Bargain Alaska cruises for the summer

Elissa Richard

Alaska showcases nature’s majesty on an awe-inspiring scale: soaring snow-capped mountains, vast stretches of verdant forest, calving blue-tinged glaciers, waters teeming with marine life, and wildlife including eagles and moose and bears (oh my!).

Not to mention captivating cultural pockets anchored on old gold rush towns and indigenous Native American communities. And, come summer, it’s all poised for discovery under the lingering midnight sun.

Yes, Alaska wonders are both beautiful and bountiful, but bearing witness to her marvels doesn’t come cheap. The 49th State is notoriously pricey and travelers’ expenses—food, lodging, transport, etc.—can rack up quickly here, making a cruise vacation, with many of those components already bundled into the upfront rates, a decidedly budget-friendly alternative. (Just remember, shore excursions and airfare are extra, so be sure to factor them in to the total trip cost!)

Happily, the Alaska cruise season is soon upon us, with five full months (from May through September) of exciting cruise adventures on the roster, and stiff competition among major cruise lines helping to keep costs down. Read on for five of the season’s most deeply discounted cruise fares (one for each month of the sailing season) from just $399/person (as of publication time).

1. Best for May: Last-Minute Princess Sailings from Seattle from $399

The Itinerary: The seven-night “Inside Passage with Tracy Arm Fjord” cruises round trip from Seattle in May with Alaskan stops in Ketchikan, Tracy Arm Fjord (a scenic passage), Juneau, and Skagway, as well as a call in Victoria, British Columbia. In Juneau, sign up for a splurge-worthy helicopter run and sled ride with Alaska’s beloved huskies on scenic Mendenhall Glacier.

The Cruise Ship: The 2,590-passenger Golden Princess offers five pools, a trio of main dining rooms and performance venues, a dozen lounges and bars, a two-level children's and teen's center, and more.

The Deal: Rates for inside cabins start at $399/person for last-minute May 12 and May 19 departures (normally priced from $749)—or, upgrade to a bargain-rate balcony cabins from $799.

2. Best for June: Royal Caribbean Cruise from Seward to Vancouver from $549

The Itinerary: Sail seven nights from Seward, Alaska, for scenic cruising in the Inside Passage and by Hubbard Glacier, and port calls in Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, and Ketchikan, before disembarking in Vancouver. Choose from some 160 shore excursions, like a whirl on the world’s largest zip-line at Icy Strait Point.

The Cruise Ship: The 2,143-passenger Radiance of the Seas features a 10-story-high glass atrium, the highest percentage of outside cabins in Royal Caribbean’s fleet (perfect for ogling the passing Alaskan panoramas), and a slate of new amenities following a 2011 revamp, which doubled the onboard dining options and added a new nursery.

The Deal: Book the June 7 or June 27 sailing for interior rates from $549/person, or from $799 for ocean view; plus, third and fourth berth rates (perfect for kids) from $349.

3. Best for July: Holland America Voyage with Glacier Bay, from Vancouver—$599+

The Itinerary: This prime summer-season, seven-night “Northbound Glacier Discovery” voyage from Vancouver takes in days at sea in both the fabled Inside Passage and UNESCO-protected Glacier Bay, along with port calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, before disembarking in Seward (near Anchorage). Some 100 shore excursion options are on the roster, like the popular “Five Glacier Seaplane Expedition” in Juneau.

The Cruise Ship: The midsize, musically themed Zaandam accommodates up to 1,432 guests, and comes accented with musical memorabilia like Bill Clinton’s saxophone and guitars signed by Eric Clapton and Iggy Pop. Expect all of the regular onboard diversions (spa, gym, pools, etc.), along with extras like the Culinary Arts Center and Digital Workshop.

The Deal: Rates on the July 7 sailing start from $599/person, with oceanview cabin upgrades for $50 more (a savings of up to 53 percent off of brochure rates). If you’re willing to brave unpredictable shoulder season weather, nab inside cabin rates from just $399 on the May 26 departure.

4. Best for August: Carnival Alaska Cruise from Seattle from $649—Deal Ends 4/30

The Itinerary: Seven-night cruises sail round trip from Seattle to the Tracy Arm Fjord (sailing only), Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan; plus, a stop in Victoria, British Columbia. Head out bear-watching in Ketchikan, or ride the scenic White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in the old gold rush town of Skagway.

The Cruise Ship: Expect all of the Carnival mainstays on the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle: a flashy casino, elaborate production shows, multiple pool areas, numerous dining venues, a spa and fitness facility, plenty of themed lounges and nightspots, and children’s and teens’ programs and spaces, highlighting Alaskan-themed activities.

The Deal: Nab savings with special “Friends and Family” fares (hurry—offer ends on April 30!), reflecting discounts of up to 65 percent off, with interior cabins from $649/person, oceanview from $779, or balcony from $849, on the August 27 itinerary (slightly higher rates apply for other August departures); third and fourth berth rates start from $269.

5. Best for September: Norwegian Voyage from Whittier to Vancouver—$509+

The Itinerary: The 7-night “Sawyer Glacier” sailing departs Whittier, Alaska, on September 2, cruising through the Inside Passage and past Sawyer Glacier and Hubbard Glacier, and calling upon Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Icy Strait Point; the ship disembarks in Vancouver. Sign up for the “Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest” in Juneau and embark on a catamaran ride in search of whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and more.

The Cruise Ship: On the 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun, a laid-back, flexible atmosphere permeates the colorful and cheerful decor, spilling over into a dozen dining venues, numerous bars and lounges, and blockbuster entertainment venues. Families will appreciate a top-notch sporting complex and ample children’s programming, as well as a teens’ center and kids’ pools.

The Deal: Book the September 2 sailing for inside cabins from $509/person, or from $629 for oceanview; plus, a new sale (running April 28 through May 4) promotes free kids’ fares.