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Which Side of Cruise Ship is Best for Alaska?

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Port or Starboard – which side of the cruise ship should you choose for your Alaska cruise?

Once you have made the decision to book your bucket list Alaska cruise you do need to give some thought about the type and location of your stateroom.

This choice can seriously impact your cruise experience.

There are a number of things to take into account. Here we break it down so that you can make the right choice for you and your family.

What are Port and Starboard?

Put simply, port is the left-hand side of the ship and starboard is the right when you are looking toward the front, or forward as it is known, of the ship.

whichsideisbest onalaskaruise

Why do we have to use different words when we are on a ship? Doesn’t that just make it more confusing?

The words port and starboard are used to make things less confusing!

Obviously, it is vitally important that everyone knows exactly which side of the ship you are talking about. And this needs to be easy, regardless of which direction the ship is sailing.

The word starboard has a long seafaring history going back to the times of simple dugout canoes.

Most people are right-handed so the steering paddle would be on the right-hand side of the boat. This evolved into the rudder which became known as the ‘steorbord’ in Anglo-Saxon.

Steobord eventually became starboard.

As boats increased in size it became easier to tie the boat up to the dock on the side opposite the rudder. This “loading side” became known as the larboard.

Now larboard could be pretty easily confused with starboard.

So it became known as the port side.

How Do You Remember Which Side is Which?

At first, it can be difficult to remember which side is which, but there are a couple of tricks to help you,

The simplest way is that the word “port” has four letters and so does the word “left”.

Or you can remember that Starboard has more “r’s” in the word than port does. So more r’s must mean right,

Which Side of the Ship is Best for an Alaska Cruise?

It depends!

Many Alaskan cruises start from one port, usually Seattle or Vancouver, and return to the same port.

Which Side of Cruise Ship is Best for Alaska

You will loop around so if you miss the views on one side when you are sailing north, you will see them whilst sailing south.

Therefore the side of the ship that you choose really doesn’t matter on many Alaskan cruises.

However, some cruises in Alaska sail one way – either north or southbound. Then your choice of either the port or starboard side for your stateroom is more important.

If you are sailing northbound on an Alaska cruise you will be sailing through the Inside Passage up the coastline.

Therefore the best views are more likely to be on the starboard side of the ship, so you should choose a verandah stateroom on that side of the ship.

If you are sailing southbound you should choose the port side as this side will face the coastline.

If you are sailing into a Glacier such as Hubbard or Dawes Glacier it won’t matter which side of the ship that you have a stateroom for your Alaska cruise.

The reason is that the ship rotates a full 360 degrees so that all sides will get a great view of the Glacier.

Are Forward or Aft-Facing Staterooms the Answer?

There is one other option to consider.

Don’t have your stateroom on either side of the ship – book a forward or aft-facing verandah stateroom for an Alaskan cruise.


Many ships which sail in Alaska offer the option of these stateroom locations.

However, others such as Disney Wonder do not.

I have sailed many times in both aft and forward-facing verandah staterooms. They are my preferred location, particularly with Princess cruises.

There is nothing quite so relaxing as watching the wake from your balcony. although some cruisers do find these cabins a bit too noisy.

grandprincess aft facing cabins
Crown Princess Aft-Facing Balcony Cabins

These staterooms have a fabulous location for any cruise destination but are particularly great for Alaska cruises.

My personal favorite is the aft-facing staterooms. However, not everyone feels this way.

If you are prone to seasickness you really should avoid the aft-facing cabins.

There is often considerably more movement towards the aft of the ship, particularly on the higher decks.

Forward-facing verandahs are another great option. However, they also experience more movement so be aware of this when you are thinking about booking this option.

The aft and forward-facing verandahs are usually the first to sell out when cruises, particularly the Alaskan cruises, are released.

They are often also in one of the highest-priced verandah categories.

Which Side Do Ships Dock in Alaska?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this one.

It is unlikely that you can know for sure which side a ship will dock.


There are many factors that determine this, but at the end of the day, the ultimate decision is for the Captain to make.

And just because you dock one way in at one time doesn’t mean that you will do the same next week.

Factors that determine which way a Captain docks the ship in Alaska, and indeed in any location include:

  • The layout of the port.
  • Which direction you approached the port from.
  • How many other ships are in port and how each has to be arranged in relation to each other.

Think About the Sunrise and the Sunset

One of the most amazing experiences on any cruise is watching the sunrise or sunset.

As with the advice for the best side of the ship in Alaska generally, this also applies to the sunrise and sunset.

For Alaskan cruises which loop around on their return trip, it won’t matter which side of the ship you are on as you will experience the sunrise one way and the sunset the other.

Sunrise on an Alaskan Cruise

However, for most people, it is more likely that you will experience a sunset than a sunrise.

Unless you are a very early riser!

Particularly in Alaska when the sun can rise as early as 3.45 am.

The good news is that the daylight hours in the Alaskan cruise season are long. You can experience a sunrise at 3.45 am and a sunset at 10.09 pm.

What if you aren’t on an Alaskan cruise that loops around?

If you are heading north or west you should choose the port side. If you are an early riser then go for starboard.

Take the opposite approach if you are heading south or east. Choose the port side for sunrises and the starboard for sunsets.

Is it Worth Getting a Balcony on an Alaskan Cruise?

This is a question that gets asked a lot.

Is a balcony worth it on an Alaskan cruise?

Sailing Out of the Port of Vancouver

The answer of course depends upon our budget and the price difference between the different options.

I have sailed on Alaskan cruises many times and each time I have had a balcony stateroom. And I have always thought that the upgrade price was well worth it.

For me.

But the decision is a very personal one and you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of an inside stateroom on an Alaskan cruise.

I spent many hours, a great proportion of the hours spent sailing, on the verandah. That is one of the things that I really enjoyed about the experience.

However, if a verandah is not within your budget, or you simply don’t think that you will spend a lot of time sitting on your balcony, then save the money. The savings really can be significant.

A balcony is certainly a very very nice option on an Alaskan cruise, but it is not essential.

Look at the design of the ship that you are thinking about booking and see which spaces there are, both indoor and out, that you will be able to enjoy the amazing Alaskan scenery if you do not have an inside stateroom.

You can then spend the savings on some amazing Alaskan excursions. Or another cruise!