Seeing it - and Alaska's abundant marine life and tidewater glaciers - is one of the most popular travel options in the state. There are two ways to reach Alaska by sea: cruise ship or ferry.
Cruising is the single most popular way to see Alaska, and for good reason. Cruise companies have operated in Alaska since the early 20th century, and have perfected the art of the Alaska cruise. Cruise visitors travel in all-inclusive comfort on ships of all sizes and on itineraries of varying length, with abundant tour options in established ports of call.
Cruises fall into two basic categories: large ship and small ship cruises. Itineraries to Alaska range from seven days to several weeks, depending on route. Small ships tend to offer more individualized service and custom or specialty itineraries for instance, cruises focused on photography, whale watching or archaeology). Large ships offer lavish entertainment, shopping and extensive tour networks in major ports to create a seamless travel experience.
The Inside Passage is the most popular cruise route in Alaska. The route snakes up Alaska's southeastern coast, guarded from rough seas by hundreds of islands. This area is served by large and small ships alike. The central Alaska coast and the Aleutian Islands are primarily the province of small-ship cruise companies. These more remote regions are known for cultural depth and wildlife - especially birds.
Independent travelers may prefer to see the same scenery by Alaska Marine Highway, the state's ferry system. You can reach Alaska by ferry by embarking in Bellingham, Washington or in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Ferries offer cabins for private, overnight accommodations or public areas for laying out a sleeping bag. Food in dining rooms and cafeterias, onboard naturalists, movies, small gift shops and other entertainment is also available onboard most ferries. Ferries offer the flexibility to stop and explore along the way, and to bring your personal vehicle or RV along for side trips to inland destinations.
The Alaska Marine Highway travels from the Inside Passage across the Gulf of Alaska and all the way out to the Aleutian Islands. Ferries stop in dozens of tiny ports along the way. Most of these towns offer visitor services, and many are off the beaten track, providing a closer look at life in Alaska. (TravelAlaska.com)
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