Cruising Alaska is a wonderful experience and if you are heading there this summer or next here are some tips on what you need to know before you book an Alaskan Cruise, from what cabin to book to what to do in each port.
I have been to Alaska so many times over the last ten years between my time working onboard and now travelling with my husband it feels like home!
Every time I go, I am blown away how beautiful it is and how fresh the air is. I have seen lovely weather and awful weather and it is pot luck what type you get, you just have to make the most of it and pack the right clothes to be prepared. If you get sun, rain, snow, wind it makes a great story when you get home.
If it is your first time to Alaska, there is a lot to do and you can’t do everything in one cruise so pick and choose what takes your fancy, as I’m sure you will be back again.
What You Need to Know before you book an Alaskan Cruise
Which Cruise Lines Go to Alaska?
Holland America Line
Norweigan Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean International
What Cabin to Book?
There is a lot of scenic cruising whilst in Alaska so I would recommend a cabin with a balcony or a window, to enjoy the spectacular views and wildlife spotting.
Should I book any tours?
If it is your first time to Alaska, you need to leave the port area and see what Alaska has to offer. The port towns are lovely to walk around if you would like an easy day with shopping and a spot of lunch.
The tours in Alaska are amazing from helicopter tours that land on a glacier to float planes through the misty fjords, to whale watching, to getting up close to wild animals or watching a lumberjack show.
Should I book tours with the cruise line or privately?
The choice is yours, but if you book with the cruise line, if the tour is running late the ship will wait for you. If you are on a private tour and you are late back and the ship may not wait!
If you book with the cruise line, you can reserve online before your cruise and see all the options before they sell out. You can also book onboard, but if there is something you really want to do and you know it before your cruise reserve online before to avoid disappointment.
There are many tour vendors on the pier of each port if you would like to go on last-minute tour, the choice is there.
Most ships embark (start) in either Vancouver, Seattle, Whittier, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Then the ports are normally Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, maybe Vancouver or Victoria and scenic cruising around a glacier like Glacier Bay or Sawyer Glacier.
Skagway is a small town with lovely gift shops and jewellery shops. There are a few restaurants, bars and coffee shops. The town is surrounded by mountains and this was the starting point for the gold rush back 1898.
In Skagway, the tours range from helicopter tours, plane tours, the famous train through the mountains to see the gold rush route, wildlife spotting and even go to Hains the next town to get up close to Alaskan wild animals.
Here is my account of some of the tours in Skagway:
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DAY IN SKAGWAY ALASKA
Juneau is the capital of Alaska. The town is full of gift shops, jewellery shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. This is the biggest town and if you stay in town you can get the cable car up the mountain.
The tours in Juneau range from helicopter tours to the glacier, float planes, whale watching, food tours and wildlife spotting.
I went on a tour of a lifetime on the helicopter tour that landed on a glacier, read more about it here:
TOUR OF A LIFETIME LANDING ON A GLACIER BY HELICOPTER IN JUNEAU ALASKA
Here is all about whale watching:
WHY TO GO ON A WHALE WATCHING TOUR IN JUNEAU ALASKA
Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world and is a cute colourful town. Creek Street had a colourful red light district in the gold rush era, today the houses are gift shops and museums. See the Lumberjack show right in town or head out of town for some amazing scenery.
The tours in Ketchikan range from spotting bears to the totem pole park to flying through the misty fjords on a float plane.
Read more about the Lumberjack Show, Totem Pole Park and Creek Street here:
WHAT YOU MUST SEE IN KETCHIKAN ALASKA
KETCHIKAN ALASKA CRUISE EXCURSIONS – THE GREAT ALASKAN LUMBERJACK SHOW
Whilst on an Alaskan cruise you are going to see a glacier or two! This will be a scenic cruising day and is usually the coldest day of the cruise. Make sure you pack some warm clothes for this day.
Sometimes depending on the cruise, you go on and time of the season you can get up close the glacier on a smaller boat tour. Check with your cruise line if this tour is available as this tour is only available through the cruise line, as you directly embark the smaller boat from the cruise ship.
Read more about the tour I did that got me up close to the Sawyer Glacier:
HOW TO GET UP CLOSE TO THE SAWYER GLACIER IN ALASKA
There is a lot of scenic cruising throughout the Alaskan cruise between the three ports; Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau. Look out for whales, eagles, seals and bears and lots of trees and little islands.
What to Pack
An Alaskan summer is not like a summer in Italy or LA. So, do not pack your normal summer wardrobe, think layers as it will be colder than you think! Onboard the ship it can be warm though so layers are the best way to go to take off when needed.
I wrote a whole guide on what to pack for an Alaskan cruise read more here:
TOP 23 PACKING TIPS FOR A COLDER CRUISE
TOP 10 PACKING TIPS FOR AN ALASKAN CRUISE
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wow!!! such an informative post about the Alaska cruise. I have never been to Alaska. But, I will definitely consider to take a cruise after reading it… Thanks for an informative post :)…
Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy an Alaskan cruise in the future!
I have never been on a cruise at all but it is something I would love to try. I definitely want to do it in a luxury way and save up for it 🙂 Your industry experience is invaluable in terms of getting information and planning for any cruise traveller. Saving this post because I know it will come very handy later to me 🙂
Cruising is a great way to travel and I’m so pleased you found this guide helpful!
I have never been on a cruise and really have no intention of going on one, with one exception, Alaska. It has been a bucket list item of mine for quite some time. Everyone I have spoken to says that it is stunning. Great tip about booking a cabin with a balcony. I am sure that it takes the whole experience up a couple of notches . I have saved this post for when I finally plan my trip.
Cruising Alaska is one of the best cruises as there is a lot of scenic cruising so there is always something to see. It is stunning, I’m always blown away how beautiful it is!
We did our first Alaska cruise as a bit of a taste test. I agree with your comment about taking a balcony. We had great scenery as we cruised close to shore. Seeing the glaciers up close was one of my favourite things on our Alaska cruise. This was a good checklist of things to think about.
Thank you! I think seeing glaciers up close is just one of the most amazing things to see in Alaska!
An Alaskan cruise is high on my bucket list. I’ve been to Antarctica and have most of the clothing and gear that would make an Alaskan cruise comfortable. I loved seeing the wildlife and scenery there so I’m sure Alaska would impress me.
Alaska is gorgeous & I’m sure you would like it!
Going on a cruise to Alaska has been on my list for really long! However, I always struggle with the decision to go on a cruise (which allows you very limited time in the cities) vs covering Alaska otherwise so that I at least have more time to explore each of the cities. I usually like to do private tours, rather, self-guided tours while on a cruise but you have a valid point about the cruise ship waiting for you in case the tour is running a bit late. Ketchikan looks gorgeous, I can’t wait to get there!
I would suggest a cruise to see some of the places in Alaska as you can only get to them by ship/boat/plane as there are no roads out! A land vacation of the places that are more accessible. Ketchikan is gorgeous enjoy!
This is so much on my wish list. I did wonder what you’d see in the height summer but it really looks like everything you’d want is still there (glaciers….) I love the look of the small towns – Great tips about what clothing to pack and taking a balcony room too.
In the height of summer there is just less snow, the Glacier’s are always there & very cold! Glad you found this guide helpful!
Coming from Croatia, Alaska seems like another planet to me. An Alaskan cruise would be a great way to visit that planet.
I have already promised myself not to be modest with my dreams. After reading your post I have added one new dream to my list of dreams – to take an Alaskan cruise.
Alaska is very different from Croatia! I love Croatia 🇭🇷 I’m sure all your dreams will come true!
Plenty of info in this post and I’ve added it to my bucket list. That bucket is overflowing somewhat, but who knows! Great post
Thank you! Hope you get to go on an Alaskan cruise one day!
I love Alaska, and have thoroughly enjoyed both cruise and non-cruise vacations there. This is great advice for a first-timer booking an Alaskan cruise! I agree with you on the balcony — in fact, it’s the only time I regularly sat on my balcony on any cruise I’ve taken. And — we did a splurge excursion and took a helicopter up to one of the glaciers to go dog sledding — in Skagway. What an amazing time it was!
Thank you! A balcony makes an Alaskan cruise. Wow! That tour must of been amazing!
Alaska is on our bucket list and we have never done a cruise yet so we would love to try an Alaskan Cruise. The helicopter tours that land on a glacier sounds amazing. Thanks for these great tips definitely helpful for the first timers.
I hope you get to go on an Alaskan cruise soon! I highly recommend the helicopter tour, it was out of this world!
Knowing what to pack based on the weather and the excursions you choose seems super important. The last thing you want is to be I’ll prepared and miss an opportunity or worse get sick during your vacation!
So pleased you found this guide helpful. Packing for Alaska is important as you never know what the weather could be like!
This answers all the questions I’ve always had and reservations I’ve had about booking an Alaska cruise. This is all super helpful, especially whether you should book privately or with a cruise line.
Thank you! So pleased you found this guide helpful 😀
a great guide. Hope someday i can travel on Alaskan tour