Often, cruises are similar in the way that they operate, but a cruise to America’s Last Frontier is quite different.
I put together all my BEST Alaska cruise tips to help you plan and have the best cruise. If Alaska happens to be your first cruise ever, congrats, it is a big one and a game changer. Even if you are a seasoned cruiser like myself, there was still a lot to learn along the way.
I hope these tips help you in some way and make your trip smooth sailing.
Alaska Cruise Tips: Everything You Need To Know
WHO is an Alaskan cruise for?
Certainly an Alaskan cruise is for everyone. Alaska is more of an outdoorsy destination and offers a lot of various adventures from easy to strenuous for its guests. One of my Alaska cruise tips is to look at what excursions are available before booking your cruise and make sure you can find something you are comfortable doing.
If you prefer easy to moderate activities, I would make sure that the cruise doesn’t only offer strenuous activities. Alternatively, if you are looking for all the strenuous activities, go for a cruise line that can give you those activities for each of the ports of call.
I would also suggest learning about the cruise line. There are cruise lines that are dedicated to those who want those very active itineraries everyday. You need to decide what you are comfortable with and what you want to see and do on your cruise.
Picking a cruise ship
Largely one of the BEST Alaska cruise tips I can give you is this one. Knowing the size of your ship and where it can actually go is very important. In recent years, larger cruise ships have come into the Alaskan cruise market with many upgraded amenities, things to do on board and a plethora of dining options.
There are pros and cons to picking a cruise ship and ultimately it will come down to two factors: what is most important to you on the boat AND where/what do you want to see on your cruise.
If you want to get into some of the smaller inlets and better chances of seeing some glaciers, I would opt for the smaller cruise ships. This doesn’t mean the bigger ones don’t go there, it just means they can’t go all the way there, and may offer tours on smaller boats to experience these things.
If you are happy seeing anything in Alaska and are looking for a lot of dining options and things to do while on board, I would go with a larger ship.
One of the other things to consider is that smaller ships have less people on them. If you don’t want to be on a very large ship, a smaller one might be better for you.
*I have been on both size ships and I see the benefits of both. I prefer both for various reasons – so it will come down to what you are after for your Alaskan holiday.
Additionally, when deciding on a cruise, pay attention to where your cruise embarks and disembarks. For example, a lot of them start and finish in Seattle. But a lot of them also start and end in various other destinations including Alaska and Canada.
One of my important Alaska cruise tips to make sure you have a passport and/or visa if you are not a resident of a country you need to fly in or out of. For example, I am a US citizen and did not need a passport to board my ship in Seattle, Washington because 1: the cruise started and ended at the same port and 2: the ship did not spend 24 hours in a foreign country.
Deciding when to go
The good news is, cruises to Alaska only run May-September, which is a short window of five months to really cruise there.
While the state is open year round, if your heart is set on going by cruise, then you will need to work with the date availability. The beginning and end of the season have the most temperamental weather. For example: in early June it rained every single day, the visibility was low and it was freezing.
Alaska is cold, but it gets much warmer later in the summer, including the 70’s! However, throw caution to the wind here because the weather can be unpredictable all season, and that is the most important thing I should mention to you in these Alaska cruise tips.
But don’t let the weather ruin your amazing trip. It really just added that Alaskan moodiness to photos and felt like a real Alaskan experience.
I would argue that July and August are probably better months to go with better weather. It would appear that is the case per weather forecasts – but with all things, come prepared just in case.
If you do end up going at the beginning or end of the season, you can find some good deals as the cruise lines are just trying to fill the ships at that point. Take advantage of the deals if you are traveling on a small budget or if you want your money to go further, get the cruise for less and save for excursions.
Ultimately the decision of when to go (assuming you have no other barriers) will come down to pricing or if you want better weather.
Picking a stateroom
Alaska is probably the ONE place in the world that I would recommend a balcony stateroom.
Depending on which cruise you go on, you could be in the inside passage, going through Glacier Bay, or to any other glaciers. I HIGHLY recommend a balcony room just for your own private viewing pleasure. Plus the sunrise and sunsets are amazing. The sun sets pretty late during the summer months and the sky just lights up in vibrant colors.
It is nice to do that from your own balcony.
Additionally, if you get a balcony room, it will have a bit more space than say an inside category. The higher you go up in categories, the bigger the room gets. If having space is important to you, get a suite.
When it comes to Alaska cruise tips, deciding on who you cruise with, your room size and how long you can be confined with them is very important. These Alaskan cruises typically run a week but some are longer.
If you love added luxury, I would go with a suite category. I often find you will get many more amenities (check with the cruise line) such as priority boarding and disembarkation (saving you from having to wait in long lines), special dinners and parties, butler service, private restaurant, bar and/or pool and deck area, etc.
Personally I love the Norwegian Haven for all these benefits and the cruise line has two newer ships on the Alaskan cruise routes right now with this exclusive ship within a ship Haven.
What is the first thing you think of when you think of Alaska? Cold? Snow? Year round winter? That is what I thought before doing all my research and experiencing Alaska on a cruise myself.
Yes, Alaska is and can be cold. It can also be rainy, warm, sunny – it has the potential to be everything. When packing for your Alaskan cruise, I can’t argue enough how well to be prepared.
I packed for every single weather condition and I was good to go – and every weather condition, minus snow, occurred.
Additionally, some cruises offer specialty evenings such as formal nights, 80’s or 90’s parties, the famous “all-white party” or something else they have drawn up. You can always contact the cruise line directly to find this information out.
I would also see if your cruise line has a dress code for any meals. You don’t want to be thrown off guard and discover that dinner is formal each night and you did not come prepared.
Alaska cruise tips packing guide
- Rain coat
- Waterproof shoes or boots
- Hat and gloves
- Pants – bring an insulated pair just in case it is very cold
- Tennis shoes – I would argue to bring 2 pairs just in case one pair gets wet
- Long sleeve shirts for layers
- Warm jacket
- Plenty of socks
- Clothes for warmer weather
- Camera to capture memories
I would argue not to over pack too much because space is limited in your cabin. It won’t be like home in terms of storage space. You will have ample storage and most suitcases and luggage will slide right under the bed. So you can unpack and feel comfortable for the week.
If you are bringing dresses or things that need to be hung up, there is closet space in the cabins and a few hangers. If you need more hangers, you can request them your from housekeeping.
Staying in touch
Cruise lines offer WiFi to their guests now on most ships. One of my favorite Alaska cruise tips to let you in on, is that if you are a US citizen and have cell service in America, your phone will work in the Alaskan ports! Alaska is still the United States and has the capacity and companies for your phone to work.
Additionally, cruise lines offer WiFi for while you are on the ship.
I have seen packages as low as pay by the minute to unlimited for the duration of your cruise. I go with the unlimited package because its the best deal if you need to be online all the time and my job requires me to be. When you get the unlimited package you only pay once and can leave your device logged in for the entire cruise.
Life on board
I know a lot of people have asked if it is scary being on a cruise ship. In short, no. You have to think of cruising as like a floating resort. Often times you never even feel the boat move. The bigger the ship, the more there is to do, which makes walking around the ship truly feel like a destination in itself.
Cruise lines do an excellent job of providing entertainment on board such that you never get bored.
If you want to get the most out of your trip both on and off the ship, Alaska cruise tips suggest participating in some of the available activities on the ship. Depending on who you cruise with, you could find things like Broadway shows, pools, hot tubs, wine tastings, art galleries and auctions, casinos, a spa, gym, game shows, port talks, specialty dining options, themed nights, and so much more.
As far as Alaska cruise tips go, the one guarantee I can give you is that Alaska weather is unpredictable. I checked the weather a week before I left and it said it would be sunny and 65 degrees. Reality: 40-55 degrees, raining, low visibility, and windy. That is a stark contrast from what I read.
Here is the thing – no matter what the weather is, make the best of your time. Of course there was frustration, but eventually you just embrace it. You won’t necessarily have bad weather, but if you do, just enjoy it. You are in Alaska after all and this is normal for them. Just think of it as getting an authentic experience.
What excursions are available to you will largely depend on where your ship goes.
This goes back to selecting a ship. If your heart is set on going to Ketchikan, make sure your ship stops there. If you are happy going anywhere, I would still think long and hard about what you want to get out of your trip.
Do you want to see glaciers, wildlife, city living, learn about the Gold Rush, ride the White Pass, something else? Everything is not available in each port. I would try and narrow down at least one to two things you would like to get from your trip.
One of the top Alaska cruise tips I can give you for planning excursions is: PLAN AHEAD. I know Norwegian Cruise Lines allows you to book your excursions before boarding the ship online. I would look at whoever you are booking with and see if that option is available.
First, you can go through your available excursions on the cruise line website. Read the descriptions, activity level, prices, and whatever information they have given to entice you to book it.
Second, if you can book online before the cruise, I HIGHLY recommend it. Here is why: I boarded my Alaskan cruise very early in the morning and was filling out my excursions card to purchase and some of them were sold out. Sold out before ever leaving the port, before most people were even on the ship. If you cannot book before your cruise, decide which ones you would like before getting on board and book when you get on. The sooner the better. My Alaska cruise tips for getting what you want, is to plan ahead.
Third: pay attention to the small details, such as if your excursion crosses into Canada. If it does, you will need to bring your passport and/or visa with you on that excursion. When we crossed the border, Canadian officials got on board and checked everyone’s documentation.
**Note: if you book an excursion outside of the cruise line, you are responsible for getting back to the boat on time. The ship does leave on its scheduled departure and they will leave without you. The caveat to this is if you are on a tour with the cruise and something happens or you are running late, they do wait. That is the exception.
Will you see wildlife?
Excellent question. The best Alaska cruise tips I can give for this is, I don’t know. There are excursions in Juneau that guarantee sightings of whales and bald eagles are abundant.
As for bears, it is said you have a good chance in July as they are salmon fishing. However, I cannot guarantee sightings of any wildlife.
Each cruise line and route may offer different ports of call. I’ll say this until I am blue in the face, make sure you are on a cruise that is going where you want it to go.
If seeing whales is something you really want to do, there are many excursions in Juneau that guarantee sightings. On the week long cruise I was on, Juneau is the only port that offered this.
If your heart is set on riding the White Pass and learning more about the Gold Rush, make sure you have a stop in Skagway.
Most ports offer some sort of on the water excursion and flights over the area.
Everyone always asks if they will get motion sickness on a cruise. The honest answer: I don’t know. Everyone is very different and a lot of factors come into play here. For example, the bigger the ship, the less you can feel the movement, if there is any. One of my Alaska cruise tips is to pack medications just in case. It could happen to anyone at anytime. It has only happened to me once and I have done 14 cruises I believe.
I will say that the cruise through the inside passage of Alaska was very calm. I don’t think I ever felt the boat move in there.
Additional Alaska cruise tips
- Alaska cruises are very kid friendly
- Wash and sanitize your hands often. There are a lot of people on board touching things all day.
- Book a room in the center of the ship between decks 6-8 if you get seasick or motion sickness easily.
- Book your cruise in the beginning or end of the season for best deals and ad on bonuses.
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