Alaska vs Norway cruise: what’s different and similar about eachIn:
A cruise ship visit to Alaska and Norway is an ideal way to get a taste of what each of these beautiful parts of the world has to offer, but how do they compare to each other?
I recently took my first cruise to Norway and very quickly the comparisons to Alaska emerged. Given both are cold weather cruising destinations, the parallels are obvious.
However, the more I dug into my Norway cruise, the sooner I saw that while they both are located in the upper latitudes of the globe, they are not as similar a cruising destination as you might expect.
An Alaska cruise and a Norway cruise should be right at the top of your must-do list because of how beautiful these parts of the world are, but they aren't exactly the same. I found far more differences between the two regions than I anticipated before I ever cruised there.
Between my Alaska cruises and my Norway cruise, there are a few important considerations if you are interested in picking either locale for a cruise ship vacation.
Ideally, you'll book a cruise to both Alaska and Norway so that you can enjoy both for what they excel at, but if you're in the market for only one cruise, here's what you should know.
Until transporters from Star Trek are invented, getting to Norway or Alaska for your cruise may sway your decision considerably.
As an American, getting to Alaska for a cruise will always be easier and cheaper than Europe for a Norway cruise.
Flights to Seattle are plentiful across the United States, and while airfare prices are generally higher than ever, a domestic flight to Seattle will always cost less than a flight to the United Kingdom.
Even if you consider an Alaska cruise that begins in Vancouver, it will probably be cheaper than getting to Europe.
Of course, if you live in Europe (or closer to Europe than North America), then a Norway cruise could be quite affordable in terms of flying to where the ship departs from.
Airfare in Europe tends to be quite cheap, especially if you can take one of the various low-cost European carriers, such as EasyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, or Norwegian.
Similar to price, flights will be shorter depending on which embarkation port you live closer to.
Many savvy travelers will save their credit card points for a European vacation to help take the sting out of airfare. In fact, investing in a business class flight could also make sense with credit card points.
An Alaska cruise will take me about 5-6 hours to fly to, whereas a flight to London will come in at 8 or 9 hours from Florida. If you live in the Northeast United States, flight times between New York and Seattle and New York and London aren't that far different.
Ultimately, unless you can drive to Seattle or Southampton, you're probably going to need to fly and it will be a multi-hour ordeal that adds a hefty cost too.
On the surface, Alaska and Norway seem to have similar topography and scenery, but I found that not necessarily to be the case.
Fjords can certainly look similar to a glacier inlet that you'd find in Alaska, but I found when you're not in a fjord, Norway isn't as majestic looking as Alaska.
No matter where you are in Alaska, you're going to be nearly surrounded by tall peaks and an open landscape. I was blown away by the beauty of Alaska from my first visit, and the scale of the mountains and countryside around you cannot be properly conveyed until you see it.
In Norway, cities like Haugesund or Bergen don't have those views or towering vistas.
While the fjords of Gerainger and Olden did resemble the sort of vistas you'd find in Alaska, it was fleeting once your ship left.
That isn't to say Norway isn't beautiful or scenic, because the country is quite lovely and it's quite unspoiled in many areas. In fact, the Scandinavian architecture makes up for what is otherwise quite bland building style of Alaska.
One might even argue the beauty of the fjords while you're in them makes up for whatever mountainous scenery Alaska has elsewhere. Certainly the sail-in for the fjord evoked very similar views that you'd find in a glacier sail-in.
The difference for me was the impressive and soaring land around you in Alaska really stood out, and I wasn't quite as struck by the immense elevation of Norway compared to Alaska.
Where Norway really shines is the rich culture and history of the country.
You'll find small towns and big cities in Norway to visit during your cruise, and there are thousands of years of history you can explore along the way.
Norway's Viking legacy brings all sorts of opportunities to learn and explore, and it's something that extends even to today. Continuing forward to the last couple hundred of years, you'll find art, history, and a culinary tradition that has made Europe appealing for so long as a destination.
Alaska has a long-standing Native American culture that is fascinating to explore, but that's about where Alaska's cultural appeal ends. The Alaska cruise ports tend to be centered around cheesy tourist spots or shopping.
I didn't find Alaskan cultural appeal to be nearly as strong as Norway. It's cities are small, and the entire state is sparsely populated. Don't expect to find high-end restaurants, evocative museums, or a cosmopolitan feel.
This may be one of the appeals of Alaska, that it relies so heavily on its natural beauty as a reason to cruise there, whereas Norway has its natural wonders, along with population centers you can explore in-depth.
This is probably the most simple comparison of the list, because Norway has little to no wildlife you'd be excited to see.
Alaska is known for the amazing animals you can see there: whales, bears, moose, eagles, seals. There's more than that, but a major highlight of any Alaska cruise are the wildlife spotting opportunities.
Alaska is home to more bears than any other state. There are an estimated 100,000 bald eagles in the world, with around 30,000 calling Alaska home. The salmon runs are known around the world for how impressive they are.
Norway, however, doesn't have these sort of animal spotting opportunities. The most exotic animals you'll see on a Norway cruise are sheep and goats.
Neither Alaska nor Norway cruises are going to be the cheapest cruise you can find, but both have shoulder seasons when you can find a deal.
The Alaska cruise season runs from May through September, with the months of June through August representing the peak of the season and the highest prices too.
If you take an Alaska cruise in May or September, you can find bargain basement prices for a cruise, especially the sailings from Vancouver.
Read more: The Best Time to Cruise Alaska Month by Month
Likewise, Norway's cruise season also runs from May through September and it's shoulder season will have better prices if you can sail then.
Both Alaska and Norway aren't cheap once you get there.
Food prices especially are much higher than most travelers might expect. Norway is notorious for expensive food, while an Alaska shore excursion is going to be much more expensive than a Caribbean tour.
Which should you choose: Alaska or Norway cruise?
You should really experience both an Alaska cruise and a Norway cruise because while they both have colder temperatures than the Caribbean or Mediterranean, the each are different enough to warrant separate trips.
Of course, it's not as simple as that for everyone to make happen, given the time and costs associated with both cruises.
In reflecting on my Alaska and Norway cruises, I found the natural beauty and wildlife superior in Alaska, while preferring the cities and history that Norway has to offer.
I found myself more impressed with Alaska's looks, but enamored with the old world appeal of Norway (and Europe, in general).
You won't find a shortage of natural beauty in either cruise, and more than likely a hefty price tag to get to either. But I can all but promise you the journey will be worth it when you get to experience it all yourself.