Stunning landscapes and unspoiled wilderness make an Alaskan cruise a delight.

By Elaine Glusac
April 22, 2009

With more coastline than any other state, Alaska is ideally suited to cruising. A stunning landscape of towering mountains, calving glaciers, and dense pine forests makes Alaska the scenic equivalent―if the climactic opposite―of Greece.

From May through September, most major cruise lines ply Alaska’s Inside Passage, calm straits buffered by islands from the open Pacific. Generally speaking, the larger the boat, the better the deal. And by booking a trip in and out of a homeland port like Seattle―as opposed to an itinerary which requires you to depart from Vancouver and return from Anchorage in what is known in the industry as an “open-jaw ticket” will save you more on transportation.

Holland America offers bargain seven-day cruises in and out of Seattle. For the lowest fares you’ll have an interior cabin, but the best-kept secret about Alaska cruises is that no one spends much time in their staterooms. Instead, daily port visits and scenic perches on-board from the public restaurants to the sports deck keep you up and out nearly as long as the midnight sun.

Eat Smart: Food is included in the price of your cruise, of course, and feasting is a round-the-clock cliché at sea. Book a table at the Pinnacle Grill for a special night aboard the Amsterdam. The reservation-only restaurant specializes in surf and turf served stylishly on Bulgari china.

Port calls offer opportunities to eat locally. Fish and chip stands on the dock in Ketchikan offer fresh fried halibut cheap. In Juneau, look for The Hangar on the Wharf Pub & Grill, where you can watch floatplanes land while noshing on king crab cakes and ginger salmon rice bowls.

Be Fit: Panoramic windows wrap the Amsterdam’s gym, meaning you won’t miss a whale spout while working out on the treadmill or step machines or taking a yoga class. Outdoor activities in port offer loads of fit-minded excursions.

Though you may not want to get in the cold water, you can get on it by kayaking to the offshore Eagle Islands from Ketchikan amid the Tongass National Forest where paddlers commonly sight seals and eagles. From Sitka, sign up for a challenging mountain bike excursion up 500 feet past rushing waterfalls. Back on board, get a massage in the ship’s Greenhouse Spa, then warm up on heated ceramic lounge chairs.

Live Well: Because port excursions booked through the ship’s concierge can add heftily to your bill, look for DIY port tours. Most Alaskan ports, like those on Greek Islands, are small enough to explore solo on foot. For example, the major sites in Sitka including stops at the story-telling totem poles that stake the forest trail at Sitka National Historic Park. In Juneau, check out the for its stellar collection of carving and weaving by native Northwest Coast peoples.