seattle, WA, stopping off at Anacortes and Friday Harbor before heading up the Strait of Georgia and around towards Alaska. From there, the cruise will call at charming Alaskan towns and cities like Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Haines, and Skagway, before ending up in Juneau. This is a 14-night cruise that features a lot of fun activities and educational information from on-board expert guides.

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4.UnCruise Adventures - Bears, Bergs & Bushwhacking

UnCruise Adventures - Bears, Bergs & Bushwhacking
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Uncruise Adventures has been running small ship cruises around Alaska for several decades now and has learned all about the best spots to see wildlife. That's how they came up with the Bears, Bergs & Bushwhacking cruise. This is an eight night cruise that begins and ends in Petersburg. The ship will sail through four wilderness areas, offering a very good chance of spotting bears and many other forms of wildlife including whales, birds, and more. Passengers will also catch a glimpse of the LeConte Glacier and enjoy an exclusive tour of the Kake native village.

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5.Windstar Cruises - Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour

Windstar Cruises - Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour
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Windstar Cruises is another leading name when it comes to Alaskan small ship cruises and the Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour is simply unbeatable. This is a 15-night cruise from Fairbanks to Vancouver, and as the name suggests, it includes a stop off at North America's tallest mountain: Denali. Travelers will gasp in awe at this incredible natural wonder before pursuing their journey through locations like Anchorage, the Kenai Fjords National Park, the Inian Islands, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Wrangell, and the Misty Fjords. Admire the glaciers and spot some foxes, caribou, bears, and wolves along the way as you enjoy every moment of this extensive Alaskan cruise.

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4 Best Alaska Small Ship Cruises

Attraction Spotlight: University of Alaska Museum of the North

As one of the only research and teaching museums in Alaska, the University of Alaska Museum of the North is a very important piece of culture in Fairbanks. This museum showcases the rich history of Alaska through its 1.4 million artifacts from across a wide assortment of disciplines. The collections at the University of Alaska Museum of the North are the foundation for many of the programs and exhibits offered by the museum. From Alaskan art spanning over 2,200 years to an interactive display that showcases the real-time positions of the sun and moon, there is always something of interest to see at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Venue Services

The University Of Alaska Museum of the North is a perfect venue for any special occasion or event. The museum’s galleries can be used to host a wide assortment of events from receptions to presentations. All the facilities are wheelchair-accessible, and there is ample parking available for guests.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North also provides attendance for special events to help guests navigate the facilities. Catering services are also available via the catering company Chartwells.

Those interested in using University of Alaska Museum of the North as a venue for a special occasion or event can contact the museum directly in order to get more information about the venue services offered as well as the applicable scheduling for such events.


Museum of the North, University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus, 907 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775, Phone: 907-474-7505

Back to: Things to Do in Alaska

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Attraction Spotlight: Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska

At the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska it is Christmas every day. The holiday-themed general store has been open since 1952, and now sells an extensive collection of Christmas related items in its 9,000 square feet of retail space. The large white frontier style building is holiday themed, streetlights are striped like giant candy canes, and photo opportunities abound. Year round, the store offers classic toys, gifts and collectibles, apparel and exclusive merchandise including Alaskan themed ornaments and gifts made in Alaska.

Homemade fudge, coffee and espresso are available. Visitors enjoy the holiday-themed photo opportunities with the 42-foot tall Santa statue from the 1960’s, Santa’s reindeer, which live in a barn next door, and Santa himself. When Santa is not present, a large stuffed Santa resides in the life-sized sleigh at the center of the store. In addition to the retail operation, Santa Claus House is famous as the home for Letters from Santa and Deeds to the North Pole. Since the 1960’s, the Santa Claus house has been mailing letters from Santa to children all over the world. Equipped with a postmark from the North Pole, the letters are customized for each recipient, include one “Santa Dollar,” a “Santa’s Official Mail” seal, and a sticker indicating the recipient is on “Santa’s Good List.” Letters arrive on official Santa Claus stationery.

The same stationery has been used since the 1960’s, with only a few minor changes. In addition to the letter from Santa, the House sells genuine deeds to one square inch of North Pole property, allowing children to feel they have a “toehold in the far north.” Deeds arrive with the same genuine North Pole postmark, the official seal of Santa Claus, a photograph of Santa himself, and Santa’s “good list” sticker.

History: The Santa Claus House began with Con and Nellie Miller in 1949. The Millers had recently moved to Alaska and were looking to establish a business in the area. Each Christmas, Con would don a Santa Claus suit and became a celebrity among the local children. When he was recognized as Santa Claus at his general store in 1952, he was struck by an idea. The Miller’s general store 13 miles south of Fairbanks was about to become the Santa Claus House, located in an area aptly named “the North Pole.” Since North Pole was between two military bases, the store originally provided locals with general necessities, operated a soda fountain, and served as the town’s post office. By 1972, the community had grown, and so had the Santa Claus house.

With a new four-lane highway out front, the Santa Claus House built a new storefront, and expanded their merchandise to include holiday-themed items. The business continued to grow, and by the mid 1980’s had expanded with a new wing, and the addition of a 42-foot tall plastic Santa Claus out front. Stanley Plastics built the 900-pound statue in the 1960’s. Over the years, as the Santa Claus House grew, the Millers remained fixtures of the local community. Con was the longest serving mayor of North Pole, with a 19-year streak, and Nellie, a community marriage commissioner, has married thousands of couples at the Santa Claus House. Today, the Santa Claus House receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year, and mails out their own to customers all over the world. Thousands visit the North Pole location to enjoy the Christmas spirit year-round.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Santa himself is available for consultations and photo opportunities during the summer months, and also from November through December 25th. Christmas themed events take place year round. Holiday parades include Cruisin’ with Santa, a car show and street fair hosted each May in partnership with the North Pole Lions Club. Jingle in July is an annual 5-kilometer run or walk that raises funds for the Arthritis Foundation. From November through December each year an ice art festival takes places at the Santa Claus House. Over 600 tons of ice is carved into sculptures, a maze and an ice slide. The popular outdoor exhibit is open on Christmas Day, although the shop is closed.

What’s Nearby: North Pole, the small city just south of Fairbanks has gained popularity as a Christmas-themed tourist town. Streets are named Snowman Lane, Kris Kringle Drive, and Santa Claus Lane. Emergency vehicles are all bright red, and police cars are green and white, matching the candy-cane striped streetlights throughout the town.

101 St. Nicholas Dr. North Pole, Alaska 99705, Phone: 907-488-2200

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Attraction Spotlight: Alaska SeaLife Center

Located on Resurrection Bay in Seward, the Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited nonprofit public aquarium dedicated to directly combining marine research and conservation with visitor experiences and education. The idea for the SeaLife Center stems back to the early 1980s, when Seward area scientists and community leaders proposed improvements and expansions to the University of Alaska’s Seward Marine Center, though initial attempts to secure funding through Alaska legislature proved unsuccessful.


Renewed interest in marine life research and preservation was brought to light following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, prompting the creation of the Seward Association for the Advancement of Marine Science, a nonprofit organization seeking to further marine research and public education through the creation of a new aquarium facility. Funds allocated from the Exxon Valdez criminal settlement were granted to SAAMS throughout the early 1990s, with additional support from a public fundraising campaign in 1996, and the aquarium was opened to the public in May of 1998.

Permanent Exhibits

The Center’s visitor experience begins on the second floor, where guests may watch a short introductory film about the Alaskan marine ecosystem. Several recreated ecosystems are on display, including an Open Waters exhibit and a Kelp Forest, featuring shallow-water species such as anemones and rockfish. Alaska king crabs are showcased in a Deep Gulf exhibit, and a Denizens of the Deep display provides rocky caves for octopuses and other deep-water species. Commercial fishing species and practices are highlighted in several exhibits, including a Salmon Stream exhibit that chronicles the life cycle of Alaska’s salmon species. Touch opportunities with animals such as sea stars and sea urchins are provided at a Discovery Pool.

As Alaska’s premiere marine research facility and the only organization specifically dedicated to the conservation of the northern marine environment, many of the Center’s exhibits focus on marine animals native to the northern Pacific, including the Steller sea lion, the Pacific walrus, and the Giant Pacific octopus. Of particular note is an exhibit providing up-close opportunities with the Pacific giant squid, Alaska’s largest squid species. A Seabird Habitat contains the deepest seabird pool in the United States, harboring tufted puffins, red-legged kittiwakes, and pigeon guillemots, and a Harbor Seal Habitat recreates the rocks of the Alaskan coastline for natural sunning spaces for its animals. A digital touchscreen exhibit, the Chiswell Island Interactive Rookery, allows visitors to view a live video feed of a nearby Steller sea lion rookery, and a Resurrection Bay Overlook provides an outside lookout spot to see animals in their natural environments.

The SeaLife Center is one of the only aquariums in the world that is comprehensively designed to integrate its research and conservation programs directly into its visitor experience. A Research on Display kiosk offers a look at the Center’s ongoing research projects and conservation efforts, and two overlooks of the Research Deck allow visitors to directly observe the daily work of scientists and staff members, including rehabilitation work with animals. Ongoing research into the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, including research conducted by the Center, is presented at an audio exhibit, The Continuing Legacy.

In addition to exhibits, the Center’s on-site restaurant, the Haul Out Café, is open from June through September, and a Discovery Gift Shop sells handmade items by local Alaskan artists.

Ongoing Programs and Education

Several tour packages offered by the Center include behind-the-scenes looks at animals and direct interaction with animal care staff, including a Marine Mammal Encounter, a Puffin Encounter, an Octopus Encounter, and a Sea Otter Experience. Day tours and Nocturne Sleepover adventures are also offered for student groups, incorporating Alaska Science Content and Performance Standards curriculum elements. An outreach program for students in Anchorage, Mat-Su, and the Kenai Peninsula brings hands-on marine activities directly into classrooms, and a Distance Learning program offers video conference tours for classrooms and organizations anywhere in the world.

As an affiliate of the University of Alaska, the Center doubles as a fully-equipped research facility, including a full on-site veterinary suite for animal rehabilitation. The Center serves as the state’s only permanent stranding center, with accreditation by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Dedicated programs for the rehabilitation of sea lions, seals, sea otters, and salmon are spearheaded by the Center’s Science Department, striving to return rescued animals to their natural habitats.

Annual events at the Center include a Beers By the Bay tasting event, a Community Holiday Party kicking off the winter holiday season and an Alaska Marine Gala in February, which serves as the Center’s main fundraiser.

301 Railway Ave, Seward, AK 99664, Phone: 888-378-2525

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