A cruise is by far the easiest and most efficient way to see Alaska. It’s also effortless, as your ship transports you through pristine scenery from one spectacular setting to the next, providing a luxurious experience along the way. But a little insider knowledge with these Alaska cruise tips will help you get even more out of this extraordinary place.
Here are our top tips for an Alaskan cruise to help you plan the ultimate vacation.
Choose Your Season
The Alaska cruise season runs from May to October. Summer is short here and every month brings different experiences. In May and June, the wildlife is starting to become active and the days are getting longer. You’re likely to see a profusion of spring flowers and some animals with their young. If you want to visit Denali National Park, avoid going in May as it doesn’t open until June.
One of the best times to travel is in late June, just before the busy peak season, when it tends to be dry and sunny. July and August are the warmest months and the weeks when bears are most active, as the salmon are spawning.
October is the end of the Alaska season. While it’s cool, it’s still an enchanting time to travel as you’ll witness the autumnal ochres and reds of the tundra and the first dusting of snow on the mountains. You’ve got a chance of seeing the Northern Lights shimmy across the dark sky from September, which is a bonus to any journey.
Consider a Cruisetour
Add a land-based portion to your sea voyage with an organized Alaskan cruisetour, which shows you the best of the 49th state. During the cruise element, you’ll explore the Inside Passage and the coastal towns of southeast Alaska, while the land section might take you to the wild beauty of Denali National Park, the landscape dominated by the ice and granite mass of North America’s tallest mountain.
You’ll visit intriguing towns and cities, from cosmopolitan Anchorage to boho Talkeetna, staying in an upscale wilderness lodge for your time in the park and traveling by motorcoach and scenic train.
Some itineraries take you as far inland as Fairbanks, following the trail of the early gold prospectors, while others might explore the snowy majesty and emerald lakes of the Canadian Rockies.
Choose Your Itinerary
There are advantages to any Alaska cruise route you choose. A round-trip voyage might take you from either Vancouver or Seattle, Washington to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria in Canada; a perfectly comprehensive exploration of Alaska with dazzling scenery from start to finish and the opportunity to spend time in either city before or after the voyage.
If you want to explore places further north, like Seward, the gateway to the craggy beauty of the Kenai Fjords National Park, and the mighty Hubbard Glacier, you’ll need to opt for a one-way voyage from Seward flying from nearby Anchorage to Vancouver, Canada. Either way, though, you’ll see wildlife, glaciers, and incredible scenery.
Book a Veranda Stateroom
One of the best Alaska cruise tips is to book a balcony cabin. Wherever you are, the views are incredible. You can’t beat the experience of stepping out of bed onto your private balcony in the early morning, breathing in lungfuls of invigorating Alaskan air, and taking in the scenery.
Towering mountains, dense forest, and with luck, the uplifting sight of dolphins playing alongside the ship riding the bow wave is the best possible way to start the day.
Your balcony is a wonderful space later in the day, too; a cruise to Alaska is pretty action-packed, and sometimes, you’ll want to enjoy the peace and quiet of your private space as the ship slips its moorings and edges off the dock, bound for another stunning location.
Take the Kids
Alaska is a fantastic destination for family vacations. Kids love the wildlife and adventurous activities that offer a great bonding experience. You can kayak, go whale-watching, embark on a bear hunt, zipline, mush husky dogs, and hike. Other things kids will love include panning for gold, riding on steam trains, salmon cookouts, and if they’re very lucky, helicopter and seaplane rides.
Alaska is educational, too. Park rangers come on board when you’re visiting parks like Glacier Bay, or natural wonders like the Hubbard Glacier, and provide fascinating information in kid-friendly language. For downtime on board, and to give parents a rest, all of Celebrity’s ships also have excellent kids’ clubs.
If you’re planning on traveling with children, note that kids may not be as excited as you are about spending hours on end scanning the water looking for distant whales. Make sure to plan your vacation together, as a family, to keep everybody happy.
Pack for all Climates
Layers are your friend in Alaska. While July and August can get quite warm—up to around 67 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime—the weather can change in minutes. You’ll need base layers, a couple of fleeces, a lightweight jacket (preferably waterproof), gloves, and some decent walking shoes.
A windproof item is ideal for the time you’ll spend on deck, whether the ship is sailing and you’re out looking for whales, or if you’re floating silently at the face of one of Alaska’s colossal glaciers.
If you book excursions like kayaking, the necessary equipment will be provided, but do bring closed-toe shoes, which are essential for activities like ziplining. Remember a swimsuit as well. While you may not be taking a dip in Alaska’s icy water, there’s plenty of opportunities on board to take a refreshing dip or relax in a hot tub.
For evenings, smart casual is perfectly fine with a couple of Evening Chic occasions to dress up, but nothing as formal as tuxedos and ball gowns—unless you want to, of course.
Don’t Forget Your Binoculars
Alaska is teeming with magnificent wildlife, but sometimes, it’s in the distance. You might spot a bear foraging on a beach, or snoozing in a tree, for example, so the ability to get a close-up view is invaluable.
A distant whale blow becomes all the more exciting if you can zoom in and try to identify the species. One of the most useful tips for Alaskan cruise fans is to bring more than one pair unless you want to be haggling constantly about whose turn it is.
Bring a Dry Bag
Alaska gets a fair amount of rain and mist, although you’d be unlucky if it rained all day during the summer. Still, a roll-top dry bag, ideally with straps so you can wear it as a backpack, is a worthwhile accessory for going ashore, as you’ll be carrying cameras, phones, and other equipment.
It’s even more useful if you’re planning on joining a kayaking excursion, or heading off on a small boat where you’ll want to protect your gear from the spray.
Remember Your Zoom Lens
While a smartphone will certainly capture your Alaskan adventure, a zoom camera can bring out the real detail; the colors on the head of a bald eagle or the tail of a humpback as it dives.
A wide-angle zoom lens is the best option if you don’t want the hassle of changing lenses all the time. The light in Alaska is so beautiful that it’s worth bringing a quality camera, whether you’re shooting the ethereal morning mist on the water or a salmon-pink sunset.
Support the Local Economy
You can buy some cool souvenirs in Alaska, and there’s no shortage of retail opportunities in each port. Look for the Alaska Grown or Made In Alaska logos. When you buy local, you’re supporting the economy of towns that rely on a very short tourist season.
Locally made jewelry is a great buy, especially made from Alaskan jade, as are Christmas tree decorations, wood carvings, vacuum-packed Alaskan salmon, boxes of chocolate “moose poop” as amusing gifts for friends back home, and clothing.
“Bear claw” salad servers made from wood, not actual bear claws, are a typical Alaskan gift, as is a bottle of birch syrup, the state’s answer to maple syrup.
Plan Your Shore Excursions
An Alaskan cruise can be pretty busy if you pack your vacation with back-to-back shore excursions. While these are without doubt the best way to make the most of your time here, and the only real way to make it out into the true wilderness, there are ports where you can mix it up and do your own thing as well as enjoying the tours.
Ketchikan, for example, is compact, and it’s easy to wander along quaint Creek Street, the former red light district, now packed with craft stores. In Juneau, you could whizz up the Mount Roberts Tramway for a view of your ship and the surrounding mountains and then spend time in town.
Sitka, too, is a friendly little town around which you can stroll independently, while downtown Seward is a cool, fun place to have a relaxing lunch or sample some craft beers.
You will, however, want to join expert-led Alaskan shore excursions if you want to see bears close up, try a guided hike, head out on a kayak tour, or go whale watching with an expert.
Ziplining is available at several ports, although Icy Strait Point is arguably the most thrilling; if you’re traveling with kids, you’re likely to be pressured into at least one zipline adventure.
Then there are the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities you won’t want to miss. Meeting working huskies at a sled dog kennel outside Juneau. Soaring over the Tongass National Forest in a helicopter and landing on a glacier to trek on the ice. Or clattering along the contours of narrow valleys on historic the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
Follow the Rules
You’ll need some flexibility to travel in Alaska. July, for example, is salmon spawning season and tasty salmon means hungry bears.
As such, you may find that a lot of the forest trails could be marked off-limits with “Do Not Cross” tape because of bear activity, especially if you’re near a salmon spawning river. This is advice everybody should take seriously. Alaska is real wilderness, not a theme park, and the rules are there for your safety—and that of the wildlife.
Get the Best Views from the Ship
With a bit of planning, you can position yourself on the ship for the most beautiful views at the right time. For example, at sunset, when the ship sails the smooth waters of the forested, island-specked Inside Passage, you’ll want to be near a window.
If you like the idea of Italian classics in Tuscan Grille, a specialty dining restaurant that spans the aft end (the back) of Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Solstice or runs along the side of the ship on Millennium, book a window seat for dinner, timed for around sunset or earlier, and enjoy dreamy views of the ship’s wake and the pristine scenery.
Head for cocktails at the popular Sunset Bar, or take your morning coffee in the Sky Observation Lounge for uninterrupted forward views. Set up camp on the Lawn Club (on Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Eclipse) for the best views, while lounging on the grass with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Fleece blankets are provided on deck for cooler days.
Try Alaskan Cuisine
No trip to Alaska is complete without sampling the delicious local produce. You’ll be able to try Alaskan dishes on board, but there are a few classics to sample in port, too.
In Juneau, Tracy’s King Crab Shack does the ultimate crab bisque, as well as whole buckets of king crab legs with melted butter. The Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan is the place to go for all things fish, as the name suggests—fish tacos, fish and chips, and the restaurant’s signature smoked salmon chowder.
You can sample Alaskan salmon on a shore excursion, too. Book a tour that includes a salmon bake, for example, from Juneau, you can kayak the ice-strewn bay in front of the Mendenhall Glacier and then feast on grilled salmon in a forest clearing and grill marshmallows over a fire pit.
Inspired to start planning your next Alaskan adventure? Browse our range of exciting cruises on our website.