Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

In this Alaska Cruise Planning Guide, we outline everything you need to know to plan and execute the perfect Alaskan cruise vacation.

Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

With cruising set to resume in the United States soon, you might be considering an Alaskan cruise for 2021 or 2022. In this Alaska Cruise Planning Guide, we outline everything you need to know before taking an Alaskan cruise. Learn all our insider cruise tips and hacks to plan and execute the perfect cruise vacation.

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Everything You Need to Know Before Taking an Alaskan Cruise

Best Time of Year to Take an Alaska Cruise

Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations. While Alaska might not be what you first picture when you think of a cruise, a cruise is actually the easiest way to visit this region. Unlike Caribbean cruises though, Alaska is a seasonal cruise port. This means that you will only be able to cruise to Alaska during select months of the year.

Best Time of Year to Take an Alaskan Cruise - Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

There are actually several factors to consider when determining the best time of year to take an Alaskan cruise including weather, price, and crowds. Thus, when to cruise to Alaska is not as clear cut as you might think.

Get Deals on Alaska Cruises Now!

The Alaskan cruise season generally runs from late April/early May through the end of September. With that being said, many choose to visit Alaska in the middle of the season. July usually provides the best combination of average temperatures, rainfall amounts, and hours of daylight. Rain and temperature swings of 25 degrees or more are still common. However, you will have the most hours of daylight and the best chances at wildlife sightings.

Best Time of Year to Take an Alaskan Cruise

However, with this optimal weather comes increased crowds and increased price. If you take an Alaskan cruise during the shoulder seasons, you will save money. You will also avoid the crowds, especially families. While the weather and wildlife will be less predictable early and late in the season, we have cruised to Alaska in September twice now and had great weather.

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How Much Does an Alaska Cruise Cost?

Alaska cruise vacations are known to be a bit on the pricey side when compared to Caribbean cruises. Cruise fares fluctuate considerably depending on a few factors. The cruise line, ship, itinerary, and time of year will all weigh heavily on pricing.

If you have flexible vacation time, choosing the right time to take an Alaskan cruise can have a big impact on your budget. As mentioned above, the middle of the summer, which coincides with the best weather, most wildlife, and school break, will usually be the most expensive.

Further, the cruise line and cruise ship you choose will also dictate the cost of your Alaskan cruise. Most major cruise lines now sail to Alaska so you will have a wide selection from which to choose.

Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

Generally speaking, the newer ships from each cruise line will be more expensive than some of the older ships in the fleet as there is more demand for these vessels. Premium and luxury cruise lines will also be more expensive than the more family-friendly cruise lines.

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Other factors to consider when determining pricing are the embarkation port, stateroom category, and shore excursions. Depending from where you are traveling, you will likely need at least one pre-cruise hotel day. Flights to Anchorage for one-way voyages will likely be more expensive than Seattle or Vancouver.

Further, many cruisers choose to upgrade to a balcony on Alaska cruises which will cost more than inside or oceanview cabins. Lastly, shore excursions in Alaska can also be more expensive than other destinations like the Caribbean, especially if you are considering once in a lifetime tours.

Best Cruise Lines for an Alaska Cruise

Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations with over a million cruisers travelling here each year. With that said, more and more cruise lines and ships are sailing to the region every year.

From family-friendly cruise lines, to luxurious, all-inclusive experiences, to small ship adventure cruises, there is truly no single best cruise line for an Alaskan cruise. Truthfully, it all depends on what your travel party wants out of their cruise vacation.

Norwegian Bliss

Brands like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean offer more diversity for multi-generational families. With some of the newest and most innovative ships in the fleet cruising this region, like Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Ovation of the Seas, and Quantum of the Seas, there are onboard amenities for the whole family to enjoy. These ships also have some of the best entertainment at sea.

Brands like Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, and Princess Cruises offer a bit more luxury for the sophisticated traveler with fewer kid-friendly options. This is not to say that these brands necessarily appeal to an older clientele though.

In 2021, Holland America Line plans to go all in on Alaska offering cruises on six different ships with itineraries sailing from Seattle, Vancouver, and Whittier. Princess Cruises, known for having a big presence in the region, is planning to offer cruises on seven ships in 2021. Of course, this is subject to change based on re-deployments due to the global pandemic.

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Luxury brands like Viking Cruises might cost a bit more, but they include shore excursions at each port of call, beer and wine at meals, free WiFi, and no up-charges for specialty dining, among other complimentary amenities. So, if you are looking for a more all-inclusive Alaska cruise vacation, you might want to consider a luxury brand. Other luxury brands that visit the region include Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, and Seabourn.

Finally, small ship adventure brands like UnCruise and National Geographic offer more up close and personalized visits to this region. These brands appeal to nature explorers and those who don’t want the “typical” cruise experience.

Top Alaska Cruise Destinations

The most common Alaska cruises are 7 days in length, though this can vary. Alaska cruises can either be round-trip or one-way sailings. Round-trip sailings generally depart from Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia. While one-way sailings generally cruise from Seward or Whittier, Alaska to Vancouver, BC (and vice versa) on Northbound or Southbound routes.

Some cruise lines also offer select Alaska cruises out of California.

Alaska Cruise Planning Guide

The top ports of call on an Alaskan cruise are Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway in Southeast Alaska, as well as Victoria, British Columbia. Some ships might also visit Sitka, Haines, or Icy Strait Point.

Most cruise ships will also have at least a day of “scenic cruising”, where you will sail past majestic glaciers and fjords. These might include the Inside Passage, Sawyer Glacier, Dawes Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, or the Hubbard Glacier.

Top Alaska Cruise Shore Excursions

The capital city of Juneau is the perfect port for cruisers to test their appetite for thrill-seeking. Visitors can take a zipline adventure through the Tongass National Forest or admire the Mendenhall Glacier from a helicopter tour, guided walk, or dog sled adventure. Juneau is popular for whale watching tours and traditional salmon bakes as well. You can also explore the Downtown area, including visiting Tracy’s Crab Shack for the “best legs in town” and the Reg Dog Saloon.

Made famous by the gold rush, Skagway is now largely supported by tourism. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is the number one Alaskan cruise excursion. This narrow gauge railway built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush ascends nearly 3,000 feet along its 20 mile path from Skagway to the White Pass Summit.

Photos that Will Inspire You to Take an Alaskan Cruise

In Skagway, you can also interact with Iditarod sled dogs, go ziplining, or visit a bald eagle preserve. The historic Downtown also offers a number of landmarks including the Red Onion Saloon.

Given Ketchikan’s weather and location, it is no surprise that you will find beautiful landscapes including the Misty Fjords National Park. This 2.3 million acre National Forest is best viewed by seaplane. Thus, a floatplane tour is one of the most popular shore excursions in this city.

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Ketchikan is also known for its large collection of totem poles and the infamous Creek Street. This former red light district is where “both men and salmon came upstream to spawn”. 

Top Alaska Cruise Tips

Regardless of your cruise destination, there are some tried and true cruise tips that are essential for planning and executing the ideal cruise vacation. You should know what’s included in your cruise vacation and what things will cost you extra. That way, you can budget accordingly.

Once you have decided on your cruise line and cruise ship, there are several helpful tips that can save you some money on your cruise. These range from booking early, to booking a guaranteed cabin, to using a travel agent, and more.

In terms of pre-cruise planning, now more than ever, it will be important to download the cruise line’s app (if applicable) to your smart phone. You will also want to book reservations for any restaurants and entertainment that are available, as well as reserve your shore excursions.

Alaska cruise shore excursions do sell out quickly!

Top Cruise Destinations

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Further, you should decide which packages, if any, you want to purchase, and monitor the cruise line’s website for pre-cruise sales and promotions. The most popular package is a beverage package. You will want to weigh the pro and cons to decide if a drink package is worth the investment for you.

When it comes to packing, you should know what to include on your Alaska packing list. Layers and rain gear are essential!

Our downloadable guide outlines everything you need to pack including toiletries, clothing, and electronics. While you might find it surprising, there are also many household items that will come in handy during your cruise vacation. Would you think to pack magnets and ziploc bags? We always do!

Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a Cruise

Of course, you will also want to make sure that you do not pack any of these prohibited items. Items like an iron will get your suitcases sent to the “naughty room”.

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Alaska Cruise Planning Guide: Additional Tips

Finally, your cruise day has arrived! And yes, there are even more cruise tips to ensure every part of your cruise vacation is smooth sailing. Don’t worry, we have you covered.


Did you find this Alaska Cruise Planning Guide helpful? Are there any other cruise hacks that you would add to this list? Drop us an anchor below with your insider Alaskan cruise planning tips.

Heidi is a physical therapist by profession, cruise enthusiast at heart, and Princess all the time! She is a self-confessed thrill seeker, obsessive planner, and over-packer. She is always looking for the latest and greatest adventures onboard and ashore, enjoys researching top things to do in ports of call, and loves dressing up for formal nights.
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