Considering a cruise to Alaska and looking for tips on what to see and do? First, let me say, Alaska offers a fantastic itinerary – even as a first cruise! Alaska is one of my favorite routes and can be among the least expensive. It is also one of the most popular itineraries, and many cruise lines offer a variety of options. Here are some tips to get the best cruising experience.
Tip #1: Pick a Your Ideal Alaska Cruise Itinerary
There are two major Alaska cruise routes:
- Return: These cruises start in one port (Seattle, Vancouver, or San Francisco) and end up in the same port. From Vancouver or Seattle, they are usually one week long, and they go as far north as Glacier Bay. From Seattle or Vancouver, they are often one week long, while from San Francisco, they are ten days.
- One Way: these can be either northbound from Vancouver or Seattle to Anchorage (Seward or Whittier) or southbound from Anchorage to either Vancouver or Seattle. The length is usually one week.
Having done both types myself, I have to say that I prefer the one way. Notably, one-way itineraries usually offer two glaciers viewing while the return only offers one glacier viewing. Also, when you pick an itinerary, check that Glacier Bay National Park is on it. Sadly, not all itineraries include Glacier Bay. Moreover, it would be a shame to miss it after traveling to Alaska and not to be able to see this natural wonder.
Tip #2: Pick a Cruise Line Specialized in Alaska
Just about every single cruise line visits Alaska as it is a popular destination. However, some cruise lines have been doing it for more than 50 years. As such, this makes them more, making them destination experts.
On top of that, only cruise lines specialized in Alaska are allowed in Glacier Bay. In my opinion, Glacier Bay National Park is the highlight of any Alaska cruise. It’s just the most magnificent place that you can see in Alaska, and it would be a shame missing it.
Check out our video of Glacier Bay National Park:
Tip #3: Stay Away From the Tourist Traps!
Since Alaska has become such a popular destination, you’ll find every possible tourist trap known to man! However, Alaska is much more than fridge magnets, T-shirts, overpriced pubs, and lumberjack shows. To be sure, I recommend walking past the traps and get yourself immersed in the real Alaska.
For example, many passengers first stop at the “Red Onion” in Skagway, or the “Red Dog” in Juneau. Unfortunately, if that’s the only thing you do, you’ll miss all the exciting things to see and do, with virtually no one around.
Of course, I can understand if you want to take a selfie at one of those famous pubs, or perhaps even have a drink. If so, consider doing it on your way back, when everybody has gone back to the ship!
For example, in Skagway, you’ll find an old Gold Rush Cemetery, just a short walk outside the city center. And most importantly, while it’s incredibly impressive, very few tourists will ever go there!
Tip #4: Pick the Right Excursions
When picking an excursion on your Alaskan Cruise, you can do so either through the cruise line or independently. Admittedly, I recommend finding one that can give you the most authentic experience.
You see, Alaska is all about nature, glaciers, wilderness, and the gold rush. So, consider excursions that cover one or more of those topics. Inevitably, some tours can be pricey and may involve planes or helicopters. Also, consider that the tour can be THE experience of a lifetime.
For example, we did one excursion at Glacier Point, and we loved it. Here, we took a motorboat to Glacier Point. Once we got there, we geared up, and we canoed on a lake for about 20 minutes. After that, we walked to the glacier. Here, we were able to take fantastic photos and even touch the glacier! It was amazing, definitely an experience that I will remember for a long time- though it was a bit pricey!
Bottom line: consider excursions that put you in touch with the real Alaska.
Tip #5: Pack Smart for Your Alaskan Cruise:
Weather in Alaska is notoriously unpredictable. For instance, it can be rainy and cold in the morning, then perfectly sunny and warm in the afternoon. Naturally, packing can be a bit of a challenge and, as such, requires some planning:
- Bring clothes that you can layer. Dress in layers when you leave the ship in the morning, and remove some of them when it gets warmer.
- Always bring a windproof jacket. Alaska can be very windy, and the wind is cold. A good windbreaker can be a lifesaver.
- Check what kind of clothes are required. Read the description of the excursion well. They always mention what kind of clothes and shoes you should wear. If you need special gear, usually it is provided by the tour company.
- Don’t forget comfortable waterproof shoes. Chances are you will have some walking to do and sometimes it can be wet.
- Pack a raincoat or a poncho that fits in a backpack. You’ll never know when you might need it.
Tip #6: Cruise To Alaska At the Best Time
Alaska season runs from the end of April until mid-September. Peak season is at the end of July and beginning of August. I strongly recommend visiting at the start of the season if you can.
First, cruising to Alaska at the beginning of the season will be much cheaper. For example, you can find cruise fares that are 30-40% cheaper than at the peak. Not to worry, there will be a lot of availability, and often you can find specials. Second, there will be way fewer tourists. In the middle of summer, it is not unusual to have 4-5 ships in each port. Third, May could be way less rainy than August. Another reason is that you will still see snow on the ground and most of the mountains, making the view even more spectacular. Also, days are incredibly long in May and June as the more northern you go, the longer the day will last. Lastly, in May, the amount of mosquitoes is far less than in the middle of the summer.
If you can’t go right at the start of the season, a good alternative is in September right before the ship repositions. It will still be cheaper. And, as a bonus in September: it’s common to spot the Northern Lights during the cruise!
I hope these few tips help you have the best experience in this fantastic destination. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.