Alaska Cruise Tips That Will Help You Plan a Regret-Free Cruise

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Planning an Alaska cruise brings excitement and a bit of overwhelm, especially when it’s your first time venturing into the magnificent wilderness of the north. Yet questions loom—what do we pack? How do we prepare for the cold, the excursions, and the Alaskan ports? This is exactly why I’ve put together a bunch of Alaska cruise tips for you—think of it as your go-to guide so you can avoid Alaska cruise mistakes.

Our trip into Alaska’s embrace was a leap out of our comfort zone, far removed from the familiar warmth of Caribbean or Mediterranean cruises. The best travel experiences, we’ve found, often come from stepping into the unknown and embracing the new.

One of the biggest tips we can offer right from the start is to book your excursions early. Alaska’s popular activities, like dog sledding, whale watching, and glacier hikes, fill up fast, and securing your spot early can make or break your experience. We delayed booking a dog sledding excursion, and everything was sold out when we were ready to book. So, I started to stalk opening slots of all the dog sledding tours until two opened up.

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In this post, I’m excited to share essential Alaska cruise tips and the lessons we learned—all aimed at helping you plan the best Alaskan cruise vacation.

Plan and Book Your Alaska Cruise Early

Norwegian Encore cruise ship seen in the distance from Juneau Cruise PortPin
Norwegian Encore in Juneau Cruise Port.

Start planning as soon as possible to snag the best rates, itinerary, and cabin for your Alaska cruise. The high demand for Alaska cruises means that the best spots and adventures book up quickly, especially during the peak season. We locked in our cruise a year out, which paid off when we saved a bundle during a flash sale and secured our cabin.

Tip: Watch those dates because a little wiggle room can lead to big savings or better availability. And don’t stop there; after booking, look for price drops or special offers—you can rebook before the final payment and save money.

While last-minute deals can be tempting, they often mean compromising on excursion options and cabin location. A bit of forethought can make a difference in crafting your perfect Alaskan adventure.

A common mistake is delaying your booking decision, risking increased prices, or missing out on the cruise altogether.

Read more: Kep Steps for Planning a Cruise Vacation

Picking the Perfect Time for Your Alaska Cruise

Rainy day in Juneau in August.

Deciding when to set sail for Alaska is a personal choice, deeply influenced by what you want to get out of your journey. Whether you’re chasing the sun, aiming to avoid the rain, or longing for quieter moments, each part of the cruise season offers something special.

Keep in mind that the weather can be unpredictable in Alaska.

  • Early Season (April-May): Kick off the season with fewer crowds and enjoy the budding beauty of Alaska’s landscapes. April showers are less frequent but cooler, and some passages may remain inaccessible. It may usher in milder weather and great deals as the season gradually picks up.
  • Peak Season (June-July): Long, bright days in June attract many, bringing vibrant life to Alaska’s wilderness—ideal for sightseeing and outdoor pursuits. July, meanwhile, is prime time for wildlife enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of Alaska’s fauna in full activity.
  • Late Season (August-September): If you don’t mind a bit of rain, August offers warmth and the full bloom of Alaska’s natural splendor amidst the peak tourist season. Come September, the crowds dwindle, the air turns crisp, and the fall colors create a spectacular backdrop for explorers.
  • End of Season (October): For the intrepid soul, October serves up cool temperatures, stunning deals, and serene landscapes. Though the tourist buzz fades, the chance to witness the Northern Lights emerges, offering a magical end to the cruise season.

Alaska Cruise Tip: Carefully consider what you wish to experience—vibrant wildlife, serene snowscapes, or the aurora’s dance. Avoid the pitfall of sailing too late in the season unless you’re prepared for a quieter, colder cruise focused more on the landscape’s serene beauty than bustling port activities.

Seattle or Vancouver: Where to Kick Off Your Alaska Cruise

kathy enjoying the seattle skyline after embarking on the shipPin
Cruising out of Seattle.

One of the first big decisions is where to embark—Seattle, with its postcard-worthy Puget Sound views, or Vancouver, buzzing with its urban charm and gateway to the Rockies. A third option embarks in Anchorage or Seward.

  • Ease of Travel: Both spots are winners with easy access and plenty of cruise options.
  • Passport: For U.S. Citizens on round-trips, cruising from Seattle can avoid the passport requirement. But heading out from Vancouver? Don’t forget that passport.
  • Extended Stay: Want to see more of Alaska? Consider choosing an Alaskan cruise itinerary that starts or ends in Anchorage or Seward.

Pro Tip for first-time Alaska cruisers: Avoid the hassle of tricky-to-reach departure points.

Balcony Cabin: A Must-Have for Your Alaska Cruise

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Enjoying our balcony cabin cruising Glacier Bay.

Splurging on a balcony cabin for your Alaska cruise is worth it. Imagine waking up to the sight of glaciers and mountains or spotting wildlife right from the comfort of your room. A balcony offers you a private slice of Alaska’s vast beauty, far from the hustle of crowded decks.

Quick Tip: Request an extra blanket from your room attendant—it’s a game-changer for those chilly mornings spent marveling at the scenery with a warm cup of coffee.

Our own experience? Unforgettable. Breakfast on the balcony as Glacier Bay unfolded before us was magical. The intimate view of nature’s wonders, from floating ice chunks to the echo of glaciers calving, is something an inside cabin can’t match.

Remember: Opting for an inside room or one with an obstructed view might save a few bucks, but it robs you of Alaska’s immersive experience. Public viewing spots can’t replicate a balcony view’s serene, personal experience.

Choosing the Right Cruise Line and Ship for Your Alaska Journey

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Princess and Holland America ships docked in Juneau, Alaska.

Selecting the best cruise for your Alaska adventure goes beyond just picking a season or cabin type; finding the cruise line and ship that match your travel style is crucial.

Certain lines—like Princess and Holland America—are celebrated for their Alaskan voyages, offering itineraries and experiences tailored to showcase the region’s breathtaking beauty and unique culture.

The size of the ship plays a big role in your experience, too. Larger vessels come packed with amenities but might lack the coziness and access to smaller ports that smaller ships provide. It’s all about what you value more: extensive onboard activities or a more personal, close-up encounter with Alaska’s natural wonders.

A Lesson Learned: On our maiden Alaska voyage with NCL’s mega-ship, we wished for the intimacy a smaller ship could have offered. It didn’t make us love Alaska any less, but it taught us to weigh our options more carefully for the next time.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cruising in Alaska. A bit of research can help you discover the cruise line and ship that best fits your dream Alaska experience.

Maximize Port Time for an Unforgettable Alaska Cruise

A vital tip for anyone planning an Alaska cruise is to choose an itinerary that gives them the most time ashore. Alaska’s real magic lies in its ports.

Start by comparing the cruise lengths and the port stops. More time in port means more opportunities to immerse yourself in the breathtaking Alaskan landscape and its culture. Aim for itineraries that grant you a full day—or ideally more—in each location. This pace allows for deeper exploration, whether pairing a morning of whale watching with an afternoon railway adventure through scenic vistas.

Beware this Common Mistake: Booking a cruise that skimps on port time can leave you feeling rushed and regretful. We learned this hard, constrained by shorter stops in Juneau and Ketchikan and a mere four hours in Victoria, Canada. While we made every moment count, the experience taught us the value of choosing a cruise that prioritizes ample port time.

Packing for Your Alaska Cruise: Expect the Unexpected

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The day we were in Glacier Bay was the coldest day. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece hoodie, a shacket, a hat (I never wear them), and fingerless gloves. My packable water-resistant puffer was nearby.

Here’s the deal: the weather’s as unpredictable as a plot twist in your favorite mystery novel. Even in summer, Alaska can surprise you with a sunny 70-degree day before flipping the script to cooler, rainier scenes. So, packing layers is important—think rain gear for those drizzly days in Juneau and cozy, warm stuff for the chillier moments in Glacier Bay.

A week before you set sail, do a quick weather check to fine-tune your packing list. Trust me, it’s a game-changer.

Are you planning to trek across the stunning Alaskan terrain? Hiking shoes are a must. Are you dreaming of dog sledding across a glacier? An insulated jacket will be your hero when the temperature dives.

Big Misstep to Avoid: Don’t get caught thinking an Alaskan summer is like lounging in the Caribbean sun. Alaska and the Caribbean are like apples and oranges—both sweet but oh-so-different. Alaska’s all about embracing nature’s raw, awe-inspiring beauty, while the Caribbean has that laid-back beach vibe.

Don’t leave that swimsuit behind! Surprisingly, sunny days are perfect for pool lounging and soaking in a warm hot tub. Plus, many ships boast an indoor pool, ensuring you get that swim-in, come rain or shine.

Why Binoculars Are a Must-Have on Your Alaska Cruise

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Packing for Alaska? Make room for a pair of binoculars. Trust me, they’re going to be your unexpected MVP. You might doubt how much you’ll use them, but once you’re on board, gazing at the stunning vistas, those binoculars will be glued to your eyes.

The chance to zoom in on a bald eagle perched in the distance or catch a whale breaching the water’s surface? Unbeatable. And watching a glacier calve – that thunderous roar followed by a splash, all seen up close through your lenses? It’s the kind of stuff that gives you chills in the best way.

We were skeptical about needing them, thinking they might add unnecessary weight. But boy, were we wrong. Our binoculars became our go-to to take in Alaska’s beauty up close.

What You Don’t Want to Miss: Skipping on binoculars or forgetting that zoom lens for your camera is a slip-up you’ll regret. Alaska’s grandeur is in its details – and you’ll want a front-row seat.

Read more: Alaska Cruise Packing List of Must-Have Essentials

Why You Should Book Alaska Excursions Early

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One of our favorite excursions was the White Pass Scenic Railway in Skagway. It was part of an all-day excursion we took up to the Yukon.

You might get away with winging it for shore excursions in the Caribbean or Mediterranean. Alaska, though? It’s a whole different ball game. Here’s why booking in advance isn’t just a tip—it’s a must.

The most sought-after experiences, such as dog sledding, glacier hikes, and kayaking, are hot tickets. Wait too long, and you might miss out. Securing these adventures early means you get your pick of the lot, allowing you to tailor your trip to be as thrilling or chill as you like.

Getting your excursions locked in early means you’re set to squeeze every drop of joy out of your port days, hitting all the must-sees without a hitch. And while booking through your cruise might be the simplest route, don’t overlook planning some shore excursions independently. You may save some money.

A Word of Caution: Assuming you can snag a tour or hail a cab last minute in Alaska could leave you stranded or missing out. They weren’t easily available upon disembarking at port.

Our own experience? We used Lyft for a spontaneous trip to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau when an excursion fell through, and it was seamless. But remember, options like Lyft or Uber can also be limited in these parts.

Pro Tip: Dive into some pre-cruise research on your ports of call. Knowing what you want to do and how you’ll get there can make a difference without the stress of scrambling for plans at the last minute.

Snapshots of Alaska: A Camera Is a Must-Pack Item

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You’re surrounded by beauty, so not only was I busy taking photos of the Glacier, but you also have to turn the camera the other way or you’ll miss something.

Make sure a quality camera is on your packing list. Trust me, Alaska’s vistas are too stunning not to capture.

Don’t have a fancy camera? No stress. Your smartphone can be your lens to the world, or consider renting camera gear for the trip. It’s an affordable way to ensure you have the right equipment without committing to a big purchase. We’ve had great experiences with for adding just the right gear to our kit without breaking the bank.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re snapping pics with a rented DSLR or your phone; the goal is to preserve those once-in-a-lifetime sights. Alaska’s beauty is unparalleled, and you’ll want to relive and share these memories with friends and family.

Key Tip to Remember: Not bringing any camera along is a move you’ll likely regret. Alaska’s splendor is something you’ll want to capture and keep forever.

Early Riser Tips for Your Alaska Cruise Adventure

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Woke up early one morning and was blessed with a spectacular sunrise.

If you’re not usually up with the dawn, trust me, you’ll want to reset your alarm for your Alaska cruise. Something magical about those early hours makes rising with the sun worth it.

Here’s why you’ll love being an early bird in Alaska:

  • Morning Serenity: There’s a special kind of quiet in the early morning; it is a peaceful start before the day’s excitement kicks in. It’s a perfect time for a leisurely breakfast and snagging the best viewing spots for wildlife without the crowd.
  • First Off the Ship: Your ship often pulls into port early. Being ready to go means you’re among the first to disembark, giving you a head start on your day’s adventures and excursions.
  • Maximize Your Port Days: Every minute counts, especially on shorter port days. Getting up early ensures you make the most of every moment ashore.
  • Sunrise Views: There’s nothing like an Alaskan sunrise painting the sky in colors you must see to believe. It’s an unforgettable sight and a photographer’s dream.

Snooze You Lose: Hitting snooze can mean missing out on some of the best experiences of your Alaska cruise. Every moment is precious, and with the stunning views and experiences waiting for you, you’ll find that getting up early enriches your trip in ways you never imagined.

Navigating the Bustle of Alaska’s Cruise Ports

Alaska’s cruise season is busy, with ships from Seattle, Vancouver, and other ports bringing eager adventurers to its shores. Given the popularity, the ports can get pretty crowded.

To navigate this and ensure a smooth experience at each port:

  • Book Your Excursions Early: This is key to securing your spot on the best tours and avoiding the disappointment of sold-out activities.
  • Be an Early Bird: Getting off the ship as early as possible can give you a head start on your day’s adventures. We’ve found that disembarking early means less waiting and more exploring.
  • Plan Ahead: Having an itinerary or a rough plan helps you make the most of your time at each port.
  • Seek Out the Road Less Traveled: Don’t be afraid to venture beyond the main attractions. Sometimes, the most memorable experiences are found off the beaten path.

Our morning in Ketchikan is a perfect example. Among the first to disembark at 7 a.m., we enjoyed Jellyfish Donuts without the crowds and had a peaceful stroll down Creek Street. But as more ships docked and passengers disembarked by noon, the difference was night and day; cruisers were everywhere.

Getting up with the sun and having a clear plan meant we experienced Alaska’s ports in the best way possible—crowd-free and at our own pace.

Try the Local Cuisine in Alaskan Ports

a feast of alaskan king crab legs and beer battered shrimp with fries in Ketchikan, AlaskaPin

A feast of Alaskan king crab legs and beer-battered shrimp with fries in Ketchikan, Alaska.

When cruising Alaska, do yourself a favor and step beyond the ship’s dining hall to taste the local flavors. Alaska’s bounty is rich with seafood that’s as fresh as it gets. Think succulent salmon, hefty king crab legs, and much more waiting to tantalize your taste buds.

The key to unlocking the best culinary experiences?

  • Chat up the locals. They’re your golden ticket to discovering the top spots for a memorable meal.
  • If you want to explore the culinary scene in depth, consider booking a food tour. It’s a fantastic way to sample various local dishes and learn about the culinary culture.

Our own food adventures led us to some incredible finds. In Ketchikan, a local shopkeeper sent us to the Alaska Fish House, where the salmon chowder and fish and chips were spectacular. In Juneau, a Lyft driver’s tip led us to Tracy’s Crab Shack for some of the best Alaskan King Crab legs we’ve ever had. And although we just missed out on trying the Fry Bread at Klondike Doughboy in Skagway, it’s on our list for next time.

A Foodie Caution: Limiting your dining experience to the cruise ship is a missed opportunity. Sure, onboard meals are convenient and included, but they can’t replicate what you can find in ports. Venturing out enriches your travel experience and supports local eateries and the economy.

Maximizing Your Alaska Cruise Experience with Onboard Learning

One of the standout features of cruising through Alaska is the knowledge you can soak up right on the ship. Top cruise lines often feature engaging onboard activities and presentations that dive deep into Alaska’s rich tapestry, from its fascinating wildlife and history to the complex geology that shapes its stunning landscapes.

During our journey, we were treated to an enlightening talk by a visiting park ranger while sailing through Glacier Bay. The ranger shared insights on Alaska’s diverse wildlife, intriguing history, and the geological wonders that make the region special. This talk wasn’t confined to just one area; it was accessible throughout the ship, even from the comfort of our own cabin via TV.

Sea days were anything but dull. Audio lectures on Alaska’s past enhanced our knowledge as we enjoyed the ship’s amenities or gazed at the scenery passing from the Observation Lounge or The Waterfront. It’s a dynamic way to connect deeper with the places you’re visiting, adding layers of understanding and appreciation to the visual splendors of Alaska.

Soaking in Alaska’s Incredible Beauty is a Must-Do

kathy admiring margerie glacier alaska cruisePin

While I was admiring this beauty, many were inside, completely missing the magic. We even witnessed a chunk of ice crumble from the glacier, accompanied by a loud cracking, thunder-like sound.

Hopping on an Alaska cruise catapults you into some seriously jaw-dropping scenery. But here’s the thing: to get the full, mind-blowing effect, you’ve got to step away from the cozy cabin and put the phone down. I mean, we peeked out during our Glacier Bay day, and wow, some folks were missing the glacier grandeur for a game of Candy Crush or a buffet plate.

Let’s get real—Alaska’s not just another pretty postcard. It’s alive. Bald eagles overhead, whales putting on a show, and those mountains? Unreal. Make it a point to hang out on deck or venture out in port. And why not throw in some hiking, kayaking, or even whale watching? Getting close to Alaska’s wild side isn’t just fun; it feels like you’re part of something epic.

What You Don’t Want to Miss: Ignoring Alaska’s outdoors is like ordering and not eating a cake. The ship’s amenities are cool but no match for the once-in-a-lifetime sights waiting outside your door.

🚢 Book a cruise sailing to Alaska

The Best Top-Value Alaska Cruises w/ Extra Bonuses!

What are some tips for taking an Alaskan cruise?

  • Planning and booking early is important when taking an Alaskan cruise, including shore excursions, as they sell out quickly.
  • If you can book a balcony, you’ll only enhance your experience.
  • Pack appropriately for the weather and outdoor activities.
  • Don’t forget to bring binoculars and a camera to capture memorable moments. Look out for wildlife while exploring the ports and waterways.

Can you wear jeans to dinner on an Alaskan cruise?

Jeans and sneakers for dinner on an alaskan cruisePin

On a non-formal night, I wore jeans and sneakers to eat in the main dining room on an Alaskan Cruise. It was not a formal night.

Yes, you can wear jeans to dinner on an Alaskan cruise. Alaska cruises tend to be more about being comfortable and casual rather than dressing up. However, some cruise lines have dress codes for formal nights, so check with your cruise line before packing.

Read more: What Cruise Ship Attire Not to Wear

Which side of the ship is better for an Alaska cruise?

You can’t go wrong with either side of the ship as you’re surrounded by beauty. We were happy with our portside cabin as it had the first glacier views while cruising Glacier Bay, which I consider a plus. The ship slowly spun, giving everyone a good view of the glacier at some point.

What’s the best month to go on an Alaskan cruise?

The best time to go on an Alaskan cruise is during the summer months, from June to August. The weather is generally mild during this time, and the days are long, giving you more time to explore the ports. Consider that peak season is July and August. However, off-shoulder months can have their perks, too.

Is it important to have a balcony on an Alaskan cruise?

We think, YES. Having a balcony on an Alaskan cruise is not essential, but it does enhance your experience. A balcony allows you to step outside and enjoy the fresh air, take in the breathtaking views, and even spot wildlife from the comfort of your room.

Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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