The 49th State, the largest in the U.S., is perfect for cruisers, with numerous opportunities to appreciate its vast natural beauty. Sail along the Inside Passage to visit the immense ice formations of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, as well popular ports such as Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau, the only U.S. state capital that's not accessible by car. Or travel further north to the Kenai Peninsula and nearby Anchorage, a perfect jumping-off point for cruise tours to Denali, Fairbanks and Canada's Yukon. Maybe you'll see a bear!
While many cruisers have their first glimpse of Alaska only through bigger ports such as Ketchikan and Skagway, there have always been those who want to take the route less traveled through the Inside Passage. Enter small ships. Able to dock in isolated bays and tiny cities like Petersburg and Wrangell, small ships provide more intensive -- and usually more expensive -- ways to explore Alaska's coast. Life onboard an Alaska small ship, which typically carries fewer than 100 passengers, is a far more relaxed experience than you find on a standard cruise. You wake up to the sound of birds instead of noise from the balcony next door. Your days consist of kayaking or hiking, rather than shopping and taking helicopter tours. Evenings are spent reading in your room or listening to a naturalist talk. And there's no need to buy a new cocktail dress, although you might spend just as much on outdoor gear. Fortunately for adventurous travelers eager to embark on Alaska expeditions, several cruise companies offer these intimate, nature-focused experiences. Even better, the lines are expanding their fleets, as well as their itinerary and excursion offerings. Here's a look at Alaska's small ship cruises and where they're going.