Alaska is a beautiful state, but it sure is tremendous; it can take hours, or even days, to travel on land from one popular spot to another. People often ask me for recommendations on how to cover the most ground, and my recommendation is always to take a cruise. Alaskan cruises are the most time- and cost-effective way to get around, and the convenience is a major plus. However, this is not your typical cruise experience, and it requires a bit more planning. Keep reading for my top Alaska cruise tips to ensure you’ll be prepared for this epic adventure!

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Budget More than you Typically Would for a Cruise

I have found Caribbean cruises for under $200 but, unfortunately, this often is not the case for Alaska cruises. For a week-long cruise, depending on the cruise line you choose, you will likely spend between $400 and $10,000 per person; you may find one for cheaper, but this generally does not happen. Because of Alaska’s remote location, operating costs are higher for the cruise line, and this is reflected in the passenger fares. You can certainly cruise Alaska on a budget, but it may take more saving and preparation than your typical sailing.

If you need some help budgeting your money, check out my free 30-page budget travel planner!

Invest in Travel Insurance

Being that Alaska cruises can be on the pricier side, and sometimes nonrefundable, it is in your best interest to invest in travel insurance. If your flight is delayed or another unforeseen event prevents you from making your cruise, you will be at risk for major financial loss. Additionally, Alaska is very remote, and medical care is not always available. Should you have a serious medical emergency, the required care will likely be even more expensive than usual; travel insurance may soften the blow.

Prepare for Rain

Although the levels of precipitation vary, rain is always a possibility in Alaska (especially during the summer). The wettest month is August, while the driest are April, May, and June. I wore a lined raincoat during my trip, which allowed me to both layer my clothes and combat the rain.

A picture of me standing in front of Glacier Bay. It was a bit rainy, so one of my best Alaska cruise tips is to prepare for such weather.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen

When traveling to the northernmost and coldest state in the United States, packing sunscreen is probably the last thing on your mind. However, many people are surprised to learn that summertime temperatures can (sometimes) reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit! Sunscreen is also crucial in the winter months and on colder days, especially if visiting the glaciers; much of the sunlight that hits snow and ice bounces back, making sunburns very possible. Alaska is certainly not the hottest state but, in the end, you will be glad you came prepared.

Sunglasses are a Must

Despite being one of the northernmost places you can visit, Alaska still gets a lot of sun. In some places, during some times of the year, Alaska gets a straight 22 hours of sunlight! Sunglasses are especially important when visiting the glaciers, as light bounces off the ice and can be blinding. Wearing sunglasses in Alaska is just as important as wearing them on a tropical beach!

Picture of me wearing sunglasses while visiting a glacier, which is an important Alaska cruise tip because the sun bounces off the ice.

Prepare for Cooler Weather, Even in the Summer

Alaskan summers are cooler than you’d expect, with the daytime temperatures typically ranging from 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures have been seen to reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is rare. Essentially, Alaskan summer more closely aligns with what the rest of the world would consider to be spring. I recommend dressing in layers, as you would in the spring, to prepare for both cooler and warmer temperatures (check out the next section for more information!).  

Layer Your Clothes

If you are cruising to Alaska, chances are you’ll be embarking during one of the summer months. Alaskan summers can be confusing; is it hot or cold? Some days, it felt like both! Most days, I was comfortable in a light pair of pants, a short-sleeved or light long-sleeved shirt, and a light jacket. Layering allowed me to adapt to the temperature and weather as needed. Even if you are traveling in the winter, I still recommend layering your clothes; you will stay warmer that way!

Always be Ready for a Hike

Not all cruise ports are created equally. Most of the time, when I am going on a cruise, I primarily bring beach attire. You would look like a fool getting off the boat in Alaska in a bathing suit, as the majority of the ports are in small cities among forests. Switch out the flip-flops for hiking boots or sneakers. I recommend a casual, comfortable outfit that you would not mind getting a bit dirty should you find a trail. 

Picture of me hiking in Denali National Park in Alaska

Bring Motion Sickness Remedies

If you are prone to seasickness, or you just want to be extra careful, be sure to pack motion sickness pills/patches/bracelets or another remedy. Although your Alaska cruise will primarily sail the Inside Passage, which tends to have calmer waters, the route from Glacier Bay to Whittier can be a bit choppy. Additionally, if you are sailing to/from Vancouver, the small patch of waters across Queen Charlotte Sound near Vancouver Island can be a bit rough.

Book a Balcony Stateroom

One of the most common Alaska cruise tips you’ll hear from travelers is to book a stateroom with a balcony. In my opinion, splurging on this is totally worth it on an Alaska cruise. I am not sure if I would go again without one! I had incredible views of Glacier Bay from my room – views that I would not have experienced if I booked an interior cabin. 

It May Be Hard to Sleep

Although I just recommended booking a stateroom with a balcony for the views, if you prioritize your sleep, you may want to book an interior cabin (or bring an eye mask!). Depending on where and when you sail, you may be exposed to nearly 24 hours of sunlight. For example, in Fairbanks, Alaska, there is seemingly no darkness between late April and late August – exactly coinciding with the prime cruising season; this city is not on cruising routes, but coastal cities face a similar situation. This is something to keep in mind, as it could be a major shock had you not known or prepared in advance.

Choose a Ship With Indoor Activities

While Alaska is a spectacular travel destination, it is not famous for its perfect weather. Even if you travel during the summer, you may experience chilly temperatures and storms. As someone who cruises the Caribbean frequently, I assumed I would spend my days at sea at the pool, as I normally do; however, it was not always possible on this trip. I found myself having to take advantage of more indoor activities. Before booking your trip, I recommend watching a YouTube video tour of your potential ship to evaluate its offerings.

Picture of a cruise ship interior.

Don’t Forget Your Swimsuit

I felt a bit too cold to swim on my Alaska cruise, but I cannot say the same for everyone else. Many ships sailing itineraries in Alaska have covered pools to combat inclement weather, as well as hot tubs to keep you warm and relaxed on chilly days. Pack a swimsuit, just in case!

Add a Land Package to Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve, which encompasses a whopping 6 million acres of land, is undoubtedly Alaska’s most famous land attraction. Because it is situated at a distance from the shore, many cruisers miss out on this incredible experience; however, this does not have to be the case. Many cruise lines offer land packages to Denali National Park. When I visited, Holland America provided transportation from Anchorage to the park, lodging within the park, and transportation from the park to the cruise port. Be sure to check in with your cruise line to find out whether they offer such pre- or post-cruise excursions. In my opinion, this is one of the most important Alaska cruise tips I will give you!

Bring Binoculars

My biggest regret is having not brought binoculars on my Alaska trip. While everyone else on my tour marveled at the sight of a bear and her cubs from a mile away, I could only imagine what they were witnessing. Denali National Park, in particular, is extremely vast, and animals tend to steer clear from the road; this means that they can be pretty difficult to spot with the naked eye. Pack your binoculars now, and you can thank me later!

Bring a Camera With a Zoom Lens

Similar to my previous recommendation, you’ll want to bring a camera with a high-powered zoom lens to both see the wildlife and capture the moment. I suggest purchasing the highest-powered zoom lens you can afford, as, in Denali National Park and similar wilderness areas, the animals tend to hang out as far away from the road as you can imagine. If you spot an animal at a closer distance and do not find much need for your zoom lens, consider yourself one of the lucky ones!

Pack Bug Repellent

Despite its cooler climate, Alaska is still home to many creepy crawlies. In fact, I got bit by one of the largest beetles in the state! While out and about, especially in Denali National Park and other forested areas, make sure you protect yourself with bug repellent; mosquitos and ticks are everywhere! This repellent has worked the best for me over years of trial and error.

Prepare for an Older Crowd

For whatever reason, the older generations tend to gravitate towards Alaska cruises; I may have been the only person under the age of 50 on mine! I sailed with Holland America which, because of its smaller size, attracts older crowds. If you sail with a larger cruise line with larger boats, such as Norwegian, you may have a more family-friendly experience. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Holland America cruise, but that experience is not for everyone!

Sail Late in the Season to See The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights can be seen all year round in Alaska. However, during the summer months, the sun is up for longer, and the night skies are not as dark. I sailed in July and unfortunately couldn’t get a glimpse of them. If seeing the Northern Lights is a major goal of yours, book a sailing between late August and April; even so, unfortunately, there is still no guarantee.

Picture of the Northern Lights in Alaska

Know How to Get to the Cruise Port

If your cruise is departing from Alaska rather than Canada, you will likely fly into Anchorage. However, keep in mind that the cruise port is usually either in Whittier (97 km from Anchorage) or Seward (204 km from Anchorage). The majority of major cruise lines will offer transportation from Anchorage to the port; this should also be the case if you’ve added on a land package to Denali National Park. If not, tours with transportation to the cruise ports are available on Viator. Be sure to call and confirm what your package includes. 

Picture of a cruise ship at a port in Alaska

Want some more cruise-related tips and tricks? Check out these resources:

Article: 10 Ways to Save Money on a Cruise Vacation

Article: Cruise Packing Essentials to Ensure a Stress-Free Vacation

Podcast: Episodes 4 (Weekend Cruise of The Bahamas), 23 (5 Ways to Save Money on a Cruise Vacation), and 25 (Cruising With Katie: A Weekend in The Bahamas) – stay tuned for an upcoming episode, in which we will discuss all of my Alaska cruise tips!

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How do you plan on preparing for your Alaska cruise? Which Alaska cruise tips did you find most helpful? Do you have any Alaska cruise tips of your own? Contact me or let me know in the comments below!

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