15 Alaska Cruise Tips and Tricks

Welcome aboard our all-encompassing guide to essential tips for your Alaska cruise journey, designed specifically to ensure a smooth and enjoyable time while you’re on the ship!

Our guide helps 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.

💡 Our hacks and tricks can transform your cruising experience from good to fantastic. We’ve covered everything to help you avoid common pitfalls and to navigate life aboard with ease, ensuring that your journey is as seamless as possible.

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

Our 15 essential tips and tricks serve as a handy companion mainly for first-time cruisers:

1. Make Sure to 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.

2. 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.

3. Make Sure to Get to the Right Pier in Seattle

Make sure to head to the right terminal when your cruise starts in Seattle: Pier 66 and Pier 91 are the two terminals. The piers are approximately two miles apart.

Pier 66 is close to downtown and typically hosts Norwegian Cruise Line vessels. Pier 91 serves different cruise lines. Your cruise company will inform you which terminal you’ll depart from in your booking documents.

4. 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

5. What to Pack and Wear? | Clothing Items

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.

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.

💡 Need more tips? Read our complete guide about Alaska Cruise Outfits.

6. Bring Insect Repellent

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Insect repellent is a crucial item to pack for your Alaska cruise, mainly due to the prevalence of mosquitoes and other insects, especially during the summer months. Surprisingly, these insects can sometimes be found even on the ship, particularly when it’s docked or cruising close to shore.

Whether you’re hiking in the Alaskan wilderness, visiting a glacier, or simply enjoying a quiet evening on the deck, you are susceptible to these pesky insects. Therefore, having a good insect repellent can enhance your comfort and enjoyment, allowing you to fully immerse in the stunning landscapes of Alaska without the constant worry of insect bites.

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. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. Do Not Lose Your Cruise Card

Upon boarding, you’ll receive a room card, which is essentially your passport onboard. Keep it close, as you’ll need it frequently during your cruise and to embark the ship.

This cruise card is incredibly crucial during your cruise. It charges all onboard expenditures. It is required to check into all dining establishments (including the complimentary ones), to unlock your room of course, to activate your room lights, and to cover any expenses made on the ship.

Your card also enables you to utilize any free or acquired credits you have for your cruise. After exhausting these, it connects to your credit card, eliminating the need to carry a wallet around the ship.

Should you misplace the card, you can get a replacement at the reception, but it’s best to avoid this scenario.

You’ll need the card multiple times during embarkation, so keep it handy, especially during that time.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. Cruise Line Excursions: Yes or No?

Booking cruise line excursions for your Alaska trip comes with several advantages that can significantly enhance your overall cruise experience. The primary benefit is the sheer convenience it provides; the cruise line handles all elements of the excursion, from transportation to guides, allowing you to fully immerse in the Alaskan beauty without being bogged down by logistical concerns.

It also assures a certain level of safety and quality, as cruise lines typically work with reputable local operators well-versed in navigating Alaska’s unique landscapes. Another key advantage is the “back to ship” guarantee. Given Alaska’s vast wilderness and potential for unpredictable weather, this assurance that the ship will wait or arrange alternative transportation in case of delays offers invaluable peace of mind.

However, there are also certain drawbacks to consider when booking cruise line excursions for your Alaskan adventure. One notable disadvantage is cost; these excursions generally have a higher price tag than those organized independently, partly due to the cruise line’s markup. Also, you might find yourself exploring with a large group, which can make your Alaskan experience feel less intimate and more hurried.

The itineraries of these excursions are fixed and offer less flexibility, which might limit your chance to linger a little longer watching bears at a wildlife reserve, or marveling at a particularly stunning glacier. While cruise line excursions offer a broad overview of Alaska’s highlights, they may not delve deeply into specific topics, such as local indigenous cultures, that you may be particularly interested in.

Lastly, booking through the cruise line could limit your opportunities to engage directly with local Alaskan businesses and communities, which can offer a more authentic insight into the region.

Bottom line: As a first-timer, we suggest booking a cruise line excursion AND one independent one.

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