Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

10 Useful Tips for Planning an Alaska Cruise

Juneau seaside. Credit: Scott S. Bateman
Juneau seaside. Credit: Scott S. Bateman

Alaska cruise tips include taking advantage of the embarkation port, planning for bad weather and researching port attractions in advance.

Anyone planning an Alaska cruise may want to consider the most important tips first and drill into details later. Planning an Alaska cruise is often filled with many details.

The following list of Alaska cruise tips is what we found useful in planning and taking our first Alaska cruise. It’s helpful to keep in mind that not all travel tips fit all personal preferences. But most of these tips should prove helpful to people planning a cruise to Alaska.

Top 10 Alaska Cruise Tips

1 - Try to spend an extra day if not more in Seattle or Vancouver if the cruise begins or ends in either one of these cities, which are gorgeous on summer days. They both offer plenty of great attractions.

2 - Go if possible in July, which has the most warmth and lowest risk of rain. The next two choices are August followed by June. Keep in mind that Alaska weather is fickle even in the summer, so a July trip has no guarantee of great weather every day. For budget travelers, consider August or June if good discounts are available.

3 - Buy excursions in advance by shopping online. Some excursion operators offer two-for-one discounts. More than 80 percent of Alaska cruisers buy at least one excursion, the Alaska Cruise Lines International Association says. We couldn’t resist buying more. Prices usually range between $50 and $150 per person except for flightseeing, which often cost $200 to $500.

4 - Know that weather makes excursions risky. Kayaking on a day with heavy clouds and rain is zero fun. Look at cancellation policies before booking an excursion. Many of them allow 24 hours notice, while some don’t allow any cancellations.

Mendenhall Glacier
Plan excursions in advance like a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. © 2021 Scott S. Bateman

5 - If the possibility of bad weather discourages booking excursions in advance, then book them on ship or shore during the cruise if the weather is good. Know that some of them sell out easily on nice days, and discounts on the same day are highly unlikely.

6 - Many people go to beaches on warm-weather cruises. There are no beaches in Alaska (at least none with soft white sand and swaying palm trees). Budget more money for excursions in Alaska than excursions on cruises in other parts of the world. Most of the good stuff lies outside of the port areas, which means money for transportation and entrance fees. Getting to Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, one of the most popular cruise attractions in Alaska, is one of many examples.

7 - Research the attractions at each port before committing to any ship schedule. Most of the smaller ports have similar shopping and dining experiences. Instead, find the attractions that sound most appealing. For example, adventurous cruisers may want to go to the tiny port at Hoonah just for the world’s largest ziprider. A ziprider is a harness that holds a passenger in place while hanging from a zipline.

8. Unlike a Caribbean cruise, pack clothes for both cold and warm weather. Even in July, the decks of our cruise ship were freezing in the morning, especially with the help of heavy winds. But we also had repeated afternoons of temperatures rising into the 70s Fahrenheit.

9. Pack extra entertainment such as books, games and electronic devices. Cooler weather means Alaska cruise passengers spend little time on the decks like they do on cruises elsewhere. It was no coincidence that the bars and casinos were jammed on our first cruise. But many people were also reading, playing games and working out among other activities.

10. Nothing brings out a huge crowd on an Alaska cruise ship like onboard glacier tours such as the world-famous Glacier Bay. People line up along the rails as much as three and four deep at some viewing points. Get to a viewing point early and try not to move elsewhere. Empty spots get filled immediately.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
May 06, 2022