10 Essential Alaska Cruise Tips

This guide helps you maximize your onboard experience and offers insights that range from optimizing your cabin comfort to making the most of the amenities and services the ship has to offer.

Guidebook Tip | Highly Recommended

Whether you have already picked out your cruise or haven’t booked so yet, this book is a must-buy! This book provides awesome tips, the differences between the ships, highlights in each port, and so much more.  You will feel prepared for your first cruise!

💡 Our hacks and tips will enhance your cruising experience, helping you avoid common pitfalls and navigate life aboard with ease to ensure a seamless journey.

While we may not delve deeply into pre-cruise planning or port excursions, except for the packing tips and some other essentials, we’ve focused on elements fundamental to your daily life onboard.

Our 10 essential tips and tricks serve as a handy companion mainly for first-time cruisers:

1. Outfits and Packing Tips

You need to pack layers of clothes and waterproof or water-resistant clothing items. Outfits like fleece jackets, sweaters, hoodies, and thermal layers keep you warm on colder days. On warm summer days, t-shirts and pants or jeans are suitable.

Layers

Alaska’s weather can change quickly, so be prepared. As the temperature fluctuates, layering lets you adjust your comfort.

Most first-time passengers make the mistake of not packing enough layers. Even in the peak summer months of July and August layering is crucial as it can get chilly.

Pack and wear lightweight long underwear or leggings. Depending on the month and temps (more monthly tips later), insulate with a fleece or sweater, then cover with a rain jacket. This combination will keep you warm and dry.

Women’s outer layer/jacket recommendations

Helpful: Every port sells fleece-lined, waterproof jackets in case you didn’t bring warm enough outer layers. These also make great souvenirs as they are usually reasonably priced.

Every time we went on a cruise, we were glad to have layers of clothing, as we could easily remove or add layers as needed when temps changed.

Men’s outer layer/jacket recommendations

On cooler days, you will be thankful for warm base layers and/or warm waterproof/water-resistant jackets, and on warmer days, you can shed layers and feel comfortable.

Also, sturdy walking shoes were a must for many excursions from hiking to sightseeing.

Glacier Viewing

Keep in mind that it gets especially cold when the ship gets close to a glacier. The viewing experience from the deck is just amazing, but the winds off the ice make the outside temp wintry cold. An insulated jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf are a good idea for this experience.

Rain Gear

Regardless of the month, it’s important that you pack rain gear for your Alaska cruise. One of the mistakes many passengers make is not being prepared for rain during the cruise season. You will likely encounter rain in at least one of your ports or on a cruising day.

While you might experience heat waves during the summer, or even in May, and no to little rain, you may also get rain on many days during the summertime.

It’s better to bring a jacket which is waterproof and not only water-resistant. However, a very good water-resistant jacket can do its job as well. Also, pack water-resistant or waterproof boots and a compact travel umbrella.

Do you need water-resistant pants?

Most of the time, you are fine with a good waterproof jacket. However, we recently bought these pants, and now we love them on every cruise:

They are super awesome and keep you warm and dry all the time. So, instead of a second pair of standard pants, we pack a pair of these water-resistant ones for cooler days with heavier rain.

Comfortable Shoes

Many Alaskan cruise excursions involve walking or hiking on uneven terrain, so pack sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. Bring sandals or sneakers for onboard activities.

Dress for Dinner

Most cruise lines do not require dinner attire and you can wear jeans and a t-shirt. However, some cruise lines have formal nights in the main dining room, so, pack cocktail dresses or slacks and a jacket.

💡 Do you need more tips? Check out our complete packing guide with Alaska Cruise Outfit Tips for Each Month

2.  Have the Essentials in Your Carry-On Bag

It’s crucial to strategically pack a carry-on bag with essential items you’ll need immediately on board. Since checked bags are typically delivered to your cabin later in the afternoon or even post-dinner, having a carry-on filled with necessities is a wise move.

Ensure all crucial items such as medications, travel documents, passports, and cruise tickets are safely stored in this bag. If you have specific dietary needs, consider packing some snacks as well.

While most cruise lines plan formal events from the second night onward, it wouldn’t hurt to include a versatile outfit in your carry-on that could transition from day to night.

An extra-special tip for Alaskan cruises: since daylight hours are significantly extended during the summer, consider packing a sleep mask in your carry-on. It will help you adjust to the ‘midnight sun’ phenomenon and ensure a good night’s sleep.

Properly organizing your carry-on bag ensures you start your journey without any hiccups, keeping the focus on the awe-inspiring landscapes and unique experiences that await you in Alaska.

3. Book Cruise Line AND Independent Excursions

Many of the excursions offered by the cruise line are great, and we recommend booking one of these.

However, you should also book at least one independent one as you will save money and tour with a smaller group. 💡 The ship will discourage you from doing this, as excursions are a big moneymaker for the cruise line. Often, their primary argument is that the ship will wait for their own tours if they return late, but not for independent ones.

However, this is not a valid reason if you a) don’t book a long tour (more than 4 hours) and b) use a provider like GetYourGuide, where you usually have 24-hour penalty-free cancellation.

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This tour is fantastic! And there is one big advantage: You get off your ship and you are right there where the tour starts. The duration is only 3.5 hours, so it’s safe to book it.

Again, the advantages of booking an independent tour, for example via GetYourGuide:

Smaller Groups:

  • Joining a third-party tour often means being in a smaller group, unlike the large numbers that fill cruise line tours.
  • You could find yourself in a group of less than 20 people or even just your own private group.
  • This smaller setting makes it easier to ask questions and customize your day with activities that suit you, like special stops for pictures or activities for kids.
  • You can change the pace to suit your group, making the experience more tailored to what you want to see and do.

Significantly Cheaper/Better Value:

  • Booking directly with tour providers will save you money or offer more value than the same tours offered by cruise lines.
  • While small-group or private tours might initially seem more expensive than cruise ship excursions, they provide greater value by allowing customization and more direct sightseeing time, with less waiting for others.
  • Cost-sharing with a group can make these private tours more affordable per person, enhancing the overall experience without breaking the bank.

Booking an excursion independently while on an Alaska cruise offers personalized experiences, more adventurous activities, unique explorations, and better value for your money.

4. Bring Binoculars

You’ll be surrounded by nature’s beauty throughout your cruise. Thus, a pair of good binoculars will make a huge difference!

When you’re on an Alaska cruise, having binoculars is like holding a magic key that unlocks distant wonders. With them, you can zoom in on the breathtaking details of glaciers, spotting the brilliant blues and intricate patterns that are invisible to the naked eye.

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Wildlife, from majestic eagles soaring in the sky to playful seals lounging on ice floes, comes into clear view, making every sighting more thrilling. Imagine catching the subtle movements of a bear along the shoreline or a whale’s splash in the distance; binoculars bring these moments close, as if nature’s spectacle is unfolding just for you.

So, packing binoculars turns your cruise into an unforgettable adventure, where every glance through the lenses reveals the awe-inspiring beauty and mystery of Alaska’s wild landscapes and creatures.

5. Bring a Seasickness Remedy 

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This advice may seem odd advice, especially for first-timers who’ve never experienced seasickness before, but it’s always better to be prepared than be caught off guard.

Seasickness, or motion sickness, is caused by the constant motion of the ship, which can disrupt your inner ear’s sense of balance. Even if you’ve never felt ill on smaller boats or car trips, a cruise ship’s unique movement might affect you differently. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to nausea, dizziness, and in rare cases, vomiting.

Weather patterns in Alaska can be unpredictable, sometimes causing rougher seas, and you never know how your body might react. Moreover, it’s not just about being on the ship. Excursions, like smaller boat trips to see glaciers or wildlife, can also be a trigger.

If the captain announces that we’re heading into bad weather I immediately take my seasickness medicine and then I’m fine.

By packing seasickness medication, you’re safeguarding your enjoyment of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. These remedies come in various forms, from over-the-counter pills like Dramamine to prescription patches, natural remedies like ginger tablets, or even acupressure wristbands.

It’s advisable to consult with your healthcare provider on what might work best for you.

6. Research Your Ship Ahead of the Cruise and on Embarkation Day

For us, it usually takes a couple of days until we learn the ins and outs of a new ship. Many passengers I talk to are overwhelmed at first and it takes a while to figure everything out.

I always suggest studying the ship you’re on prior to the cruise and compiling a list on your phone with details. For example which restaurants are specialty and complimentary, and checking if you need to book dining and show appointments.

The more research you can do ahead of the cruise, the less time you will waste within the first days of the cruise.

Embarkation Day: As soon as you board the ship, especially if you embark early, remember your cabin might not be ready yet, so it’s a great time to roam the ship and familiarize yourself!

If you embark on your Alaska cruise around noon, your cabin might not be ready until 2-3 PM, so brace yourself for this.

Occasionally, you might be able to head straight to your cabin upon embarkation, but this isn’t standard. Considering the previous guests would have vacated the cabins only around 8 am, the crew doesn’t have

7. Bring a Water Bottle

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Bringing a reusable water bottle on your Alaska cruise is an excellent idea for several reasons. First, staying hydrated is crucial, especially when partaking in various activities and excursions in different climates. Having a water bottle on hand will ensure you always have easy access to water.

Second, it’s an eco-friendly option that cuts down on the use of disposable plastic bottles, aligning with the sustainable practices that protect the pristine Alaskan environment. Lastly, many modern cruise ships have water refilling stations, so you can conveniently refill your bottle, ensuring a supply of fresh, cold water throughout your journey.

Some say that they only needed a water bottle on the excursion but not on the ship. We don’t agree! Except when heading for dinner or lunch, we always carry one with us.

8. No Need to Pack a Hair Dryer and Towels

Bringing a hair dryer on your Alaska cruise isn’t necessary due to the amenities provided on most modern cruise ships. Cruise ship cabins typically come equipped with a hair dryer for passengers’ use, saving you the hassle of packing one.

Packing your own towels is also not required and here’s why: Cruise lines provide ample towels for their passengers. In your cabin, you’ll find towels for showering, and additional ones are supplied for use at the pool or when going ashore for the beach or water-based excursions.

Thus, bringing your own hair dryer or towels would merely consume precious luggage space and add unnecessary weight to your baggage.

9. Essential Tips for Embarkation Day

Embarkation day on a cruise is the first day of your voyage when everyone boards the ship. It’s a day full of anticipation and excitement, as you check in, explore the ship’s amenities, and settle into your cabin, ready to start your cruising adventure.

Embarkation Day Tip 1: Allocate Enough Time

Consider reaching the port a day earlier if possible. Traveling to the port on embarkation day can be done, but it tends to be stressful.

I have personally traveled to ports and boarded a ship on the same day, a scenario I wouldn’t recommend, but under certain circumstances, it can be fine.

However, if you do have a choice, I suggest arriving at the port the night before you embark on your Alaska cruise. The last thing you’d want is to kick-start your journey with stress.

Living within a few hours of the port might eliminate the need for this, but do ensure you have sufficient time to make the journey.

Embarkation Day Tip 2: Expect a Waiting Line

It’s undoubtedly important to arm yourself with patience for an Alaska cruise.

Embarkation can resemble the process at an airport, so expect to wait in line for check-in or security.

Tip: Maintain no expectations, stay prepared, and relax. It’s vacation time.

Embarkation Day Tip 3: Prepare to Undergo Security Checks

The first time we went on an Alaska cruise, we were surprised that the ship security is almost the same as in an airport. Be prepared that your luggage and your body will be scanned.

Upon arriving at the port, you’ll have to pass through security. Cruise lines scan for any potentially dangerous items or prohibited articles.

The policy regarding carrying alcohol onboard is diverse and complicated. While some cruise lines permit a certain quantity of alcohol, others forbid it entirely.

Embarkation Day Tip 4: Choose The Main Restaurant

Very few people are aware of this great tip:

Upon embarkation, most people head for the buffet or the pool, both of which can get quite crowded.

On many cruises, the main dining room also opens for lunch, allowing you to start your cruise in a more relaxed manner.

10. Be Early for Dinner and Lunch

This is one of your favorite tips and tricks.

On our Alaska cruises, we are typically the first to arrive for lunch and dinner. This resulted in our having the pick of the seats and often being early enough to be stationed by a window.

For panoramic views while dining, it’s really worth considering an early mealtime. That means we can enjoy excellent views and attentive service while avoiding crowded dining areas.

We found the buffet to be an excellent choice for breakfast, while we opted for seated restaurants for lunch and dinner. The buffet on our Alaska cruises was never packed during breakfast, and they offered a good variety of food.

The buffet became crowded during lunch and dinner, and it was far more peaceful to sit at our dedicated table and have the meal served to us. If you do choose the buffet, it’s a good idea to secure an unoccupied table first, before proceeding to collect your food. It makes for a smoother experience than juggling full plates while seeking a table.

 

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