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.

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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.

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

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.

- American Cruise Lines - Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

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.

- UnCruise Adventures - Bears, Bergs & Bushwhacking

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.

- Windstar Cruises - Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour

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.