If you’re thinking about taking an Alaska cruise vacation, you’ll be happy to know that America’s Last Frontier is best explored on a cruise. If you’ve never visited before, you’re probably wondering when is the best time to cruise to Alaska.
The fact that the Alaska cruise season is just five months long, from May to September, makes it important for you to know all the ins and outs of Alaska cruising so you can choose the best time to sail.
Alaska’s location at the far northwestern corner of North America and its two-season weather of long, cold winters and short, intense summers make it a unique cruise destination. Cruise ships have a short window in which to safely navigate through the ice that may still be present in Alaska’s waterways during the first part of the cruise season.
Winter’s long nights turn into long hours of daylight starting in April, making those May through September months the most beautiful time to experience Alaska’s incredible combination of vibrant wildlife, rich culture, and breathtaking glaciers.
The good news is that no matter when you visit, you’ll experience the best way to see Alaska aboard a luxury cruise ship. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about choosing the best time to cruise to Alaska.
When is the best time to cruise to Alaska to see whales?
Watching a humpback or an orca arc gracefully out of Alaska’s blue-green water is a sight you’ll never forget.
On an Alaska whale-watching cruise, you’ll have the chance to see some of the state’s eight magnificent species of whales that frequent its icy waters. As luck would have it, the entire Alaska cruise season is also prime whale-watching season.
Depending on which itinerary you sail and when you choose to cruise, you can increase your chances of seeing certain species, including humpbacks, orcas, and Minke whales.
You can spot whales on Alaska shore excursions like a safari vessel whale-sighting tour in Stephens Passage, Juneau, to evening whale-quest cocktail cruises where sighting a whale is guaranteed.
You may even catch a glimpse of a whale swimming alongside your cruise ship as you sip morning coffee on your stateroom veranda; it’s just one of the joys of cruising to Alaska.
Humpback whales start making their journey from the warm waters of Mexico and Hawaii in March and April, and by June and July they’re happily feeding in the waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Seeing a single whale, as they prefer to travel, or in small pods, as they like to feed, is highly likely. If humpbacks are your favorite, book an Inside Passage cruise during late June, July, or August.
Orcas (killer whales) are the most elusive of the whales that inhabit the waters from the Pacific Northwest to Seward and the Kenai Fjords in Alaska. These incredible black and white behemoths are of two varieties: residents and transients. Transients troll up and down the waters of the West Coast for food, while resident orcas live in family pods and stay in the area feeding on salmon through the fall.
If orcas are on your list of whales to see, it’s likely, though not guaranteed, that you’ll catch a glimpse of them on most of our cruises, particularly Alaska cruises from Seattle during May and early June, round-trip itineraries to/from Vancouver, and on one-way cruise itineraries between Vancouver, British Columbia and Seward.
Gray whales are also more commonly spotted earlier in the season, while blue whales are more likely to be seen in July and August.
When is the best time to visit Alaska to see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, Latin for “morning light coming from the North,” are one of the world’s most amazing sights.
If you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights on your cruise, the best time to cruise Alaska is the last part of the shoulder season, late September. With days beginning to shorten and the nights getting longer, a September cruise itinerary offers the last possibility of the year.
You can also book an Alaska cruisetour with an optional Evening Aurora Pursuit excursion in Fairbanks that offers the best chance to see this spectacle of light.
When is the best time to find deals on an Alaska cruise?
If you have a flexible travel schedule and don’t have a specific stateroom in mind, consider visiting Alaska during shoulder season to find the best cruise deals.
Shoulder season for the Alaska cruise season includes the months of May and September. The weather is still cool (May) or cooling down (September), and with school still in session or just beginning, deals can be found during these months.
During May cruises to Alaska, it’s still on the cold side (40 to 53 degrees), so you may find the state’s wildlife just emerging. The weather may also play a role in your cruise ship’s route, as some areas may still be unpassable with ice. However, May is the state’s driest month, with little to no rainfall.
Look for reduced fares when booking a cruise to Alaska in late shoulder season (September) with the same travel benefits of still fine but changing weather.
When is the best time to visit Alaska to avoid crowds?
Shoulder season is also the best time to go on an Alaska cruise if you prefer fewer crowds while exploring the historical and cultural aspects of Alaskan cities and towns.
Shore excursions are easier to book, so take full advantage of roomier whale-watching cruises and less crowded restaurants.
Schools are still in session in May and September, so fewer families are traveling. Also, many cruise passengers prefer to travel to Alaska in the warmer weather, so crowds on both sea and land tend to thin out.
When is the best time to see Alaska’s glaciers?
Alaska’s glaciers are magnificent, and Celebrity’s Alaska cruise itineraries take in two of the most accessible glaciers in Southeast Alaska: Hubbard Glacier and Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier.
The height of the Alaska cruise season (June, July, and August) is the best time to cruise Alaska on these itineraries to ensure you’ll be able to see and enjoy the glaciers on each of the routes.
Cruising during peak season increases the probability that warmer temperatures have allowed more of the winter ice to melt, allowing for smooth sailing through the Inner Passage and the fjords, and the captain’s ability to get as close as possible to the glacier to give you the most spectacular experience possible.
When sailing the Hubbard Glacier itinerary, your ship’s captain will slowly turn the ship so that passengers on all sides will be able to enjoy the view and witness any calving (shearing off) that might occur while the ship is in the glacier’s vicinity.
Sailing the Endicott Arm fjord toward Dawes Glacier is just as spectacular an itinerary, and the glacier is just as magnificent.
For these peak season Alaska cruise routes, it’s advisable to book early so you get the best stateroom. Booking a veranda stateroom ensures that you’ll have your own private space to see glaciers during your cruise.
When is the best time for families to visit Alaska?
Summer break, which is peak cruising season, is an ideal time for families to go on an Alaska cruise. Depending on your family’s interests, you’ll want to decide whether to book earlier or later in the season, since there can be a difference in weather and activities between the end of June and mid-August.
Some of the shore excursions you can experience when going on an Alaska cruise with kids include hiking the Tongass forest, whale-watching tours, kayaking, and learning about Tlingit culture.
Aim for the week right after school ends or the week before school begins if you’d like to get there just ahead of the most crowded part of peak season. A cruise to Alaska is an unforgettable summer family vacation experience your kids will cherish forever.
When is the best time to cruise to Alaska for maximum daylight?
Imagine being able to enjoy Alaska’s incredible natural beauty during days of near-continuous sunlight. With so much daylight, you can enjoy all the best Alaska shore excursions, from biking alongside the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau to hiking in the Tongass National Forest.
If you want to experience the phenomenon of sunlit nights for yourself, the best time to go to Alaska on a cruise is right around the Summer Solstice in the second half of June. This is the time when days are longest in the entire Northern Hemisphere.
When is the best time to visit Alaska via land and sea?
To explore even more of the natural wonders of Alaska, consider a cruisetour. A cruisetour is a vacation that combines a full-length cruise (seven nights or longer) with an escorted tour on land before or after the cruise.
The tour portion can be anywhere from two to six nights long and take you deep into the Alaskan wilderness, where you’ll explore small mountain towns and Denali National Park and Preserve.
During the land portion of your vacation, your tour guide will make sure you have everything you need and will arrange comfortable transportation from one site to the next. You’ll also get ample free time to explore on your own. When it comes to transportation and accommodation, you’ll experience luxurious glass-domed trains and stay in high-end hotels and lodges.
When is the best time to explore Alaska’s cities and towns?
There’s no question that the best time for most cruisers to go to Alaska is during peak season, and alternately in shoulder season.
In addition to the spectacular scenery and rich native wildlife, you’ll also find the ports of call on your Alaska cruise to be welcoming and full of interesting things to see and do.
Get a first look at Juneau with a bird’s-eye view as the Mount Roberts Tramway takes you to the top of Mount Roberts, where you can hike a rainforest, stop at a nature center, see nature films at the theater, and enjoy a snack. The tramway is located just across the pier from the cruise ship dock.
Get to know Alaska’s rich native history with a visit to the Alaska State Museum, then see the historic churches, memorials, and saloons dating back to 1914 as you walk through Alaska’s capital city.
See the most visible symbol of the Tlingit when you tour Potlatch Totem Park in Ketchikan. The totem poles reveal the history of the Tlingit in mythology and art, and you can learn about the art by watching live demonstrations.
Alaska food festivals, marathon races, dances, art exhibits, and so much more are offered year-round, but especially during cruise season. Ketchikan holds a Gigglefeet dance festival in late July or early August each year. See local residents show their best moves, then dance to music old and new.
Baranof Castle Historical Site is a must see when visiting Sitka. It’s the place where the American flag was first raised in Alaska as the Russian flag was lowered in 1867. Visit the Island Artists Gallery, a cooperative of 25 native artists, and meet artists at work.
Sitka hosts a summer music festival each year in June, with formal evening concerts, casual cafe concerts, a three-hour dinner cruise with live music, and a Sunday outdoor crab feed fundraiser.
Walk to Skagway’s historic downtown from the cruise dock and tour the town’s infamous saloons, including the Red Onion. Then, tip back a genuine Southeast Alaska specialty, a spruce tip ale at the Skagway Brewing Company; this unusual ale uses spruce tips instead of hops in its brew.
Soak in Seward’s jaw-dropping beauty complete with snow-capped mountain ranges as you walk along the Seward Boat Harbor. Take a walk in downtown Seward, stop in at the Yukon Bar, and continue the longstanding tradition of writing your name on a dollar bill and pinning it to the bar’s wall. Listen to bands, sip local craft beer, and watch out for roving moose.
When is the best time to cruise to Alaska for salmon fishing?
Salmon fishing isn’t just a popular pastime in Alaska. It’s one of the state’s most lucrative industries, and many cruisers can’t wait to try their hand at it.
One of the best ways to experience salmon fishing is by booking a shore excursion. Any of the fishing tour companies offer services that package up your catch and ship it back to your home packed in dry ice so you can have a feast, and bragging rights, when you return home.
You’ll find salmon throughout the Alaska cruise season, but if it’s the in-demand King Salmon (also called Chinook Salmon) that you’re after, the best time to visit Alaska is between May and mid-July when King Salmon are doing their runs through the coastal waters of Alaska.
What shore excursions are available in Alaska throughout the cruise season?
Many of Alaska’s most popular activities can be done anytime from May through September, depending on the port of call.
Glacier viewing is an all-cruise-season activity, with many ways to get to the glacier depending on your preference while in different ports. Biking alongside the glacier, or taking a helicopter to land on top of a glacier, is a memorable and spectacular way to begin a glacier hike.
Other popular Alaska shore excursions include sea kayaking, rafting, craft beer tasting in town, attending a salmon bake, visiting museums to learn about Alaska’s history and culture, and going on local hikes you can access from town.
For all your Alaska shore excursions, you’ll want to dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly.
What Alaska cruise itineraries are available during each month of the cruise season?
Celebrity Cruises has roundtrip Alaska cruise itineraries that depart from Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and one-way cruises (northbound and southbound) to and from Seward, Alaska. Cruises are available from May to September.
Featured May Cruises to Alaska
Get to Alaska right when the cruise season begins on an Alaska Northbound Glacier Cruise that departs in May from Vancouver, British Columbia. You’ll see something new every single day of your cruise in May, from sailing the Inside Passage to visiting Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, and Skagway before ending your cruise in Seward, Alaska, where you might even be able to see some snow on the ground.
Featured June Cruises to Alaska
Experience the wonders of Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier on the gorgeous Celebrity Solstice on a June cruise to Alaska. This popular itinerary sails roundtrip from Seattle, Washington.
Along the way, you’ll stop in the Alaskan port towns of Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, as well as Victoria, British Columbia. As you sail through Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier, relax on your private veranda and admire the stunning landscapes.
Featured July Cruises to Alaska
Choose a longer vacation that lets you soak up the warmer weather that July is known for in Alaska. The Grand Heartland Adventure Cruisetour combines a 7-night Alaska cruise with seven days of touring the inland area of Alaska through Denali National Park and up into Fairbanks. You can also choose tours tailored to your interests during your July cruise.
Featured August Cruises to Alaska
August is another great month for a cruisetour. If you’re trying to squeeze in one last summer vacation before the kids go back to school and life becomes hectic again, opt for a shorter tour portion of the cruisetour.
The Denali Express Cruisetour includes a 7-night sailing with three days of touring up to Denali National Park and back down to Seward. If you have a more flexible schedule, book the optional tour to see the Northern Lights from Fairbanks during your August cruise.
Featured September Cruises to Alaska
Increase your chances of seeing fall foliage on an Alaska Southbound Glacier Cruise itinerary that sails from Seward, Alaska down to British Columbia. The northern ports you’ll visit along the way may already be showing signs of autumn, and by beginning in Alaska, you can enjoy a couple of days before your September cruise embarks to explore on land when the first signs of the impending Alaskan winter are just starting to show.
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