Planning an Alaska cruise can be tricky and sometimes overwhelming. That’s why we created these 21 Frequently Asked Cruise Questions and Answers to help you out.
This is a complete Alaska Cruise guide with expert tips and covers almost everything you should know.
We have been on multiple Alaska Cruises and know that many of you have specific questions and are wondering about a few things. The answers are based on our experiences, and on the knowledge of Alaska experts and veterans.
Will Alaska be too cold on a cruise?
While Alaska is known for its ice and glaciers, it’s not too cold during the cruise season from May to September for most passengers. In July or August, for example, the temperatures reach summer-like temps in the 80s Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).
However, it also can still get chilly at times, especially in May, June, and September. It gets particularly cooler on a cloudy day and at night, of course. For example, temperatures in May can drop into the 40s Fahrenheit (4-9 degrees Celsius) on a cloudy day and even lower during the night.
Definitely come prepared for rain, cold winds on the upper decks, and chilly mornings and nights. However, also pack a couple of t-shirts for those sunny and warmer days on the ship.
More about the weather and packing tips later!
How long is a typical Alaska cruise?
Alaska cruises can range from 7 to 30 days, depending on how much you want to do and see, how much time you have, and how much you want to spend. Most Alaska cruises are at least 7 days and either sail roundtrip from Seattle or Vancouver or are Alaska Glacier cruises sailing south from Anchorage or north from Vancouver.
Many passengers extend their Alaska cruise by adding a land tour to explore the interior cities and national parks of Alaska. These “cruise tours” can range from three to 16 days in addition to your 7-day cruise vacation.
What should you pack and wear?
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.
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.
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.
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 as 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.
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.
Read our complete guide about Alaska Cruise Outfits.
Which cruise line should you use?
You can sail to Alaska on some of the most well-known cruise lines in the world, such as Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Un-Cruise Adventures.
When it comes to picking a cruise line for your Alaska adventure, there are a few things to consider. Princess Cruises is perfect for families with different generations traveling together, and they’ve received the Best Cruise Line for Alaska award multiple times.
For those who want a lot of onboard activities and entertainment, Royal Caribbean has you covered. If you’re on a budget, Norwegian offers affordable prices.
For those who want to travel in style, Celebrity is the way to go with their luxurious cabins, top-notch service, and delicious dining. Holland America is best for those who prefer a more classic cruise experience without too many kids around.
Additionally, we suggest reading customer reviews on Google or TripAdvisor to find the right one for you.
Do any small ships sail to Alaska?
Small ships offer a more intimate and personalized way of exploring Alaska. They visit remote waterways that are inaccessible to larger ships, and you can get up close to glaciers and wildlife such as whales.
The atmosphere is casual, and you have the option of dining with whomever you choose. Keep in mind that small ship cruises tend to cost more than larger contemporary cruises.
What can you do on an Alaskan cruise?
Don’t worry, there will never be a shortage of onboard activities. From shows to live music, culinary demonstrations to outdoor recreation, and even casino gaming (more about casino restrictions later), there’s something for everyone. You’ll also find a range of amenities like specialty restaurants, gyms, dance clubs, libraries, and spas on most ships.
The cruise lines often offer education programs to teach guests about Alaska’s wildlife, glaciers, and native cultures.
But let’s not forget the real highlight of any Alaska cruise – the breathtaking scenery and incredible ports of call. The Inside Passage is a popular route, with stops at Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, and College Fjord. You’ll also get to explore three of Alaska’s famous ports of call: Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway.
In Juneau, for example, you will get close to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is famous for its stunning views. What we love in Skagway, is that you can take a ride on the White Pass Railway, a vintage passenger train that follows the route taken by Klondike gold prospectors.
Is it true it doesn’t get dark in Alaska?
Alaska is known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun” due to the long days that can occur from April through September. The amount of daylight you experience depends on where you are and when you are traveling, but the longer days give you even more opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of Alaska and see wildlife.
Is a balcony cabin really worth it?
Yes, we highly suggest a balcony cabin as it is definitely worth it on an Alaska cruise. The view is constantly changing, and you can see mountains, wilderness, glaciers, or quaint waterfront communities. You may also see whales and wildlife at almost any time of day.
Additionally, balcony cabins are a great way to enjoy the view in solitude from the privacy of your own space. They appear bigger as well, and if you are already taking the time and spending money to go to Alaska, treating yourself to a balcony cabin is definitely worth it.
We know that many people say, a balcony cabin is a waste of money. This may be true for other cruises, but having a balcony is definitely worth the extra money on most Alaska cruises. Often there is at least one day when the ship stays in a breathtaking place, like Glacier Bay. While you can surely enjoy the scenery from the main decks, it’s really a big bonus to have your own private space to become aware of that magnificence.
Should you buy additional packages like WiFi or drink packages?
Often, cruise lines charge extra for WiFi, and beverages like fresh-squeezed juice, soda, and alcohol are rarely included for every passenger.
Keep in mind, that unless you’re in port, you most likely won’t have cell reception.
You can pay for some of the amenities a la carte, like for an hour of WiFi, but they also sell packages that give you unlimited access for the whole cruise.
Personally, I encourage people to forego the WiFi packages and take the opportunity to disconnect and enjoy a technology- (and especially social media-) free vacation. That said, there are lots of reasons why you might
If you need to have internet access during the cruise for business or other reasons, paying the flat rate for a package is worth it and definitely more convenient than purchasing WiFi access by the hour. However, if you just want internet access for fun things like surfing or streaming, we encourage you to take the opportunity and disconnect from high-tech for a while.
Luckily, these packages are sometimes included in cruise sales and promotions.
What will you see on your Alaska cruise?
On an Alaska cruise, you will see wildlife, wilderness, mountains, and glaciers, as well as experience Native American culture and Gold Rush history unique to the area. The sights you see will depend on the cruise and tour you choose, of course.
Do all cruises travel through the scenic Inside Passage?
Almost every Alaska cruise goes through the Inside Passage! If you are traveling on a seven-, 10-, or 14-day cruise, sailing northbound, southbound, or roundtrip, you will get to see the breathtaking scenery of the Inside Passage.
When is the best month to see whales?
You can see whales in Alaska from June to early September, and if you’re lucky, you may see Humpback and Minke Whales, Orcas, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, and Harbour Porpoises.
The best chance of seeing Humpbacks is between June and July. We highly recommend taking an optional whale watching tour to increase your chances of seeing them. Whales begin their Northbound migration in February, and cows and calves begin around April. They start their Southbound migration in late October and continue through December.
Can you bring kids?
Absolutely yes, an Alaska cruise is a fantastic vacation that provides a unique educational opportunity for kids. Several cruise lines sailing to Alaska offer facilities and services for families with children of all ages.
Most cruise lines have cabins that can accommodate three, four, or five passengers, meaning that children can travel at reduced rates when sharing with their parents.
The most popular cruise lines for families are Princess and Royal Caribbean. Both offer fantastic youth programs, along with entertainment and activities for adults, making them perfect for families.
Which side of the ship is best for viewing glaciers?
Both sides of the ship are great for viewing glaciers. When cruising the Inside Passage, there is scenery on both sides of the ship, and when entering the fjords in Alaska, the viewing is equally good from both sides of the ship.
In other words, during your cruise, you’ll see the scenery from both sides of the ship.
Can you bring a wheelchair?
Most cruise lines will do their best to accommodate wheelchair passengers, with numerous wheelchair-accessible staterooms on modern ships. Wheelchair access is also available on cruise tours.
All cruise lines require advance notice for appropriate accommodation. Passengers with disabilities must be able to travel independently or with a capable companion.
Do you need a passport?
If you’re going on an Alaska cruise, you need a passport, even if you’re an American or Canadian citizen. That goes for any type of travel, whether by air, land, or sea. For cruises starting or ending in Vancouver, BC, you’ll definitely need a passport.
So, it’s required if you’re taking a glacier route cruise that starts or ends in Seward or Whittier. For roundtrip cruises from Seattle, passports are highly recommended, but there are other documents you can use instead.
Can you go fishing?
Yes, fishing is a popular activity in Alaska. You can enjoy full- or half-day fishing excursions in all the Alaska ports of call, fishing for King Salmon, Pink & Silver Salmon, Sockeye, Halibut, Rainbow Trout, Char, and Steelhead depending on the port or city.
Fishing excursions can be usually booked through the cruise line. An example of a tour is in Ketchikan, where you can spend four hours fishing for salmon. All gear and licensing are included. The cost of the fishing excursion is approximately $180 per person and will vary by the cruise line.
Read our complete guide about the best time to fish in Alaska.
Do you need travel insurance for your cruise?
We highly recommend travel insurance because any number of things can happen during the cruise, before it, on board, or during a shore excursion. Therefore, if you are planning a cruise holiday, it is essential that you buy a comprehensive travel insurance policy if you want to avoid the possibility of losing a lot of money.
- Cancellations due to sickness, or injury of you, or a family member
- Cruise delays, cancellations, interruptions
- Lost, stolen, or damaged baggage and personal effects
- Emergency medical and dental expenses
- Expenses incurred if your travel is delayed
Check more details here: Yonder Travel Insurance for Cruises FAQ
When is the cheapest time?
May, the first week of June, the last week of August, and all of September are considered shoulder season, and it’s generally more affordable than peak season, which is most of June, July, and August.
Peak Season tends to cost more because the weather is better, and that is when more people can travel.
Can you gamble on an Alaska cruise?
You can’t gamble while in Alaska, but casinos will open up while the ship sails in international waters around Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The are closed at all other times.
Is seasickness expected on Alaska cruises?
The waters in areas like the Inside Passage, or Glacier Bay are usually calm. Additionally, modern cruise ships have advanced stabilizing devices. If you do experience motion discomfort, there are over-the-counter remedies like Bonine, Mecklizine, Dramamine, Transderm Scope Patches, and Seabands. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking any medication.