Alaska Cruise Tips to Know Before You Go

An Alaska Cruise has been on my bucket list for quite some time. From mountains and glaciers to wildlife and seaside cities, the last frontier lives up to the hype. But it’s not as simple as just jumping on any old cruise ship. So, in this guide, I am covering all the Alaska Cruise tips you should know before and after booking. This includes things I wish I had known before I booked our cruise and what I learned along the way!

Alaska Cruise Tips to know before you go.

1. An Alaskan Cruise is Definitely Worth It

I want to start off by saying that taking an Alaskan cruise is worth it. I don’t consider myself a cruiser, but this is one of those destinations that is worth it by boat.

In fact, everyone we met on the boat had already taken at least one cruise to Alaska. Need I say more?

Alaska Cruise Travel Tips - Glacier.
Dawes Glacier

2. Not All Cruise Lines Are Created Equally

Pretty obvious, right? Some of the major cruise lines that go to Alaska include:

  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Holland American
  • Carnival Cruise Line

When booking my cruise, I went with Celebrity, a cruise line I was familiar with. The experience was incredible, but I learned Celebrity does not go to Glacier Bay National Park. Instead, we went to Dawes Glacier.

Celebrity Edge Cruise Ship in the Endicott Arm.

For many, Glacier Bay is a must. This is because you can experience the Glacier really well from the ship. Many of the other glaciers require an additional paid excursion in smaller boats.

If Glacier Bay is a must for you, Princess, Holland, and Norwegian are currently the only main cruise lines going there.

Additionally, you should make sure your cruise line is stopping at a glacier! Popular glacier cruises stop at at Dawes Glacier, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, and Sawyer Glacier.

Fun Fact: During the summer, the sun doesn’t go down until 11 PM -12 AM!

Harbor Seal Floating on an ice burg by glacier in Alaska.

3. Best Time to Go to Alaska on a Cruise

The Alaska cruise season begins during the spring and goes until fall. Springtime (April – May) and Fall (September – October) are generally the most affordable time to go, also known as the shoulder months. If you’re on a budget, you might want to consider this time.

Samantha wearing a orange flannel shirt and jeans standing by the edge of the cruise ship looking at the water and mountains in Skagway, Alaska.
Skagway, Alaska

However, a seasoned cruiser I met told me he had cruised to Alaska over 10 times, and when he did the last cruise in October, many of the stores were closed. I imagine it would be similar in the spring since these ports are seasonal. He suggested against it.

July and August are the most popular times to embark on an Alaskan Cruise, so this is when it is most pricy. The weather is most favorable, and you have the opportunity to see the Salmon run.

We took our cruise at the beginning of June and missed out on the run, but we still saw tons of Humpback and Orca whales. Next time, I will book in July because I would really like to see the salmon run.

Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska.

4. Choose Your Itinerary Wisely

The itinerary of the cruise line will play a part in the cruise you want to book. Many cruise lines will start in Seattle, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), or Seward, Alaska (Anchorage). Also, most itineraries will be at least 7-day cruises.

You will also have to decide if you want to do a round-trip or one-way itinerary.

If you’re a first-time cruiser to Alaska, doing a round-trip is certainly the easiest. I definitely plan to head back to Alaska, and my next go-round will be a one-way journey. Starting in one port and leaving from another. This way, I will have fewer days at sea and more ports.

My recent Celebrity Edge cruise did a round-trip to Seattle, stopping in Ketchikan, Juneau (Dawes Glacier & Endicott Arm), Skagway, the Inside Passage, and Victoria. I was very pleased with this itinerary.

Alaska Cruise Itinerary.
Screenshot of my itinerary to Alaska.

You can expect to hit Alaska cruise ports such as Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Other ports (usually on longer cruises) include Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Anchorage, and Haines.

You will want to look at the itinerary and make sure you have enough time at each port. Some cruise lines cut the time a little short. If there is one port I would like to spend a good amount of time at, it would be Juneau since there are a lot of excursions. Skagway and Ketchikan don’t require as much time.

3 Orcas swimming in Juneau, Alaska.

5. Book Shore Excursions ASAP

Speaking of excursions, this is what Alaska is all about! If you’re used to cruising to the Caribbean, you can expect a very different experience. This is because Alsaka is all about wildlife and scenery.

So, the excursions sell out really quickly. This is why it is so important not to stall on booking these. Most times, they are refundable up to 2 days before the excursion happens.

Boat Excursion from cruise at Dawes Glacier.
Excursion to Dawes Glacier.

Now, I must mention that you don’t have to book through the cruise ship; instead, you can use Get Your Guide or Viator. When you book with the ship, they guarantee you won’t be left behind.

Also, some tours, like our Dawes Glacier visit, are only available through the ship. When I checked the prices on the others, they were both the same, so I did mine through the ship. Just know you have options.

Plan to be up early and know these excursions do not come cheap. For many excursions, you can expect to spend at least $100 per person. Most of what I saw was more around the $200 and up range. They include:

  • Helicopter rides to glaciers
  • Husky ride
  • Tongass National Forest
  • Seaplanes
  • Salmon Bakes
  • Whale Watching (highly recommend)
  • Rainforest walks
  • Kayaking
  • Gold Panning
  • Lumberjack show
  • White Pass train ride in Skagway (recommend)
White Pass Scenic Railway.
White Pass Scenic Railway.

If you happen to be cruising to Dawes Glacier, I HIGHLY HIGHLY suggest taking the excursion to get up and close to the glacier. Because the cruise ships are so big, they can’t easily navigate the ice, meaning they don’t get very close to the glacier. As in, the glacier looks very, very tiny from the ship. I promise it will be worth it!

Whale Watching in Juneau with orca fin and boat with people.

6. Pack in Layers

One of the biggest questions I had was how I should dress for my cruise. I searched through people’s photos to get an idea of what kind of outfits they were wearing. Many locals will tell you that if you don’t like the current weather, don’t worry; it will change in 5 minutes.

Samantha wearing a brown parka, black shirt and jeans in Skagway with mountains in the background.
Skagway Klondike Passage.

This is because the weather is always changing in Alaska. It can experience all the seasons in 30 minutes, lol. Therefore, having layers is your best option. I am going to have a full packing guide soon, but I urge you to bring rain gear and comfortable shoes.

Ketchikan is one of the wettest cities in the USA. On average, they receive 13 feet of rain. Yep!

I packed a lightweight rain parka, a fleece jacket, a nano puffer, jeans, long johns, sweaters, wool socks, gloves, waterproof boots, and a hat (which you have seen throughout these photos). Some days, it was actually warm enough to sit by the pool in a bathing suit. So bring a bathing suit!

During the first week in June, I experienced weather ranging from the high 40s to the low 70s with an average of around 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’re worried about being cold, July and August are warmer months to visit. Just make sure to bring your bug spray around that time because Alaska is famous for its giant mosquitoes.

If you’re still not sure what to pack, just comment below, and I will be more than happy to help until my more detailed packing guide comes out.

Samantha leaning off the edge of a boat looking at ice burgs in Endicott Arm.
Dawes Glacier tour.

7. Bring your Passport

All US cruises have to make a stop in a foreign country due to a law, so you will be stopping in Canada. Some cruises might not require you to have your passport, but I would urge you to bring it, since some excursions require it.

This was the case with our White Pass Scenic Railway excursion. You couldn’t do the train without it.

Samantha and her mom standing in front of the Canada sign.

8. Consider a Land Portion

As a first-time Alaskan cruiser, I am not upset that I didn’t book a land portion, but I do wish I had. Everyone I met on our cruise has done Alaska multiple times and said Denali National Park is stunning. So, when I go back, this is something that I know I will want to do.

If you have the funds and extra days to add it, I think it will be worth it. Most cruises also offer this as a package, but you can also just plan it yourself.

Juneau Totem Pole on the boardwalk.

9. Arriving Early to Your Cruise

With flights nowadays, you can almost always expect a delay. Seriously. That is why I highly suggest spending at least one night in the city you will be leaving.

We spent one day in Seattle before our cruise and 2 days after to explore the city. Most people visiting Seattle were, in fact, either coming from an Alaska cruise or about to go on one.

Seattle guide coming soon!

Samantha and mom standing under Ketchikan Sign in light rain.

10. Do NOT Miss Your Call to Port

One of the reasons it is so popular to cruise through Alsaka is because the only way to get to these Southern cities is by boat or plane (the locals like to add birth canal, lol).

Therefore, if you miss the boat, you will have to take what I could only imagine is a pretty expensive seaplane to the next call of port.

So, make sure you’re back on the ship with some time to spare.

 Mountains in Skagway.
Mountains in Skagway.

11. Budget for Cruising

Budgets for an Alaskan cruise really range on the cruise line, room time, and month. On average, however, I would say you can expect to spend between $800-1,800 per person, excluding flights and hotels before and after our cruise.

Now remember, this is just to get an idea. You can spend a lot less and a ton more. Booking in advance (year), or at the last minute to get left over space, will usually result in the best pricing.

I spent $1,200 per person for an Ocean View room and almost $700 per person on excursions.

Bald Eagle on top of a sign in Juneau.

12. Expect Crowds

Multiple cruise ships will come into port holding thousands of people. Therefore, you can expect the cities to be packed with people. This is just the nature of cruising to Alaska; especially since Alaska is a seasonal cruise destination.

If you want to avoid some of the crowds, I would suggest trying the VIP excursions or excursions that say small group.

Busy Streets on Juneau, Alaska.
Busy Streets on Juneau.

Additional Common Questions

I wanted to cover some additional tips and common questions I have gotten in this section. If I haven’t answered your question, add it in the comments below, so I can make this super helpful for other cruisers!

13. Do You Need a Balcony? If you have the money for it, many have said it is worth it. Our boat had a huge ocean-view window, so I was very satisfied with it. If it’s getting a balcony or doing an excursion, I would put my extra funds into the shore excursions.

Celebrity Edge Oceanview Room with Samantha in the window.

14. Will you see the Northern Lights? The chances of seeing the Northern Lights will be pretty rare. If you have any chance, it will be in April or October but don’t get your hopes up. People usually only see them in the dead of winter.

15. Wildlife to expect: You should see a ton of Bald Eagles. Look for the white spot in the trees. You also have the opportunity to see black bears, moose, harbor seals, porpoises, sea lions, humpback whales, salmon, and orcas (killer whales), to name a few. We were also lucky to see some puffins, which, according to our guide, were rare.

Humpback Whale Tail in Juneau, Alaska on Cruise excursion.
Humpback Whale Tail in Juneau.

16. Drink Packages: If you’re not a drinker, you can save a lot of money by not getting a drink package. Additionally, you are allowed to bring a small amount of water, soda, and dry food.

17. Sea Sickness: Alaska is known to have more choppy water. If you are prone to seasickness, make sure to bring remedies with you. Additionally, picking a room on a low deck in the middle of the ship will help with motion. I used the Seabands, and I was ok.

Mountains and oceans with Helicopter.

18. Dress Code: Celebrity is known as a more upscale cruise, but on an Alaskan Cruise, people tend to dress more casually. I had brought some “dressy” clothes and never wore them. I mainly wore jeans and a nice sweater on the ship.

19. Souvineers: If you want something locally made, look for the bear sign that says made in Alaska. We found the best pricing and souvenirs in Juneau. Especially hoodies. Skagway seemed to be the most pricy. Oh and bring some cash. Not all small local stores take card.

20. Kid-Friendly? Most ships are kid-friendly, and cruises are a great way to go on family vacations. Kids will love seeing the wildlife and walking around the small cities of Alaska with you.

Pool on Celebrity Cruise to Alaska.

There you have it! I hope these Alaska cruise tips and tricks have helped you emensly for planning your voyage! Leave any additional questions below!

More Alaska guides coming soon! Find more travel tips here!

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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good. Learn more here:

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