Gulf of Alaska
On a weeklong Gulf or Glaciers Alaska cruise itinerary, you explore south-central Alaska. These cruises are between either Seward or Whittier (both near Anchorage) and Vancouver. This route doesn't mean you don't visit any of the Inside Passage — you typically call at the same ports, seeing many of the same sights. The big difference is that these cruises are one-way — either northbound or southbound.
The scenery here is dazzling — College Fjord, for instance, is lined with 16 glaciers. Spending a few days pre- or post-cruise in Anchorage or the nearby Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park is highly recommended (cruise-tour packages are available from the cruise lines).
While big ships with thousands of passengers pamper you with every resort amenity imaginable, they tend to visit tried-and-true ports — with shore excursions that include whale-watching excursions and once-in-a-lifetime thrills such as dogsledding on top of a glacier.
A small, casual ship that's following a different kind of Alaska cruise itinerary, meanwhile, typically spends more time in the wild. An example: InnerSea Discoveries has a weeklong itinerary from Juneau on its 86-passenger Safari Endeavour that visits Glacier Bay National Park for two days and other wilderness areas in search of wildlife, including whales. On these cruises you spend more time in kayaks or skiffs than on land.