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Alaska

Things to Do Aboard an Alaskan Cruise Ship

Passengers view Glacier Bay aboard their Alaska cruise ship.
Passengers view Glacier Bay aboard their Alaska cruise ship. © 2018 Scott Bateman
The weather in Vancouver on the day of embarkation in July was perfect for an Alaskan cruise: clear skies, light breeze and temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit.

The next day, on the way to the first port at Ketchikan, the weather was cold and raining.

The ship was surrounded by dense fog and regularly blasted its horn to warn nearby vessels. The day after, in Ketchikan, the skies were clear again.

Welcome to summer weather on an Alaskan cruise.

Weather is a major factor with things to do on board ship in between Alaska cruise ports. On the warm day of embarkation, the pool area was packed with people swimming, sunning themselves and socializing while music blared.

The next day, only a few brave souls sat in hot tubs on the pool deck. Everyone else packed into the bars, lounges, casino, spa, restaurants and fitness center. Many of them in the bars and lounges simply sat there because they had nothing to do. The library and card room had no available seats.

Caribbean cruise ship have plenty of sunning and swimming onboard most days because hot and dry weather is common for much of the year. Alaska is anything but dry most of the year, and it’s warm only now and then during the summer.


Anyone taking an Alaskan cruise for the first time shouldn't just plan on what to do when visiting the natural wonders at each cruise port. They also should plan on keeping busy onboard the ships when bad weather drives them indoors.

Most cruise ships including the ones that go to Alaska have a full day of events on a schedule they distribute the night before. Typical events include:

  • Art auctions of works by popular artists such as Peter Max. Prices often start at $1,500.
  • Free liquor tastings in small amounts that tempt some people to buy expensive bottles in the duty-free shop.
  • Dance classes in styles such as salsa and merengue.
  • Cooking classes.
  • Gemstone classes, again in the duty-free shop.
  • Fee-based bingo tournaments.
  • Entertainment shows, usually at night in the lounges and main theater.

Active people may find that the ship's activity schedule is simply not full or interesting enough to fill an entire day when the weather is poor. So it's a good idea to plan on some backup activities.

Other Things to Do On Board


Alaska cruises are different than cruises elsewhere because of the narrow passages. On cooler days, heartier souls lay on lounge chairs facing away from the ship and watched the mist- and cloud-covered mountains as we passed them.

Mountain watching is probably the most serene and inactive thing to do aboard ship. Hats, gloves and extra layers of clothing are often a must. Tours of Glacier Bay bring nearly all of the passengers onto the decks for hours of viewing.

Otherwise, most ships have a library of several hundred used books as well as a game room for card players. The library's books were often left behind by cruise passengers. Don't expect a Library of Congress.

More time indoors compared to cruises elsewhere makes it a good idea to pack extra audio books, ebooks, music and movies onto portable electronic devices such as smartphones, ebook readers and laptops.

Don't bother with Internet access during spotty weather in remote areas or if unwilling to pay the high shipboard access fees. Instead, wait for free wi-fi access at certain shops and visitor centers on shore.

Finally, don't forget to bring the old-fashioned entertainment: hardcover, paperback and puzzle books.

If not, expect to spend a lot of time in bad weather either watching TV in a tiny cabin, snoozing in a lounge or shivering on the deck wrapped in coats and towels.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Things to Do   

August 06, 2018

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