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Why Alaska cruises will be busy this summer — and how to avoid crowds on your sailing

April 13, 2022
7 min read
2Photo Apr 14, 11 28 22 AM
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Alaska's 2022 cruise season is about to begin in late April, and it's already shaping up to be one of the busiest ever.

Voyages to Alaska resumed last year, but with COVID-19 numbers down this year and more capacity in the region, passengers are more eager than ever to return this summer. With popular ports, such as Juneau, typically seeing as many as 14,000 cruise passengers on days when five or six ships call there, The Points Guy thought it would be helpful to outline a few ways cruisers can avoid the crowds.

Read on to find out what's going on in the Last Frontier, just how shoulder-to-shoulder the tourist situation might be this year and what you can do to steer clear of the masses on an Alaska cruise.

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What are the experts predicting?

Royal Princess in Glacier Bay, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

TPG is predicting a "sold-out summer," where it might be difficult to find availability for travel if you wait to book — and if you do, prices will likely be sky-high.

With regard to cruises specifically, discounts are likely to wane as wave season fizzles and demand increases. Plus, ships are rapidly expanding capacity due to relaxed government regulations, which means crowds will be larger in port, and the onboard experience will quickly go from "private yacht" back to "mass-market ship."

As for Alaska, in 2020, before the industry-wide pandemic shutdown, the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents most of the industry's major cruise lines, predicted 1.4 million cruisers would visit the state. Although CLIA hasn't released an economic report for 2022, if 2020's predictions are any indication of expected 2022 traffic, it's going to be crowded this year.

How to avoid the crowds on your Alaska cruise

(Photo by davidgoldmanphoto/Getty Images)

Want to dodge the port-day pandemonium? Try these tips.

Book a shoulder-season sailing

Sailings during off-peak times — including the very beginning and very end of the Alaska season, which runs from late April to mid-September — are less popular, so you won't be as overwhelmed by fellow cruisers as you would be if traveling at the height of the season.

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Shoulder-season voyages also tend to be less expensive, so you might even enjoy some savings.

Try a smaller ship

Not only do smaller ships carry fewer passengers, but they can also call on tinier ports and cruise to scenic glacier locations where many larger vessels can't fit. Smaller ships in smaller ports usually mean thinner crowds and a more personalized experience, but unfortunately, they can also mean high prices.

Try a line like UnCruise Adventures, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises or Lindblad Expeditions.

A helicopter ride over the Juneau Icefield is one of the excursions available to cruisers visiting Juneau, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Tourism)

Avoid big-ship excursions

Small ships generally offer more personalized excursions and smaller group sizes. If you're sailing on a larger ship, skip ship-sponsored shore tours in favor of venturing on your own or booking a private excursion through a third-party provider. It will ensure that you're not herded on a tour bus with a large group, where you'll have to muscle your way to the front for the best views.

If you do go it alone, be sure to map out a course ahead of time, and let someone know where you'll be — particularly if you'll be hiking or doing other strenuous activities. (Alaska is rugged, and its terrain can be dangerous.) If you book with a third-party vendor or tour guide, do your homework to verify that they're reputable and safe and that they will have you back to your ship on time.

Stay on board

Since the major draw for Alaska is the scenery and wildlife, staying on your ship in port isn't ideal. However, if you're on a smaller ship that visits both large and small destinations, you might choose to head out in places where the crowds aren't as overwhelming and remain on board in places like Juneau, which is often overrun.

If you're someone who likes to read or partake in spa treatments, port days are perfect, as you'll have the ship nearly to yourself.

Explore nature

Although Alaska is a more active destination than most, you're likely to find fewer of your fellow travelers on, say, a glacier trek or a strenuous hike than you are on a walking tour or a bus trip.

If you're able, pack your hiking boots and binoculars, and make your way to the nearest trail or overlook. Book a kayaking adventure or a 4x4 tour, or splurge on a helicopter or floatplane ride to view the sights from above.

The state of cruise tourism in Alaska

(Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

With 10% of Alaska residents working in the travel and tourism sector, communities there were hit hard during the pandemic.

A report prepared by the Alaska Department of Revenue notes that more than $1 billion was paid out in unemployment claims over a 14-month period, and in several communities, annual losses exceeded annual operating budgets. Skagway, which appears on many Alaska cruise schedules, saw a 48% decrease in its wage base during the cessation of sailings.

In 2021, ships resumed calls on Alaska for the first time in nearly two years. Because Canada was still closed to cruise ships, President Joe Biden signed legislation allowing ships to bypass foreign port calls required by the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

Canada's recent relaxation of cruise ship restrictions means most vessels must, once again, call on at least one foreign port during their itineraries.

This summer, seven of the industry's "big eight" cruise lines — Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises — are headed to the 49th State.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured photo by Doug Parker/Cruise Radio.

Featured image by A crowded sidewalk in Juneau during a busy cruise day (Photo by Doug Parker/Cruise Radio)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.