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27 First time Alaska cruise tips (2024)

Celebrity ship in Alaska

Planning a cruise to Alaska differs from the tropical Caribbean, and those cruising here do not expect to spend leisurely days by the pool and soaking up the sun on the beach. 

When sailing to Alaska, you will encounter snow-capped mountains, abundant wildlife, beautiful glaciers, and once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions!

Like with any vacation, you need to take some time in advance to research and plan what you want to do. If you want until you board the ship, you may be disappointed to find out that your must-do tour is sold out or that you did not pack appropriately for the weather.  

Here are the best Alaska cruise tips to help you have an amazing visit!

Read more: Why you should book an Alaska cruise now

Research the best cruise line and ship for you


Alaska is not a year-round destination, meaning that cruise lines will deploy a select number of ships for a few months throughout the year. You will be able to find ships from most mainstream cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises. 

Moreover, the ships that each line sends to the region will be different in terms of onboard amenities, size, and age. You can, for instance, sail on Quantum Class ship by Royal Caribbean, with activities like skydiving and surf simulators, bumper cars, roller skating, and more. Alternatively, Celebrity Cruises often deploys a smaller Millennium Class ship that is better for those looking for an intimate and relaxing experience. 

To have the best cruise possible, you will need to evaluate your travel preferences to choose the best cruise line and ship for you and your travel party.

Read more: What is the best cruise line for Alaskan sailings?

Figure out when you want to visit Alaska

Sitka Alaska

As mentioned earlier, Alaska is not a year-round cruise destination, and the season typically runs from April to October. Depending on your budget and/or expectations, you may prefer to sail during the shoulder or peak seasons. 

Sailing during peak season -- June, July, and August -- is when the daylight hours are the longest. In addition, you will find more pleasant temperatures and greater wildlife viewing opportunities. Of course, prices will be much higher.

If you want to save money, cruise during shoulder season

alaska stock

To get the best rate on your Alaskan cruise, you'll want to look at sailings towards the beginning and end of the season. 

During April/May and September/October, you will find lower cruise fares, as well as fewer families onboard due to the traditional school calendars. You can pay hundreds of dollars more per person for the same itinerary than if you were to sail during the shoulder season. 

One con, however, is that the weather might not be the most ideal. 

Read more: 7 Best Alaska cruises from Seattle

Another way to save money on your cruise is to book an inside cabin

Seward Royal Caribbean

While you might not be able to take in the passing scenery from your stateroom, you're never far from a public observation deck. Plus, spending less money on your cabin might allow you to splurge on other cruise add-ons, such as once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions to the top of a glacier or whale-watching tour. 

Read more: 10 reasons you should book an interior room on your next cruise

Book with a travel agent


If you are unsure of where to begin when planning your Alaska cruise, think about utilizing a travel agent. Not only can they help you pick the right cruise line and ship, but they can also recommend and book onboard experiences and shore excursions. This will save you time, as you will not have to be the one researching everything. 

Additionally, they can take care of pre-cruise travel logistics, including your airfare and hotel stay. 

Read more: Why you should book a cruise through a travel agent

Consider splurging on a balcony cabin

Balcony stateroom Royal Caribbean

Balcony staterooms are a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Alaska from the privacy of your own verandah. They do, however, come at a higher cost than interior and ocean view staterooms, which can sometimes amount to hundreds of dollars more per person! 

If splurging on a balcony cabin is in your budget, you will not regret having access to private outdoor space! 

Other cruisers may prefer to save money and purchase cruise add-ons, such as shore excursions, so do not feel as though a balcony cabin is a necessity for a great Alaska cruise vacation. There will be ample deck space for you to get outside whenever you feel like it. It is important to take your budget into consideration and prioritize your travel preferences! 

Read more: Balcony vs. oceanview cabin on a cruise ship

While you aren't guaranteed to see the Northern Lights, there are times of the year when your chances are higher

Northern Lights

If you want to see the Northern Lights, you'll want to wait to sail later in the season, as the Aurora Season typically lasts from the end of August until mid-April. 

If you take a late-season cruise in September or October, you might be part of the lucky group of cruise passengers who are able to see the Northern Lights; however, there is never a guarantee.

Consider extending your trip through a land-based cruise tour


Many cruise lines offer journeys into Alaska in the form of land-based cruise tours that take you where a cruise ship simply cannot. You can choose to take the land-based tour either before or after your cruise. 

Celebrity Cruises, for instance, offers cruise tours that range from 9- to 13-nights, including the cruise portion, that take you through remote roads and railways to destinations like Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali. Additionally, all Celebrity cruise tours include a rail experience that lasts anywhere from three to five hours. 

Likewise, Holland America Line, who has been cruising to Alaska for over 75 years, has award-winning Yukon and Denali cruise tours. Following a scenic train ride, you can stay up to three nights at the McKinley Chalet Resort, which sits at the gates of the famous Denali National Park. 

None of these experiences would be possible with a cruise to Alaska, as the destinations are located too far inland. 

Purchase travel insurance

insurance form

Purchasing travel insurance for any vacation is a good idea. You never know when there will be a medical emergency or another unforeseen circumstance that puts a halt to your plans. 

Even though most insurance plans for United States citizens should work in Alaska, travel insurance will cover more, such as travel delays and cancellations, lost luggage or valuables, medical coverage, emergency transportation, and more.

Read more: Cruise travel insurance and why you need it

Arrive one day before the cruise is scheduled to depart

Delta Airlines

If you are flying to your cruise port, you will want to make sure that you plan your flight for the day before the embarkation. While some terminals, like the ones in Seattle and Vancouver, are located close to the airport, others are a few hours away. Arriving one day early will ensure that you do not miss your ship or spend the first day of your vacation in a panic. 

It does not hurt to arrange pre-cruise transfers, too, especially if you are flying into Anchorage and having to travel to Seward or Whittier!

Read more: The 13 best cruise tips the pros use all the time

Make sure that you're going to the right cruise port


There are two main cruise terminals in Alaska: Pier 66 and Pier 91. Pier 66 is primarily used by Norwegian Cruise Line, whereas PIer 91 is used by a couple of different cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess Cruises, and Holland America Line. 

The last thing you want to do on embarkation day is arrive at the wrong terminal and have to book another ride to the correct one!

Flying into Vancouver can be expensive. A train from Seattle might help you save some money


The train from Seattle to Vancouver takes roughly four hours. While this isn't something you would want to do the day your ship departs, it can help save you money if your schedule allows for it. 

If you're located a little further south— like Portland or Salem, Oregon— it might be a more economical mode of transportation than a flight, too! 

Tickets from Seattle can usually be found for anywhere between $30 and $50 per person, whereas one-way flights are often over $100 per person. With train stations, you don't have to worry about going through security, either! 

Research your ports of call and book excursions in advance

goldbelt tram alaska

Alaska shore excursions highlight the outdoors. You can go whale watching, zip lining, kayaking near glaciers, and more. While you can board the cruise with no real plan, you may find that your options are limited, as others book tours earlier in the planning process. 

Plus, you may want to prioritize certain tours in certain ports. You are more likely, for instance, to see whales when on a whale watching cruise in Juneau or Icy Strait Point. Likewise, some ports have more unique offerings, such as the cultural tours available in Ketchikan. 

Before your cruise vacation, make sure that you spend time researching and planning what you want to do while ashore! 

Read more: 20 Alaska cruise must-do excursions

Always get off the ship, even if you have been to the port before or did not find an exciting excursion

Princess cruise ship in Alaska

Even if you do not have an excursion booked in every single port of call, you should plan on getting off and exploring the area close to the pier, whether that is finding a local restaurant or brewery, browsing some shops, or just taking in the town's culture. If you do not know where to begin, browse TripAdvisor for some restaurant ideas. Better yet, as a local when you get off of the ship!

You do not have to spend the entire day ashore, either; however, you are in Alaska and should experience as much of this beautiful and unique state as you can. 

Come prepared with medication to combat motion sickness


If you begin to feel seasick while on your Alaska cruise, you may feel a range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including dizziness, fatigue, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweats. 

Even if you have cruised before, you need to come prepared with motion sickness medication. The Gulf of Alaska is subject to strong currents. Having this medication on hand will make sure that you do not waste time feeling ill.

Read more: How to avoid cruise motion sickness

If you're sailing on a one-way itinerary, you'll probably need a passport


If your cruise is a round-trip sailing from Seattle, you technically do not need a passport, as that is considered a closed-loop cruise. For those, however, that depart from Vancouver, Canada and end in Seward, Alaska, you'll definitely need one. 

Not only do you depart from an international terminal, but you also end in a different port of call. You will definitely want a valid passport handy. 

Even if your cruise is from Seattle, it's always recommended to have a passport. You never know when an emergency will arise. Having a passport will make getting home that much easier. 

Read more: Do I need a passport for an Alaskan cruise?

On embarkation day, confirm all of your dining reservations and show times


If you have yet to do so on embarkation day, make sure that you make any specialty dining and show reservations. Otherwise, you may find that the available times do not work for your schedule. 

Likewise, if you decide to choose the flexible traditional dining option, you should try and reserve as many dinner times as possible. The last thing that you want to happen after a long day in port is to be subject to a wait to be seated in the main dining room. 

Find a comfortable spot to soak in all the scenery 

Alaska glacier bay ship

Unlike on a Caribbean cruise, you will see land for most of the cruise. While onboard the ship, especially if you do not have a balcony cabin, you will want to find a spot where can view the passing glaciers, waterfalls, and mountains.  

The top decks are popular options; however, you might want something a little bit more secluded or indoors. Take time to explore the ship and see what is available. 

Bring cards, board games, and/or a good book 


Overall, the onboard experience during an Alaska cruise is a little bit more relaxed than those in the Caribbean or other warmer climates. 

There will not be a shortage of onboard activities and events; however, some guests like to spend time with other members of their travel party playing cards or board games. If you are looking for some alone time, bring a book with you! 

With as much as 19 hours of daylight in summer, expect your sleep schedule to be a little bit different


Due to the state's location, Alaska has different daylight hours than you might be used to. You should take advantage of the longer hours of sunlight by waking up earlier and staying up later. 

This is especially true if you are traveling in July, which can see up to 19 hours of sunlight per day! September, however, sees an average of 17 hours per day!

Pack snacks to nibble on throughout the day in port


Excursions in Alaska tend to be long. Unlike those in the Caribbean, you most likely will not find yourself leisurely relaxing on the beach for the majority of the day. To hold yourself over between meals, pack a few small snacks in your day bag! Even if lunch is on the itinerary, you might find yourself craving a snack due to the physical activity level of some of the more strenuous options. 

Bring proper footwear

Tennis shoes

You will want to have a variety of footwear. The most important, however, is a comfortable pair of sturdy, water-resistant sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes with plenty of grip that can handle slippery and/or rocky surfaces. They will support many outdoor activities that you might do during your cruise, such as zip lining, rafting, horseback riding, and kayaking. Wearing flip-flops during the day is not advised! 

Read more: Ultimate Alaska cruise packing list

Pack an all-weather jacket


Alaska is not a year-round destination for a reason, and even though you will be cruising during the warmest months of the year, Alaska is still subject to colder temperatures and heavy precipitation. 

All-weather jackets are crucial to help you remain warm and dry. Plus, you can find some that can be easily rolled up and thrown into your day bag in case of any weather fluctuations throughout the day. It might be wet when you disembark and sunnier in the afternoon!

Note that umbrellas are not recommended in Alaska due to strong winds. 

Purchase a waterproof day bag to carry your belongings


Speaking of day bags, you will need one to carry not only your all-weather jacket but other miscellaneous items that you will want on your person, including sunglasses, a hat, gloves your cruise card, cash, insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. 

If it starts to rain, the bag and contents inside might get wet. That is why we recommend purchasing a waterproof one! The HEETA dry bag costs $15 on Amazon and has over 18,400 five-star reviews! 

Please note that above we included an affiliate link to an Amazon item. The affiliate link costs you nothing extra, but Cruise.Blog will make a small commission if you purchase the HEETA dry bag through the link.

Dress in layers 


Alaska is not the Caribbean, and you will not be able to wake up and throw on your swimsuit for the morning and afternoon! While sailing to Alaska, it is crucial that you dress in layers. In the mornings and evenings, you will notice that the temperature is cooler than during the afternoon. When you are exploring the port, you will want to be able to adjust your layers as needed. 

We suggest a base layer (think of something like a simple long-sleeved t-shirt), followed by a warmer layer (like a fleece or down jacket), and finally a waterproof layer as mentioned earlier. 

Even though you're going to be dressing in layers, you will want to throw at least one swimsuit in your bag


Like we said earlier, you won't be basking in the sun all day; however, that doesn't mean there won't be opportunities to relax in one of the ship's hot tubs on a sea day! 

Cruise ships also have a spa and thermal suite, and you might decide you want to splurge on a treatment or pass while onboard. 

Do not overpack 

Packing clothes

When packing for your Alaska cruise, you will want to find the perfect balance between not bringing enough clothing and bringing too much! Packing for warmer climates tends to be easier, as the clothing is not as thick.

While you will want to have appropriate articles for exploring the ports during the day, you will also need clothing to wear while onboard the ship, such as loungewear during the day and nicer outfits for dinner. 

It is okay to re-wear stuff, especially if you are worried about making room for some bulkier items. Ladies, you can get away with wearing the same three or four dresses at night!

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