Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises From San Francisco

An Alaska cruise is a dream of many who wish to enjoy the wonders of Alaska. Everything in Alaska seems bigger than in real life. Scenery, wildlife, culture, history and adventure beckon nature lovers to the Last Frontier. If you are considering a trip to the 49th state, we have our Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises from San Francisco to help with your cruise planning.

Seattle and Vancouver might be the two ports that come to mind when thinking about hopping on a cruise to Alaska. Though, another option is the port of San Francisco, quite a bit south of the other two ports.

Ruby Princess Debuts at Port of San Francisco

For that reason, cruising to Alaska from San Francisco will require more time. The advantages of cruising to Alaska from San Francisco include having time to explore San Francisco, having some sea days to relax and plan for port time, and sailing the open sea.

A cruise to Alaska from San Francisco will sail the Pacific Ocean until reaching the Inside Passage where many ships sail along the Southeast Alaska Coast.

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Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises From San Francisco

Which Cruise Lines Cruise from San Francisco to Alaska?

Currently, only two cruise lines, Carnival and Princess, set sail from San Francisco to Alaska each season. The Alaska cruise season generally starts in May and ends in September.

The San Francisco cruise port is located on the Embarcadero. Thus, it’s easy to find shopping, dining and hotels near the port.

All cruises to Alaska from San Francisco are round trip. If you are seeking to do a land tour of Alaska before or after your cruise, you will need to leave from a port like Vancouver.

Be aware that since you will visit either Victoria or Prince Rupert, both ports in Canada, that you should review Canada’s entry requirements. Almost any conviction makes one ineligible for entry into Canada. For example, a DUI is considered a felony in Canada. Do your research in advance.

Where Do Ships Dock in San Francisco for Alaska Cruises?

The James R. Herman Cruise Terminal, Pier 27, opened in 2014. Pier 27 is located on the northern waterfront of The Embarcadero. The terminal is accessible by transit, on foot, or in a vehicle.

The terminal is an approximately 21 minute walk from the Embarcadero BART/Muni station.

Pier 35 is located on the northern waterfront of The Embarcadero, about a 6-8 minute walk north from Pier 27.

Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises From San Francisco

Getting to San Francisco for a Cruise to Alaska

There are several options for getting to San Francisco to start your cruise to Alaska.

By Air – San Francisco has two airports that are convenient to the cruise port.

Oakland (OAK) airport has several airlines including Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, Southwest and Spirit. San Francisco International (SFO) is home to many national, international, and budget airlines.

By Train – Amtrak does not have stations in San Francisco, but three nearby stations are convenient to San Francisco:

  • EMERYVILLE is on the California Zephyr, Capital Corridor, San Joaquins, and Coast Starlight routes. One advantage of this station is that there is bus service to downtown San Francisco included in the train fare. Be sure to select San Francisco as your final destination.
  • HAYWARD is best if you want to travel to south San Francisco, but one benefit for those wishing to explore San Francisco or the area is that there are Enterprise Car Rentals nearby with pick-up service. In addition, there are Uber, Lyft and taxi options.
  • OAKLAND is a stop for San Joaquins, Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight. Just a 10-minute walk from the Amtrak station is a ferry that will take you to the cruise port area of San Francisco.

By Car – There is parking located within walking distance of the cruise terminal. Impark charges cruise guests $20 per calendar day.

How Far are San Francisco Area Airports from the Cruise Port?

San Francisco airport is located 14 miles from the cruise port. Depending on the time of day and traffic, it will take approximately 30 minutes to reach the port.

From Oakland, it’s about 21 miles from the cruise terminal and takes 30 minutes depending on traffic.

Getting to the San Francisco Pier from the Airports

From San Francisco (SFO)

Taxi – Taxis are metered, and there is an airport fee of $5.50 added to the fare. Expect to pay at least $60. If passengers should travel 15 miles beyond the city limits of San Francisco, there is a 150% fare increase. The cruise terminals are within the city limits. There is an option to book a taxi through Uber, which will price match the fares.

Ride Share – Fares for ride share companies depend on so many factors that it is best to check on the fare upon arrival. The following companies offer transport to the cruise port.

  • Lyft and Uber – domestic pick-ups are located on Level 5 of the domestic garage.
  • Wingz – pick-up is located at the departures level of the domestic terminals. Prices vary according to the number of people – up to six can be accommodated and the number of bags. Anything beyond six of each results in higher fares.

Cruise Transfers – Both Carnival and Princess provide service from San Francisco Airport to the cruise terminal. The cost for the Carnival transfer each way is $34.95. Princess charges various amounts depending on ship and departure date. Once you book your cruise, you will be able to see the exact fare.

Public Transportation – BART (Bay Area Regional Transit) does run from the airport to downtown, but it involves walking a distance to the cruise port. The fares make these the least expensive option from the airport, but keep in mind the need for transferring or walking a distance from the closest stop to the port.

Other Options – There are car services and private transfers from SFO to the cruise terminal.

From Oakland (OAK)

Taxi – A taxi ride takes approximately 30 minutes from Oakland Airport to the cruise terminal in San Francisco. A typical fare would cost around $70 depending on traffic.

Ride Share – Lyft, Uber & Wingz pick-ups are located at the 3rdCurb at Sections 3C2-3C9.

Public Transportation – The BART (Bay Area Regional Transit) station is just across the street from the OAK terminals. A quick 8-minute train ride will take you to the Coliseum Bar station. This station has connecting service to all BART destinations. The closest station to the cruise port is the Embarcadero Station. From there you can walk, catch a taxi, or shared ride to the port.

Ferry – There is ferry service from Oakland, but logistics of getting there from the airport makes this a more complicated option.

No matter how you arrive in San Francisco, it’s always a good idea to arrive at least a day prior to your cruise departure. If you plan on taking public transportation or anything involving transfers, it’s a good idea to research your trip before arrival. Who wants to be futzing with figuring out the details after a long journey?


Best Cruise Ships Offering Alaska Cruises from San Francisco

In 2023, you will have the choice of Ruby Princess or Carnival Miracle if you are departing from San Francisco to cruise to Alaska. Princess has many years experience sailing the waters of Alaska.

Ruby Princess carries 3,080 passengers and 60% of its outside staterooms are balconies. Crown Princess will sail in 2024 from San Francisco and also holds 3,080 passengers.

Carnival Miracle is smaller than Ruby Princess with a 2,124 passenger capacity. Carnival is known for their family activities. There is a waterpark on this ship. Do keep in mind that an Alaska cruise attracts a different crowd than a Caribbean cruise.

As you can see, there are advantages to cruising from San Francisco. However, if you are looking for more ship selection, you should consider Seattle, WA or Vancouver, BC as other departure points. There is bound to be a perfect Alaska cruise ship for you and your family.

How Much Do Alaska Cruises from San Francisco Cost?

There are so many variables to consider when trying to determine the cost of an Alaska cruise. Cabin type, cruise line, and time of year factor into the cost. Additionally, Alaska does tend to have higher taxes and fees than other destinations. Good values are often found during the shoulder seasons.

In our analysis, Alaska cruises from San Francisco seem to be a bit pricier than those departing Seattle or Vancouver.

Typically, we recommend cruisers budget around $2,500 to $5,000+ per person for total Alaska cruise costs. Keep in mind, some ships might be more desirable than others, and cruises leaving at peak times of the year are more money regardless of the departure point.

How Long Are Alaska Cruises from San Francisco?

Due to the greater distance to reach Alaska from San Francisco, cruises are longer than those from Seattle or Vancouver. With the extra sea days, cruisers should expect 10-11 day itineraries.

Typical Alaska Itinerary Cruising from San Francisco

Cruises from San Francisco sail to a variety of places in Alaska. Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan are common ports. Some itineraries offer less-visited, but interesting ports, like Haines, Sitka, and Prince Rupert.

Princess offers scenic cruising options, including Glacier Bay National Park, Endicott Arm or Tracy Arm. Carnival does its scenic cruising in Tracy Arm. Check the itineraries for your preference. You won’t go wrong with any.

Glacier Bay National Park

Cruising to see the glaciers is a highlight of any cruise to Alaska. Some ships cruise into Glacier Bay National Park. Only a few permits are offered on a daily basis to limit the number of large ships in the park. Cruise lines like Princess, which have been cruising Alaska for decades get more permits than other cruise lines.

The excursion into Glacier Bay is usually a full-day affair. Park rangers board the ships with displays, books and souvenirs of the experience. They are available to answer questions and also provide commentary.

Other Glaciers

Outside of Glacier Bay, cruise ships do sail to other areas where passengers are able to see glaciers. Once in viewing range, the captain often will rotate the ship so that everybody gets a chance to view the glacier. The captain always has the last say about proceeding to see a glacier. If conditions are not safe, the captain may turn the ship around.

Should conditions not permit glacier viewing, don’t forget that there are shore excursions that include glacier viewings or even glacier landings. Mendenhall, outside of Juneau is a great option.

When to Cruise to Alaska from San Francisco?

The window for cruising to Alaska from San Francisco is from May to September. Alaska is worth cruising anytime during the cruising season. Sailing earlier and later in the season may result in lower fares. With many schools in session during May and late August and September, this might be a good time to sail if you prefer sailing with fewer children on board.

Cruising in the early or late season offers different opportunities: fares may be lower, weather may be clearer, whales may be migrating, and the Northern Lights may be visible.

So, the best time to cruise to Alaska is truly an individual decision based on what you want out of the trip.

What to Pack for a Cruise from San Francisco to Alaska?

Don’t forget that Southeast Alaska is a temperate rainforest. Be prepared for rain. Layering is a good solution for all types of temperatures.

Don’t worry, we have you covered with our complete Alaska cruise packing list.

Exploring San Francisco

One of the best reasons to cruise from San Francisco is to take advantage of the local attractions. The Golden Gate, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Chinatown and the spectacular setting add to the experience.

Sailing away under the Golden Gate is a highlight of cruising from San Francisco.

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Did you find our Complete Guide to Alaska Cruises From San Francisco helpful? Have you cruised to Alaska from this California homeport? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences cruising from San Francisco.

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