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Alaska Cruise Tips: Excursions, Weather, Packing

Glacier Bay Alaska
Due to the vast size and remoteness of Glacier Bay National Park, a boat trip offers the best views. © State of Alaska/Brian Adams
The best Alaska cruise tips center around weather, time of year and things to do.

An Alaska cruise is unique because of the extreme northern location and the fact that rain, snow and cold weather are almost a given for most of the year.

But the weather doesn’t stop about 1 million cruise visitors every year, according to the Alaska Department of Commerce. The cruise season runs from mid May to mid September.

Cruise visitors flock to see the state’s famous glaciers, Native American heritage and outdoor adventures. They also flock there mainly in the peak of summer to take advantage of the warmest time of year to visit.

Planning Tips


Travelers usually choose one of two trips. The most popular route is the Inside Passage, which usually disembarks from Seattle or Vancouver and sails up the series of ship passages between numerous islands and the coastline.

Major stops include Ketchikan, which is famous for totem poles; Juneau, the state capital; and the famous Glacier Bay, which displays 11 glaciers dumping ice into the ocean.

The less popular Gulf of Alaska cruises also traverse the Inside Passage and continue on to Seward near Anchorage. This version usually is a one-way trip that requires flying out of the ending destination.

The majority of cruise lines offer large ships, which can dock only at larger ports. Smaller cruise ships offer the chance to visit more remote locations and cruise closer to shore. But smaller ships also are more expensive.

Large ships emphasize more on-board activities and offer more amenities. Small ships emphasize the destination more than the ship.

Excursion Tips


Cruise visitors tend to spend more time in the ports than other international cruise destinations, the Alaska Cruise Lines International Association says.

The visitors also tend to buy more cruise excursion than visitors to other destinations, according to the association.

More than 80 percent of visitors buy at least one excursion. The most popular excursions are wildlife viewing, sightseeing tours and riding on the railroads.

About 22 percent of travelers who cross the Gulf of Alaska take an extended land tour. These tours usually involve a railroad trip and an overnight stay in Fairbanks, Denali and Anchorage.

Prices are usually in the same range as other major cruise regions and range between $50 and $150. “Flightseeing” tours by plane or helicopter may cost $400 or more.

Other common excursions include fishing, kayaking, rafting, dog sledding and whale watching.

Weather Tips


Temperatures along the Inside Passage have an average high of more than 60 degrees Fahrenheit from June through August, according to the U.S. National Service.

Although the average high is more than 60 degrees, it is possible for temperatures on some days to reach into the 80s.

The average low, which takes place mostly at night, is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

May and September have lower temperatures and fewer cruises as a result.

The month with the least amount of rain is July followed by June and August. September is an especially bad month for rain.

Packing Tips


Pack for spring, summer and winter weather conditions. How much of each to pack depends on the month of the trip.

Light rain-resistant winter clothing is most important for May and September trips because of the cooler temperatures and higher amounts of rain. Don’t forget hat, scarf and gloves.

Long underwear or other types of clothing layers will protect against unexpected cold weather.

Shorts and short-sleeved shirts will be useful during the hotter days in the summer months.

Note that mosquitoes are common in June and July, so mosquito repellant is a good item to bring on cruises during those months.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Planning Tips   

July 22, 2016

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