River Cruises in Alaska

On a number of occasions, we’ve written about Alaskan cruises (i.e., cruises to Alaska). We’ve written about the cruise lines that offer Alaskan cruises, why people take Alaskan cruises, how to book an Alaskan cruise, and a few other dimensions of vacations to this ever-popular cruise destination. We have not, however, covered river cruises in Alaska in any depth. What exactly is a river cruise in Alaska? What different types of Alaskan river cruises are out there? Does it even makes sense to call it an Alaskan river cruise? We answer these and similar questions about river cruises in Alaska below.

It is perhaps best to begin by addressing why one might want to take an Alaskan river cruise at all. We can tell you all about them, but if you see no reason to take one, our article will have been written largely in vain. At bottom, you might want to take an Alaskan river cruise for the same reasons that you might want to take a standard cruise to Alaska: it’s a beautiful state bursting with wildlife and fantastic landscapes. A visit to Alaska is high on the list of most serious nature enthusiasts, and visiting via cruise is a great way to see large parts of the state in a fairly short period of time. Of course, an Alaskan river cruise allows you to see the beauty of Alaska too, and it does so in a more intimate way. Instead of staying largely to the open sea, as the enormous cruise ships must, an Alaska river cruise, taking place on a smaller vessel, allows you to penetrate deeper into the state, thereby allowing you a closer look at Alaska and all it has to offer. A smaller ship allows you to chart more narrow passageways and hew more closely to the shoreline – therein lies their great advantage.

We have emphasized thus far that Alaskan river cruises use smaller boats, and as a consequence taking a river cruise in Alaska is quite a bit different from taking a regular cruise offered by one of the major cruise lines. The large ships of the leading cruise lines offers tons of activities and entertainment options on board, allowing passengers to weave in and out of enjoying the amenities of the ship and the sights of Alaska. A day of whale watching can be followed by a night in the casino, for instance. Since the boats used for Alaskan river cruises are significantly smaller, they don’t have extensive entertainment options, which means that an Alaskan river voyage is more nature-focused. To be sure, the river boats will still have lodging and dining possibilities, but they generally hold only a few dozen people, so they are drastically smaller than the vessels used for regular cruises.

It is worth mentioning that despite frequent references to and searches for “river cruises” in Alaska, these cruises will largely remain in bodies of water that are not technically rivers. Rather, they are more like coves and bays, which of course rivers and streams flow into, but the bay itself if not actually a river, properly speaking. However, the lines between the two are sometimes mixed, where the innermost part of what is technically some sort of bay is called a river, but then as it moves closer to the sea it becomes a bay. (For instance, when exactly does the Speel River, which runs by the small Snettisham Airport, become a part of Gilbert Bay?) This is hardly a matter of great importance, but we’re fans of linguistic precision, and for this reason we are compelled to point out that “Alaskan river cruises” is at least in some cases a bit of a misnomer.

River cruises in Alaska are essentially more intimate versions of regular cruises to Alaska. The same part of the globe is explored, but a river cruise allows you to investigate an area more thoroughly. This kind of cruise may particularly appeal to those who want to focus on the natural beauty of Alaska, and so we would encourage these individuals to look into these types of trips if they are looking to book a cruise vacation. For more information, check out our article on how to book a river cruise in Alaska.

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