Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Things to Do Aboard an Alaskan Cruise Ship

Passengers view Glacier Bay aboard their Alaska cruise ship © 2022 Scott S. Bateman
Passengers view Glacier Bay aboard their Alaska cruise ship © 2022 Scott S. Bateman

Weather is a major factor in things to do on board Alaska cruise ships. Indoor activities are much more common than outdoor because cool temperatures and strong winds will often keep people indoors.

The following trip is a good example.

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 and temperatures warm again.

But this warm day in Ketchikan was an exception, as locals kept telling us. Summer temperatures rarely get much higher than the low 70s Fahrenheit. More commonly, daytime temperatures on land reach only the 60s Fahrenheit and are even cooler on the water. are Early morning and late afternoon temperatures on the water are especially cool.

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. Even the ship library gets packed.

Common Ship Activities

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.

Activities Unique to Alaska Cruises

Fog and rain often drive people indoors on cruise ships. © 2022 Scott S. Bateman

Caribbean cruise passengers often spend time on the outdoor decks swimming, sunning and just relaxing. Clubs, lounges and other indoor areas are often empty during the day.

The complete opposite is true for Alaska cruises. Indoor areas are often packed with people reading books, playing games or spending time on laptops.

Reading is big on Alaska cruises. 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. But 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.

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

More 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.

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.

Otherwise, 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.
December 22, 2022