Small Ship Alaska Cruise: You CAN Go This Summer

February 11, 2021

hanus bay alaska

Americans are experiencing some serious cabin fever. Like many others, not only were all my 2020 trips canceled, but my scheduled travel and tours for spring and summer of 2021 have been either delayed or canceled. But…if you’re looking for a spectacular place where you CAN go this summer, consider a small ship Alaska cruise.

In 2016, I took a small ship cruise throughout Alaska’s Inside Passage with AdventureSmith Explorations. I was one of only eight passengers on AdventureSmith’s über-custom voyage of Alaska’s Wild Coast. The historic, small, intimate ship explored the most remote wilderness areas for up-close wildlife encounters and enriching cultural experiences.

small ship alaska cruise

The Boomer Blondes, Patti & Alison, crushing it at the glaciers in Alaska’s Inside Passage!

RELATED: 15 Reasons to Take Small Ship Alaska Cruises. The Last is Life-Changing. | Luggage & Lipstick

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve gone on trips with dozens and dozens of tour groups over my lifetime. My readers trust me to give them honest information. As such, I want you to know that AdventureSmith is one of only two tour groups that get my Perfect 10 rating. They simply cannot be improved. Their “think outside the boat” motto and unique selection of small ship expedition cruises and wilderness adventures all over the world are heralded as among the best in industry, and Alaska’s Wild Coast is just one of their many offerings.

You may have heard that Canada recently banned Alaska-bound cruises. Sadly, Canada’s order will be devastating for Alaska’s tourism sector. But the good news is that the ban does not affect AdventureSmith’s intimate cruise experiences.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Todd Smith, president and founder of AdventureSmith Explorations to explain the ban as well as the future for ASE trips. Todd has traveled throughout the world working as a guide and manager for small ship cruise lines and prominent ecotourism operators. Todd founded AdventureSmith in 2003 and is a recognized industry leader in small ship cruising Todd has been featured on Lonely Planet, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, and Condé Nast Traveler‘s Annual Top Travel Specialists.

In a nutshell, what will the Canada ban do?

The recent announcement from Transportation Canada extends a previous ban on cruise ships carrying over 100 passengers (and 12 passengers in Arctic Canada) from operating in Canadian waters until Feb 2022.

Will the Canada ban impact AdventureSmith’s Alaska cruises?

Our Alaska Small Ship Cruises are largely unaffected and are scheduled to operate this summer. Some early and late season positioning cruises from Seattle had already been eliminated prior to this announcement.

Why are Alaska small ships exempt?

Many Alaska small ships are exempt because they are US Flag and operate entirely domestic itineraries within Alaska. Foreign flagged ships are required by maritime law to make a stop in a foreign port. So, larger ship cruises originating in Seattle or Vancouver are affected by the ban.

Is there current interest in your Alaska cruises?

Yes. Interest began picking up in October and in January we saw a large increase in Alaska bookings. Since the announcement last week, we have been contacted by many travelers who were canceled from Alaska cruises aboard big ships. With many travelers rebooked from summer 2020, availability could become an issue, but for now, there are still cruises available.

small ship alaska cruise

Tenekee Inlet

RELATED: An Alaska Family Adventure Cruise | The Momiverse

Can you explain small cruise vs. big cruise?

The term small ship cruise means many things to different people. At AdventureSmith Explorations, we define a small ship cruise as one with the ability to get off the ship away from port. Small ships go where the big ships cannot, cruising up close to shore in search of wildlife, adventure, and solitude. Aboard a small ship, you will get off the ship to hike, kayak, and explore by small craft in the company of naturalist guides. I like to say that big ships are focused inward, on what is on the ship. While small ships are focused outward, on the destination. For a more detailed comparison, I recommend Small Ship vs Big Ship – What is the Difference?

small ship alaska cruise

Here are 5 reasons to do a small ship Alaska cruise:

  1. Small ships have more space. This may be counterintuitive, but you will experience less crowding aboard a small ship with 36-100 guests with plenty of room on deck or in the salon to have a moment to yourself. Plus, you have endless open space and wilderness to explore off the ship each day.
  2. Small ships are active. Every day offers a new opportunity for adventure. Spend days exploring on beach walks, forest hikes, sea kayaking expeditions, and zodiac excursions in search of wildlife. Excursions are flexible to suit all ability levels so you can be as active or relaxed as you wish. Each evening, return to a gourmet meal, a hot shower, and a good night’s sleep while the ship repositions for another day of adventure.
  3. Experience authentic Alaska. When booking an Alaska cruise most travelers dream of glaciers, whales, bears, and eagles. The wildlife and solitude that people envision are found between ports, not in them. Flexible itineraries mean you can linger longer when a pod of whales is encountered, or if a glacier is calving icebergs into the sea.
  4. Small ships are intimate. Get to know your fellow guests and crew by sharing a once in a lifetime experience together. Small groups of twelve or less explore ashore at their own pace. Sit and listen to the solitude of nature only available away from crowds and the hum of the engines.
  5. You’ll fall in love. We consider Alaska, along with the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica to be “gateway destinations” where cruisers are first introduced to this unique style of travel. Once you experience a small ship cruise you’ll be hooked for life.
baranof island alaska

Sitka, Alaska

RELATED: Baranof Island: Alaska’s Adventure Destination | Huffington Post 

What are your most popular Alaska cruises?

This is a tough question. We specialize in working personally with each client to match them with the best cruise for their interests, ability, and budget. A high adventure expedition might not be the best for someone looking for relaxed cultural interactions, and vice versa. But here are three of our most popular cruises with broad appeal to all travelers:

polar bear plunge

Patti taking a polar bear plunge at Scenery Cove, Alaska

RELATED: Alaska Excursions: Adventure Tour on the Wild Coast | Luggage and Lipstick

What are some of the activities offered on your cruises?

Off-vessel activities are at the heart of a small ship Alaska cruise. The most common adventure activities include beach walks, backcountry hikes and treks, sea kayaking, and small craft excursions by zodiac. Activities and cruising are focused on wildlife watching such as viewing bears fishing at a salmon stream or watching whales in rich marine feeding grounds. Some specialized cruises offer activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, polar bear plunges in icy water, and even snorkeling. Of course, if you’re getting wet you might want to warm up with a soak in a backcountry hot spring or an onboard jacuzzi or sauna.

RELATED: Responsible Bear Viewing in Alaska | Luggage & Lipstick

Alaska's Wild Coast

Photo by Pacific Catalyst

Are there any requirements or recommendations regarding Covid 19?

Currently, travelers to Alaska must arrive with proof of a qualifying negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours old. See https://covid19.alaska.gov/travelers/ for the most up to date requirements. While testing is available upon arrival, we recommend travelers test before their flight and arrive with your negative test in hand. As with any big trip take precautions to ensure your health prior to arrival. We can recommend mail-in tests for travelers not able to obtain a 72-hour test in their community. Once you arrive, you’ll face many of the same requirements as at home such as social distancing and face coverings indoors and whenever social distancing is challenging.

Alaska cruises in 2021 may offer the rare opportunity to experience Alaska without the typical summer crowds. For the travelers that do make it, it promises to be the trip of a lifetime.

You can read about my personal experience with testing and travel in Alaska from a small ship cruise last August – “I Took an Alaska Small Ship Cruise During Covid-10

small ship alaska cruise

Enjoying the hot springs after an island hike.

RELATED: Things To Do and Eat in Alaska For A Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Trip: Epicure & Culture

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.

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