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The surprising takeaway from a recent study on the best time to cruise to Alaska


When planning a cruise to Alaska, many opt to sail during the warmer months of June and July. June, for instance, is when the summer rains are minimal, and it's light nearly all day long. It's also when many national park roads open, allowing you to venture to places like Denali. 

However, according to an article released by U.S. News & World Report, the best overall time to cruise to Alaska might not be when you think. Rather than sail during the hottest months of the year, taking a summer cruise to Alaska during the shoulder season months of May and September could offer just as rewarding of an experience with a few additional benefits that can enhance your Alaskan adventure. 

First, the fares are often cheaper than those during the peak of summer. When comparing rates on Royal Caribbean's website for 2025, a 7-night Alaska Adventure cruise on Anthem of the Seas starts at $816 per person for an interior room in May. The rate increases to $1,037 for sailings in early June. 


Those wanting a private verandah will see even more drastic price differences, as the rate for balconies in May starts at around $1,230, whereas those in June go for over $1,500. 

Some cruise lines begin their season as early as April. Sailings this early usually come with even lower fares. Plus, according to Tyler Hickman, senior vice president of Icy Strait Point, an Alaska Native-owned port in Hoonah and a port of call in Southeast Alaska, April is one of the favorite times of year for local Alaskans. 

There are long stretches of sunny days followed by crisp and clear evenings. While never a guarantee, you may be able to get a peek at the northern lights during the shoulder season, too!

Read more: 27 First time Alaska cruise tips (2024)

Mendenhall Glacier

Moreover, though the demand for cruising is higher than ever, land-based tourism in Alaska isn't quite at its peak in May and September. 

Those hoping to extend their vacation with a cruisetour will appreciate the fewer crowds that are present during the shoulder season months. While you can certainly see a lot of Alaska via cruise ship, those seeking a more immersive experience won't want to forgo a cruisetour, which will take you to destinations like Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali, and more. 

The chances of seeing wildlife in May and October are high

alaska stock

Whale-watching excursions are among some of the most popular in Alaska. They're available in numerous ports of call, including Juneau, Icy Strait Point, and Ketchikan. Due to their popularity, whale-watching tours tend to sell out in advance, so if that's a selling point for visiting Alaska, you'll want to secure your spot as soon as possible. 

"Whale sightings are consistent from May through September, with fewer occurring in April and October as they migrate from or to Hawaii for the winter," explained Hickman, "Even on a foggy day when you can't see the whales, you can still hear them and feel their presence – and that's almost as incredible as seeing them from a ship or along the coastline."

Whales, however, aren't the sole focus of wildlife in the region. "Bear sightings in the spring will depend on the snowpack and when they are leaving hibernation," said Hickman, "This year we had very good bear viewing along the Spasski River starting in May when the coastal brown bears emerged from hibernation." 

Read more: Should I cruise on Princess to Alaska? I booked a sailing to see for myself


Additionally, Chichagof Island, home to Hoonah and Icy Strait Point, was dubbed "Bear Island" by National Geographic due to the abundance of brown bears, as the island boasts one of the largest brown bear populations in the world. Since Chichagof Island harbors one to two brown bears per square mile, Hickman says that you're nearly guaranteed to see bears on one of Icy Strait Point's bear-watching excursions. 

Due to Alaska's unpredictable weather, the probability of excursions being cancelled due to inclement conditions doesn't vary much between April and October. There are some kinds of tours, however, that see increased odds of cancellation at the beginning and end of the season. Dog-sledding, for instance, may not operate before May or after September due to poor conditions for the sled dogs. 

However, regardless of when you cruise, some activities are best on a clear day, which is never guaranteed. When booking an Alaskan cruise, it's important to manage your expectations. Even if your tour isn't cancelled, you will want to prepare for potential weather challenges and pack accordingly. Don't leave the ship without some layers and a waterproof rain jacket

Peak salmon season runs from May to September, too


Even if you aren't an experienced angler, many flock to Alaska to try fresh seafood, particularly salmon. The king salmon season begins in May and goes through the end of July, whereas the silver salmon season begins in July and runs until the end of November. 

Red season is at its peak between mid-June and mid-August, and, finally, pink and chum salmon is available from mid-July to mid-August. Salmon isn't the only fish found in Alaska, though, with the best time to visit the region for halibut being May through September. 

Many cruise lines offer fishing excursions for those who want to get out on the ocean themselves. Although, you can also arrange a private charter if you prefer. The ideal port for fishing is Ketchikan, as it's located closer to the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska.

Those who want the best chance of catching a glimpse of the northern lights will want to cruise to Alaska in the early fall


With Aurora season beginning in mid-August, the latter half of the Alaska cruise season is ideal for those who want a chance to see the infamous northern lights. 

To increase your odds, you'll want to venture further north on a cruisetour, as southeast Alaska has more precipitation and clouds, which can obstruct visibility. 

Sightings, however, are never guaranteed. You shouldn't book an Alaskan cruise with the sole intention of viewing the northern lights. To avoid disappointment, focus on everything else that the region has to offer, from delicious seafood to dramatic landscapes, wildlife, and more. 

It's not too late to plan your 2024 Alaskan cruise or too early to begin thinking about your 2025 vacation!

Alaska glacier bay ship

Even though the 2024 season starts pretty soon, that doesn't mean you can't plan a last-minute cruise for May. At the time of writing, Royal Caribbean's website was still showing availability for cruises on Brilliance, Radiance, and Quantum of the Seas, with the cheapest starting at $299 per person on May 10. 

There are even sailings available in September and October for those who need a little more time to plan their trip to Alaska. Ships like Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Bliss, Jewel, and Sun all have cabins available for booking. Itineraries range from 7-night cruises that visit ports such as Victoria, British Columbia; Sitka; Juneau; Icy Strait Point; and Ketchikan, Alaska to 15-night sailings that begin in British Columbia and end in Hawaii. 

For cruises with the most availability, you'll want to consider booking a cruise in 2025, especially if you want to sail in a coveted suite or secure a specific balcony, such as an aft view. You'll also have more excursion options, too, as those who book a last-minute cruise may find that they have limited choices. 


Since shore excursions in Alaska tend to be more costly than those in the Caribbean and Bahamas, you'll have more time to budget for these once-in-a-lifetime tours. While viewing the snowcapped mountains and glaciers from the comfort of your ship is undeniably one of the greatest parts about taking an Alaskan cruise, there are plenty of activities that make venturing to The Last Frontier worthwhile. 

From flightseeing on a floatplane to helicopter rides that take you to the top of a glacier, attending a lumberjack show, indulging in fresh salmon from a salmon bake, taking a scenic journey on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, and more, there's no shortage of unforgettable experiences in Alaska. 

Read more: Why you should book an Alaska cruise now

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