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An Alaska whale-watching cruise is one of the best ways to see the world’s largest mammals in their natural habitat. During an Alaskan vacation, you’ll spot feeding humpback whales, orcas swimming with their offspring, and gray and blue whales splashing in the water from a front-row seat.

The kinds of whale species you’ll encounter while on your cruise largely depends on which region of Alaska you’re sailing through. The time of year you go on your trip also has a large impact on the number of whales you may be able to see.

For those planning on going on an Alaska cruise soon, there are some important tips to make sure your whale watching experience is as memorable and exciting as possible. From how to increase your chances of spotting wildlife to what to pack in your suitcase, here’s everything you should know before heading off on your journey through the Last Frontier.

What is the best month for whale watching in Alaska?

Humpback whale spotted while on an Alaska whale watching cruise

Alaska’s cruise season runs from May through September. Luckily, whales can often be spotted in the area during those months.

After spending the winter in the warmer southern waters of the Pacific Ocean, by spring, most whales have made their way up the coastline of North America and have arrived in Alaska, where they’ll feed and teach their offspring how to hunt until the early fall. Therefore, the best time to cruise to Alaska to see whales is any time throughout the cruise season.

Humpback whales bubble net feeding in Juneau

However, there are certain months when you’re more likely to see certain species of whales than others. Humpback whales tend to be more visible in the months of June and July.

If you’re hoping to view black and white orcas, Alaska cruises in May and June are your best bet. As for gray whales, they are more likely to be spotted earlier in the season, while blue whales are more prevalent during the last half of the summer in Alaska.

Read: Alaska Cruise Tips to Make the Most of Your Vacation

Where is the best whale watching in Alaska?

Beautiful landscape in Icy Strait Point, Alaska

The best way to ensure you’ll see whale wildlife in action while on a cruise to Alaska is to visit ports of call that are near whale migration paths and feeding zones in the region.

The best whale watching ports of call are typically Juneau, Icy Strait Point, and Sitka in Alaska, and Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

Can you see whales from the cruise ship in Alaska?

Of course! One of the perks of an Alaska whale watching cruise is the opportunity to see wildlife from the comfort of your ship. To increase your chances of successful whale watching while on board, hang out on one of the cruise ship’s many open-air decks—some would say the best way to see Alaska and its surreal beauty.

If you prefer to be inside, pick public areas with large windows instead. Keep your ears open for announcements on the ship’s loudspeakers, as they’ll often alert passengers if a whale has been spotted and will even let you know what side of the ship you’ll be able to see it.

Couple on a balcony Celebrity Edge

Another way to increase your odds of seeing whales from the ship is to book a veranda stateroom or suite. Having your own private veranda will allow you to step out or lounge by the water, maximizing the amount of opportunities you’ll have to look out at the ocean.

Sit on your balcony with a hot cup of coffee or fine wine and scan the horizon for the telltale sign of a whale: a plume of warm, moist air shooting up a whale’s blowhole to the surface.

Read: How To Spot Marine Mammals From a Cruise Ship

What should I bring on an excursion to see whales in Alaska?

Friends enjoying an Alaska whale watching cruise with binoculars

It’s a wise idea to pack a pair of binoculars and keep them with you throughout your journey on an Alaska whale watching cruise, especially if your ship is making its way through water passages in which whales are often seen.

Another item we suggest bringing along is a high-resolution camera with a long-range zoom lens. While you might think your phone’s camera will suffice, a hi-res camera will actually be able to capture whales from a distance and will provide better images of all the wildlife you’ll be seeing during your cruise.

Photographer taking a photo while on an Alaska whale watching cruise excursion

When planning what to pack for an Alaska cruise, be sure to bring a sturdy strap for your camera. If you’re going on a whale watching excursion while in port, consider bringing a dry bag to protect your camera and valuables from water or ocean spray.

What are some whale-watching excursions I can take during an Alaska cruise?

The best way to make sure you spot whales on your Alaska cruise route is to take part in a whale-watching shore excursion. There are several unforgettable excursions at many of our Alaskan ports of call.

Here are some popular excursion ideas for those who want to maximize their chances of seeing whales in the wild, and possibly even more than one kind of species.

Whale-Watching Shore Excursions in Victoria, BC

Whale breaches in Hairo Strait

Victoria is known for its excellent whale watching. Zip across the water in an eco-friendly zodiac boat, which will bring you closer to sea animals including orcas, humpback whales, minke whales, seals, and sea lions. While you’re on the lookout for wildlife, you’ll also get to enjoy the beautiful scenery found along the Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait.

Read: Things to Do in Victoria, BC

Whale-Watching Cruise Excursions in Icy Strait Point

While in Icy Strait Point, you’ll have the chance to take a shore excursion to Point Adolphus, an active feeding ground and one of the best humpback whale viewing areas in Alaska. Spotting wildlife at Point Adolphus is all but guaranteed, since a large number of whales gather here during the summer to feast on the nutrient-rich water found in the area.

During your high-speed sightseeing cruise there, you’ll also be accompanied by a naturalist who will relay fun facts about the scenery and the famed marine animals in Alaska that you’ll encounter during your cruise.

Humpback whale tail spotted in Alaska

Icy Strait Point also provides a wonderful opportunity to see Freddy, a local favorite and one of Alaska’s most famous humpback whales. Unlike other whales that migrate south in the winter, Freddy stays in the bay by Icy Strait Point year round.

He’s also known as the only solo bubble-net feeder in the area. Bubble-net feeding is typically done in groups, when numerous whales blow bubbles around a school of fish to trap and later feast on them. Freddy is considered unique for accomplishing this activity on his own with a special spiral bubble pattern.

Juneau Whale-Watching Shore Excursions

Humpback whale spotted in Juneau, Alaska

There’s a wide range of iconic Juneau experiences that include plenty of whale watching. Board a catamaran and cruise around Stephen’s Passage, where you’ll have the chance to see humpback whales and get glimpses of the vast Mendenhall Glacier, which spans an impressive thirteen miles long. Finish off your outing with a stop at Orca Point Lodge, where you’ll enjoy a traditional salmon bake breakfast.

If you’re looking to spot a more diverse amount of species, take an excursion along Stephen’s Passage and Auke Bay for whale watching and the chance to see frolicking seals and soaring bald eagles, too.

Tourists with Mendenhall Glacier backdrop in Alaska

Score some epic photos for your social media accounts during a hike around the rainforest surrounding Mendenhall Glacier, where you’ll see all sorts of wildlife including sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises, eagles, salmon, and black bears. Some excursions are even guided by a naturalist photographer, who will be on hand to give out tips and help you frame the best shots when photographing Alaska.

Another fun shore excursion in Juneau takes you out to sea on a jet-powered catamaran specially designed for the waters of Alaska. Once you reach a common feeding area for humpback whales, you’ll get the chance to see them breaching, bubble-net feeding, and performing other awe-inspiring activities.

Read: Best Places to Go Whale Watching in the World

Whale-Watching Excursions in Sitka

Deep blue waters of Sitka Sound in Alaska

While in Sitka, explore one or several of the region’s remote islands and their rich wildlife by boarding an expedition catamaran. On the way, the catamaran will navigate through the waters of Sitka Sound, where you’ll have multiple opportunities to see whales, brown bears, and sea otters.

Shore Excursions to See Whales in Seward

Kenai Fjords view when on an Alaska whale watching cruise

If you’re sailing on an Alaska cruise that ends in Seward, taking a catamaran cruise around Kenai Fjords National Park is a must.

While you’re cruising your way through the waters of Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords, you’ll likely see humpback whales splashing in the water, soaring bald eagles, sea lion colonies, and puffins in the distance.

If you’re looking for more educational opportunities to learn about the wildlife in the area, you can also pencil in a visit to the Seward SeaLife Center, where you’ll learn about all of the marine species living in the waters of Alaska.

Then, board a sightseeing boat for the chance to see those animals in action while also getting the opportunity to view the dramatic coastline scenery of the icy Kenai Fjords National Park.

Read: Things to Do in Seward, Alaska

Book a Whale-Watching Cruise to Alaska

Celebrity Solstice sailing in Alaska

Watch: Alaska Cruise: Experience The Last Frontier

Now that you know all about the best time to cruise to Alaska to see whales, don’t wait a minute longer and start planning your Alaskan vacation now. On Celebrity Cruises’ website, you can search through all of our Alaska cruise itineraries, find out everything you need to know about our award-winning vessels, and even start booking your shore excursions.

Free Vacation Planning Services

Free Vacation Planning Services