Find Out the Best Time to Visit Alaska Depending on Your Interests
The first thing you should know when figuring out the best time to visit Alaska on a cruise is that the Alaska cruise season is quite short. It only runs from May to September each year. This is for two main reasons:
1. The cruise ships need to be able to safely navigate through the ice that forms on Alaska’s waterways, and it is often too prevalent during the winter months.
2. It gets quite cold and dark in the winter months (in December there is less than six hours of daylight in many parts of the state) since Alaska is so far north, meaning not too many travelers want to go there during those months anyway.
The good news for cruisers is that this means you’ll have a great time no matter when you choose to sail to Alaska. Still, different times of the Alaska cruise season may be better for you depending on what you want to see, do, and experience while in Alaska. Read on for a breakdown of the best time to visit Alaska on a cruise for different types of interests.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Sun Seekers
Just as winter has what feels like endless hours of darkness in Alaska, the summer has long daylight hours and even days when the sun barely sets before coming up again, depending on what part of Alaska you’re in. If this chance to take advantage of near-continuous sunlight sounds appealing to you, the best time to visit Alaska is in June when the daylight hours are at their peak. The longest day is the same as elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere: June 21, also referred to as the Summer Solstice.
If you want to be in Alaska during the Summer Solstice, plan for an itinerary that has a port of call that day – the farther north the better. All of June, however, will provide long days with minimal hours of darkness throughout Alaska.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Whale Watching
The opportunity to see whales and even possibly see one from your cruise ship veranda is one of the things that travelers get most excited about when visiting Alaska. Luckily, the entire cruise season in Alaska is a prime time for whale watching, but you can increase your chances of seeing certain species depending when you go.
Humpback whales are usually feeding in the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage during the months of June and July and are often highly visible. Killer whales are more frequently spotted during the months of May and June. Gray whales are also more commonly spotted earlier in the season, while blue whales are more likely to be seen in July and August. But as always with wildlife – it’s never completely predictable so always be scanning the sea for the chance to see a whale breaching!
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for the Northern Lights
If you hope to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights during your cruise, your best bet is to visit in September when the days are starting to shorten and the nights are longer. You can never be sure that you’ll see the shimmering aurora borealis while on your cruise, but cuddled up on your stateroom veranda with a glass of wine in hand is a great way to watch for them.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska for Budget Travelers
If you are flexible of when you can visit Alaska during its cruise season and are looking to save some dollars, consider visiting during shoulder season. Shoulder season in Alaska for cruisers is May or September, when the weather generally is a bit colder and kids are still in school. Because there aren’t as many people wanting (or able) to travel to Alaska in May or September, you can sometimes find some great deals, especially if you’re flexible with dates, the cruise's embarkation port, and your stateroom category and location on the ship.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska to Avoid Crowds
Shoulder season is also the best time to visit Alaska if you’re hoping to encounter fewer crowds while exploring the state. Schools are typically in session in May and September meaning less families visiting the region and there are also plenty of people who prefer to travel to Alaska when it’s warmer there. Just pack lots of layers and you should be fine temperature-wise in May and September.
Plus (hint hint), May is actually the driest month of the cruise season typically if you're hoping to avoid heavy amounts of rainfall. The amount of rain you're likely to encounter increases as the season goes on.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska for Glacier Viewing
Just because a cruise itinerary says you’ll be visiting Hubbard Glacier or Tracy Arm Fjord doesn’t mean it will actually happen.
That’s because when you’re in Alaska you’re at the mercy of the elements. If the water is still too full of ice that a ship can’t navigate it in order to get to the glacier, then the captain has to alternate the route in order to do what’s best for the safety of the passengers on board. Luckily, in Celebrity Cruises’ case, they’re nearly always able to still fulfill your dream of seeing a glacier, and typically switch up the itinerary to include the majestic Dawes Glacier.
Still, Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord are spectacular to see (it’s why Celebrity Cruises makes an effort to visit them when other cruise lines go to the less impressive Glacier Bay). Some years it’s no problem to visit them throughout the entire cruise season. Other years it’s harder to do so – it all depends on how that winter went. If you want to increase your chances of being able to get to those glaciers, plan your trip for later in the summer after the warmer temperatures have had a chance to melt more of the ice in the water left over from winter.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska for Families with Kids
Summer break is an obvious time to visit Alaska for families, but you’ll want to think carefully about when during summer break to go depending on your family’s interests since there can be a difference in weather and activity between the end of June and mid-August.
If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds, aim for the week right after your kids finish up the school year or right before your kids go back to school since those weeks are often busy for other families and are right on the cusp of shoulder season.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Land and Sea
If you’re looking to do one of Celebrity Cruises’ popular cruisetours to Alaska, you may find the time of year to go on your vacation is a bit more limited. While there are a handful of Alaska cruisetours offered in May and September, most itineraries will occur between the months of June through August, giving you more options on when to go and what you can do while there.
If you haven’t heard of a cruisetour before, it’s 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 is typically at least a few nights long and can even be a week or longer. In Alaska, the tour portion of the cruisetour takes you deep into the inland 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. When it comes to transportation and accommodation, you’ll get to experience luxurious glass-domed trains and stay in high-end hotels and lodges.
Best Time to Visit Alaska for City and Town Exploration
If you were to go to Alaska in the winter or early spring you may find that many of the businesses are closed for the year in popular cities for visitors. This is because not many people want to visit in Alaska in winter, which is probably not a huge surprise; Alaska in the winter is cold plus it’s dark for a large portion of the day. If you visit Alaska on a cruise vacation you shouldn’t need to worry about that as businesses like restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions make sure they’re open and ready to cater to visitors and show them the wonderful world of Alaska.
Best Time to Visit Alaska for Salmon Fishing
Salmon fishing is a popular pastime in Alaska and visitors can try their hand at it – and even eat it back at home. Many 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 cook it up and have a feast upon your return.
You’ll be able to 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 most likely doing their runs through the coastal waters of Alaska.
Popular Activities You Can Do Anytime During the Alaska Cruise Season
Most activities in Alaska can be done anytime from May through September, depending on the port of call.
Dog sledding is offered year round since you just need snow and snow can pretty much always be found up in the mountains of Alaska, though may depend on the port how readily available it is.
Glacier hiking can also be done at all times during the Alaska cruise season, but how you get to that glacier may depend on the port you’re in. Taking a helicopter to the top of a glacier is a memorable and incredible way to get to your glacier hike.
Other popular activities to do in port while in Alaska are 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.
Some Alaska Tips No Matter What Time of Year You Visit
Save yourself regret and book a veranda stateroom if it’s at all possible within your budget to do so. A veranda stateroom is an amazing bonus when sailing on an Alaska cruise since it gives you direct access to all the sights and sounds of Alaska as soon as you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. It’s also a wonderful place to be able to sit in peace and privacy with a coffee in the morning or glass of wine in the evening and watch the port views or see if you can spot any whales frolicking in the ocean.
Pack layers so you can dress up or down quickly depending on the weather while in port. You’ll also want warm fleece pull-overs or sweaters to wear on your veranda at night as the air can get quite chilly in the evenings in Alaska.
Look for an itinerary with an embarkation port that is convenient for you. Celebrity Cruises even has Alaska cruise itineraries that depart from Seattle, Washington, which is an easy direct flight for many residents in the U.S. – or even an easy drive for some.
If you’re traveling with kids, look for ships that have kids clubs on board and other activities to entertain children and teens. Celebrity Cruises’ ships that sail to Alaska all have this.
You’ll want to take lots of photos so be sure to bring a camera and multiple memory cards plus extra batteries in case one dies while you’re in port.
Make sure your passport is up to date. Even if you depart from Seattle and only plan on getting off the ship in U.S. ports of call (and not the Canadian ones as the cruises typically visit either Victoria or Vancouver in British Columbia) you’ll still need your passport since you’ll be sailing through international waters.
Also since you’ll be in international waters for part of the cruise, check with your cell phone provider about roaming charges and international fees if you plan on using your phone during the vacation. You don’t want to think you’re in range for your phone’s data plan, only to find out you weren’t and are charged exorbitant roaming and international fees.
Some Excellent Alaska Cruise Itineraries for Any Time of the Season
Get your Alaska travel dreams going with these examples of Alaska cruise itineraries for each month of the Alaska cruise season.
May Alaska Cruises
Get to Alaska right when the cruise season begins on an Alaska Northern Glacier Cruise that departs in the first half of May from Vancouver, British Columbia. This 8-night cruise has something new to see every single day from sailing the Inside Passage to visiting Ketchikan, Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, and Skagway, before ending your cruise in Seward, Alaska, where you might even be able to still see some snow on the ground.
June Alaska Cruises
Experience the wonders of Tracy Arm Fjord and the gorgeous Celebrity Solstice ship on an Alaska Tracy Arm Fjord Cruise. This popular itinerary sails roundtrip from Seattle, Washington. Along the way you’ll make stops in the Alaskan port towns of Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, as well as Victoria, British Columbia. When it’s the day to sail through Tracy Arm Fjord, relax on your private veranda adjacent to your modern luxury stateroom or suite. The departure from Seattle makes it easy to get to even if you’re still easing into summer after a busy school year.
July Alaska Cruises
Choose a longer vacation that lets you soak up the warmer weather that July is known for in Alaska. One good way to do that? A cruisetour. 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.
August Alaska Cruises
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.
September Alaska Cruises
Increase your chances of seeing fall foliage on an Alaska Southern 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 days before your cruise embarks to explore on land when the first signs of the impending Alaskan winter are just starting to show.
It's Time to Book Your Alaska Cruise!
If you’re ready to book your Alaska cruise, browse itineraries, check out stateroom and suite categories, choose which shore excursions you want to do, and even book your airfare all in one convenient place thanks to Celebrity Cruises’ #BookItList platform.