Our Expert Alaska Cruise Tips and Tricks You Need to Know in 2024

We have been on 6 Alaska Cruises and here are the cruise tips and tricks you need to know for cruising the region in 2024.

For many, taking an Alaska cruise is a bucket list trip. Heidi and I have been sailing to Alaska for over 10 years. We have sailed on all the major cruise lines and at various points in the season. Over these years, we have learned quite a bit about traveling “way up north.” So, whether you are a seasoned cruiser, or this is your first sailing, we have put together our expert Alaska cruise tips and tricks to ensure your cruise is smooth sailing.


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Our Expert Alaska Cruise Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

Table of Contents:

Picking the Right Alaska Cruise

Choosing a One-Way or Roundtrip Route

Taking an Alaska cruise is really about the destination. So, perhaps the most important thing you need to decide on is the itinerary.

Cruisers basically have two main options when it comes to itineraries. One-way cruises begin and end at a different port. Or, a roundtrip cruise begins and ends at the same homeport.

We have sailed both types itineraries, and there are pros and cons of each route. So, decide what is most important to you and review itineraries closely.

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The most common Alaska cruises are 7 days in length and are roundtrip sailings departing from either Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia.

There are more options for roundtrip cruises, and they are easier to plan. But, they typically visit less destinations as they can’t go as far north. However, these itineraries tend to have more family-friendly ship options which feature more bells and whistles.

Generally, one-way sailings are from Seward or Whittier, Alaska to Vancouver, BC (or vice versa) on Northbound or Southbound routes. One-way sailings may visit more ports of call, but between airfare costs and the additional travel days that may be needed, these cruises can cost more money and be more difficult to plan. Also, these sailings tend to be on older, smaller ships.

Glacier Viewing

Odds are you are going to Alaska to see some glaciers. Depending on the itinerary, most cruise ships will offer scenic cruising at least one day. There are a variety of glaciers that ships can visit during the sailing.

Perhaps the two most popular glacier cruising spots are Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. You should know the differences before picking your cruise itinerary. There are others too, like the Dawes Glacier or the Sawyer Glacier.

Best Alaska Cruise Tips and Tricks for 2024

Again, we have cruised itineraries that have visited many of these popular viewing spots.

If you are a first time cruiser to Alaska, we suggest picking a traditional 7-day roundtrip cruise that stops at Glacier Bay National Park. While you can’t go wrong with most itineraries, Glacier Bay affords the opportunity to see multiple glaciers over the course of several hours.

Deciding on a Cruise Line

Almost all major cruise lines now sail to Alaska. So, if you are already loyal to a particular brand, then you can probably find a ship offering an itinerary that suits you.

If you are new to cruising, it might be overwhelming trying to decide between cruise lines and cruise ships. Several lines claim they are the “best in Alaska”. Honestly, there is no one best Alaska cruise line or cruise ship. It really depends on your travel party, what you want to do and see, and what ship amenities are important to you.

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Brands like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean offer more diversity for multi-generational families. Carnival Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line are also popular choices for family cruises to Alaska.

Couples may want to consider Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, or Holland America Line. In fact, Princess Cruises and Holland America have the most ships sailing the region.

There are also luxury cruise lines or small, boutique cruise ships with 100 passengers or less giving cruisers a completely unique experience.

Find a Ship With Prime Viewing Areas

Another important factor to consider when choosing your Alaska cruise ship are public viewing areas. Some ships boast multiple outdoor platforms or decks that give cruisers ideal views of the scenery. Other ships have enclosed spaces and observation lounges that offer views but in the warm comforts of the ship. Some have both so you can go in between these areas depending on the weather.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

Along with researching what viewing areas are available, check out the other amenities on the ships that might interest you and the family. Is there an enclosed pool on the ship? A spa? Youth centers or activities for junior cruisers? Not to mention, each cruise line does have various offerings for restaurants, entertainment, and onboard activities.

With such a diversity of cruise ships sailing the region, even within brands themselves, you should review the cruise ships’ amenities before you decide on one.

Tips for Booking Your Alaska Cruise

Book Your Alaska Cruise Early

Most major cruise lines release itineraries up to two years in advance. For our trips, we tend to book anywhere from 8 months to a year in advance. The biggest reason you should book a cruise early is to secure the best prices. As specific sailings begin to fill up, prices will go up. 

Majestic Princess Alaska Cruise Review

Popular room categories and locations book up quickly as well. By booking your cruise early, you will have a greater selection of cabins. You’ll also get your preferred dining times.

Of course, this will also give you more time to pay off the cruise and to plan all aspects of your trip.

Having a cruise booked in advance always gives you something to look forward to as well.

Creating Your Alaska Cruise Budget

One of the most important Alaska cruise tips is always knowing the cruise cost so you can budget accordingly. When Alaska cruise planning, you should know that Alaska cruise vacations are a bit on the pricey side when compared to Caribbean cruises. So, don’t get sticker shock.

Alaska cruise costs fluctuate considerably depending on a few factors. The cruise line and cruise ship, the Alaska cruise itinerary, and the time of year will all weigh heavily on pricing. Not to mention the tours, add-ons, and other additional costs like drink packages or WiFi. But, we recommend cruisers budget between $2,000 to $5,000 a person for an Alaska cruise. So, it is not unreasonable that a family of four could spend over $10K for a week long Alaska cruise.

If you have flexible vacation time, choosing the right time to cruise to Alaska can have a big impact on your budget. 

Use a Travel Agent to Save Money

Even if you have cruised before, we recommend using a travel agent to book your Alaska cruise. A good travel agent can help you decide on some of the factors listed above. A seasoned travel advisor will also be able to offer recommendations and suggestions to customize your Alaska cruise to your travel party’s preferences.

They could save you some money on this pricey Alaska cruise as well.

In addition to helping you find the best itinerary and ship, travel agents might have access to discounted cruiser fares. Or, advisors might offer additional perks, like onboard credit, free gratuities, or specialty dinners. These additional perks can be combined with any promotions from the cruise lines.

A Guaranteed Cabin Can Save You Money

Several of the major cruise lines offer various fare options. Some cruise lines let you lock in a lower rate with a “guaranteed cabin“. This will ensure you get a cabin in a specific category, like a balcony cabin, but the location of the cabin is not known until closer to the sail date. We often select this option as a great way to save money.

Of course, if you want a specific cabin or location, or are prone to motion sickness, this option is probably not good for you.

Upgrade Your Cruise Package

Many cruise lines also offer upgrade packages. Programs like Holland America Line’s Have it All, Celebrity Cruises’ All Included, or Princess Cruises’ Princess Plus and Princess Premier packages provide additional savings. Opting for one of these packages pre-cruise lets cruisers save 50% or more by bundling add-ons like a drink package, WiFi, shore excursions, or service charges.

We often opt for these packages to save money, and to make our cruise more inclusive. Again, working with a travel agent can help you navigate the different fare options available for your sailing.

Don’t Skimp on Travel Insurance

We always recommend cruisers opt for travel insurance for any trip. But, given the costs and often long travel distances, getting travel insurance for an Alaska cruise is a smart idea. Travel delays, lost luggage, or other travel hiccups could put a damper on your long awaited trip. Not to mention, they could be very costly to rectify without coverage.

Travel policies and plans do vary, so make sure to compare the benefits and options. While the cruise lines do offer travel insurance, we suggest you examine various providers to see if there are plans that better fit your unique needs.

Consider a Cruisetour

If you have the vacation time and finances, you should consider extending your Alaska cruise with a Cruisetour. Many cruise lines sailing the region offer add-on land packages.

Princess Cruises Lodge in Denali

These land portions can vary in length and visit more interior locations beyond the typical southeastern Alaska ports of call. With a cruisetour, guests can enjoy a scenic train ride, a stay in a lodge, and visits to places like Denali National Park, Fairbanks, or Anchorage.

Sail During Shoulder Season for Lower Fares

The Alaska cruise season tends to run from late April/early May to the end of September into early October. Historically, the cheapest time to cruise is during the beginning and the end of the cruise season. This is usually referred to as the shoulder season. We have sailed several times during the shoulder season and have taken advantage of some great deals. This is true in both May and September.

However, when sailing during these times of year, the weather can be more unpredictable. Further, when visiting during this time of year, all of the excursions might not be running. Some shops and restaurants may also be closed. Not to mention, some wildlife may not be as abundant. So, just remember that when booking.

Avoid the Crowds in Alaska

If you want to avoid the crowds when sailing to Alaska, the shoulder season is always an ideal time to cruise. With many schools still in session in May, and most schools back in session by September, there are fewer families and less tourists overall. When sailing during this time of year, we have never had any issues with crowds.

Fewer ships tend to be sailing during this time, especially earlier in the season. With several ships repositioning to the region by June, not only are there less people onboard, there are less cruise ships at the ports of call.

We actually prefer to cruise during shoulder season for this reason.

Best Time to Sail For Weather

However, for the best weather, cruisers will want to sail in the middle of the season. During our Alaska cruise in July, we had several sunny days with temperatures actually reaching into the 70s. It was warm and sunny enough to use the outdoor pools and whirlpools. Of course, this is not a certain, but the middle of the summer offers the warmest weather.

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It also offers the most sunlight. So, cruisers can make the most of the time spent ashore, as well as during scenic cruising. But, with the best weather, comes the highest prices. July and early August tend to be the most expensive times to cruise to Alaska.

Best Time to See Wildlife

Along with the fjords, snow capped mountains, and glaciers, an Alaska cruise is also about the wildlife. During our cruises, we have seen humpback whales, bald eagles, sea otters, and bears. Depending on when you cruise, you might have better chances of seeing some wildlife. Of course, there is no guarantee you will spot any of these creatures.

Alaska Cruise Tips 2024

While they are found in the Gulf of Alaska during the entire cruise season, you have the best chance of spotting humpback whales during the months of June and July.

Traveling from late June through early August will increase your likelihood of seeing bears, especially if you take tours that depart from Juneau or Ketchikan.

Luckily, bald eagles are around through the entire cruise season in various stages of development. But, you have the best chance of see adult eagles teaching young ones to fly in August.

Best Time to See the Northern Lights

A perk of sailing towards the end of the Alaska cruise season is the chance to see the Northern Lights. The Aurora Season is generally from the end of August until mid April.

Typically, you have a better chance of seeing the northern lights further north in Alaska, as cloudy skies are common in southeast Alaska. Still, you could get lucky. During the Alaska cruise season, the sun sets the earliest in September (the skies are the darkest) making for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Making the Most of Your Alaska Cruise

Spend a Pre-Cruise Day in the Embarkation City

Depending on your embarkation port, you will likely need to arrange airfare. You should also consider booking a pre-cruise or post-cruise hotel stay.

While we always recommend flying in a day early, it is even more important when cruising to Alaska as many will be traveling a good distance to reach the embarkation ports. So, you don’t want to risk flight delays or cancellations.

Plus, Seattle and Vancouver are both great cities that deserve some time for exploration.

You should check with the cruise line, or your travel agent, to see if there are any promotional airfare offers. Many cruise lines now offer packages that include airfare. This option also offers some peace of mind in case of air delays, as the ship will usually wait for you.

Upgrade to a Balcony Stateroom

While many debate what stateroom you should select on an Alaska cruise, we have always stayed in a balcony cabin. For us, we think it is worth splurging on this upgrade. Yes, many ships have viewing decks and lounges. But, being able to see the scenery at any time of day, just a few steps from our bed, is worth it for us.

Yes, a balcony cabin will cost more. Though, it is truly breathtaking to admire the natural landscapes from the comforts of your balcony on an Alaska cruise.

Bring a Passport

For U.S. citizens, a passport is technically not required for closed loop cruises, a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port. Thus, if you are cruising to Alaska roundtrip from Seattle, a birth certificate and a government issued ID are the only forms of documentation required. 

However, just because you do not need a passport to go on the cruise, it doesn’t mean that you might not need one to enter one or more of the ports of call during your trip.

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For instance, you may need a passport for some Alaska cruise excursions. Shore excursions that visit Canada, like the White Pass Railway in Skagway, do require a passport to participate.

Pre-Book Onboard Packages

Much like shore excursions, another one of our expert Alaska cruise tips is to always book onboard packages and make reservations before boarding the ship. This is one of the easiest ways to save money on a cruise.

These add-ons include anything from beverage packages and specialty dining, to WiFi, and other experiences not included in your cruise fare.

If you have a flexible dining option, many cruise lines let you make your reservations pre-cruise as well. Of course, if you plan to dine at any specialty restaurants, you will want to pre-reserve those too. Prime dining times do fill up quickly.

Attend the Onboard Enrichment

When not docked at a port of call, most cruise lines offer a variety of onboard talks and lectures. These are not your typical port shopping presentations but rather enrichment programs that provide valuable information about the history, culture, and wildlife of the ports of call you will be visiting.

These talks are an informative, fun, and educational part of your cruise that should not be missed. The onboard naturalists and/or historians really make the cruise that much more enjoyable.

Alaska Cruise Tips 2022

Further, if your ship is cruising through Glacier Bay National Park, a park ranger will actually come aboard the cruise ship. He/she will offer narration and informational sessions that are definitely worth attending.

Get Plenty of Rest

You are going to do and see a lot during your Alaska cruise, so make sure to get some sleep. There will be early morning calls into port and glacier sightings that will have you up at dawn.

With the sun out up to 18 hours a day during peak season, you will want to take in all of the majestic views until late in the evening as well.

The extra sunlight can affect your natural sleep cycle. So, you may want to consider taking some midday naps. Or, bring clothes pins to ensure your balcony drapes block out the light if you head to bed early one night to get some extra shut-eye.

Pack a Variety of Layers

In short, the time of year you cruise to Alaska will dictate to some degree what items you will need to include on your Alaska cruise packing list. The type of excursions you book should also factor into what you pack.

However, the MOST IMPORTANT Alaska cruise tip is to pack layers!

What it's like on the first Princess Cruises cruise

Given the fluctuations in temperature, which in our experience is 25-30 degrees in one day, you will need plenty of clothes in varying degrees of warmth.

Layers that can be easily packed, and taken on and off during the day, are preferable. Lightweight vests or packable puffer jackets, mid-weight tops, and even thermals might make sense, depending on your own tolerance for cold.

It’s also a good idea to pack a water resistant day bag to easily store these extra layers when going ashore.

Rain Gear is a Must

Speaking of weather and packing, make sure to bring a packable raincoat and some waterproof shoes or boots. It will rain during your cruise! Lightweight waterproof pants might also be a smart investment, especially if you plan on hiking or doing water based tours like kayaking.

If you are lucky, the rain will only pop up here and there, but Ketchikan is one of the rainiest places in the United States after all. Even if the day starts off sunny, be prepared for some fog and rain to roll in eventually.

Don’t let the damp weather impact your trip though, just be prepared with the right gear.

Don’t Forget Your Bathing Suit

Another Alaska cruise tip is don’t forget your bathing suit. While the weather is not exactly beach friendly, the pools and hot tubs on the ship are still open, as is the spa and thermal suite. You might even get lucky enough with the weather to enjoy the outdoor pools!

Think of how perfect it would be to enjoy the Alaskan scenery at sail away while being gently massaged by the warm water jets in the hot tub.

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But, Don’t Overpack

We can speak from personal experience. On our first Alaska cruise, we didn’t know what to expect. So, we headed to Seattle with three suitcases weighing in at nearly 49 pounds each. From experience, we can tell you that you won’t need as much outwear as you might think. We recommend only packing a few warmer layers and water resistant gear to go ashore.

Many of those adventurous tours will provide warm layers, boots, and necessary accessories. So, check first before packing those items.

Of course, everyone’s body temperature regulation is different, but we tend to find ships warm. So, make sure to pack some lighter weight items to wear onboard. Long sleeve tops and t-shirts and even a pair of shorts will do. Additionally, multi-use items will help you get a couple wears out of your outfits.

If all else fails, self-service laundry is available on many cruise ships as well. So, you can even wash any clothes that get dirty during the trip.

While we have gotten better at packing, we still haven’t figured out how to travel in just carry-ons!

Get More Space with Magnetic Hooks

With all of your gear and potentially wet garments, packing some magnetic hooks is a must. For those new to cruising, the walls of your stateroom cabin are magnetic. So, one of our trusted cruise cabin hacks is to bring some magnetic hooks. These come in handy to hang bags, hats, and outer layers.

What it is like on the first Princess Cruises cruise

We often place these on the wall opposite our bed or on the other side of the bathroom. These magnets can also be used to post tickets, flyers, or paper dailies so they are easy to read and don’t get lost on the desk.

Bring an Over-the-Door-Shoe Organizer

Another trusted cabin hack is to bring a packable over-the-door shoe organizer. But, this is not for shoes.

We hang this lightweight unit in our stateroom to hold a number of items. From toiletries to medications, small electronics, shore excursion tickets and documents, suntan lotion, jewelry, and other accessories, it is the perfect size for many small objects that can clutter your desk or the bathroom.

Believe us, we take one on every trip and it always comes in handy!

Decide Whether You Need an Internet Package

With onboard enrichment, early morning glacier viewing, and long days in port, you may want to consider not purchasing a WiFi package on your Alaska cruise.

While internet on cruise ships is constantly improving, the signal in Alaska is not always the best; it can be impacted by weather and interference from landscapes.

Further, most of your ports of call will be in the United States and likely covered in your cell service. You will want to check your provider’s coverage area prior to sailing.

If you do use your cell phone while in port, make sure to put it back into airplane mode once you set sail. You don’t want to incur any expensive roaming charges while out to sea.

Learn Some Nautical Terms

You don’t have to captain the ship, but learning some basic nautical terms is especially important before a cruise to Alaska. Often times, announcements will be made for wildlife sightings and during glacier viewing. Knowing starboard side vs. portside will ensure you don’t miss out on anything.

Holland America Line Cruise First Impressions

Portside refers the left side of the ship when facing forward. An easy way to remember this is that “port” has four letters as does “left.” Starboard is the righthand side of the ship when facing the front.

Now, when you hear there has been a whale spotting on the starboard side of the ship, you can just grab your gear and go!

Alaska Shore Excursion Tips

Get Off At Every Port of Call

We always like having a game plan for each port of call. Yes, we are over-planners.

Of course, you don’t have to book shore excursions in every port. Many of these Alaska cruise ports are walkable if you just want to explore the downtown area. Or, the cruise lines often have shuttles into town as well.

We have spent days wandering downtown Ketchikan perusing the shops and local restaurants on Creek Steet. You can also walk the streets of Juneau, or take your own transportation to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. The same can be said in places like Skagway or Icy Strait Point. There is plenty to do in these ports of call that don’t necessitate a shore excursion.

However, there are many thrilling and exciting shore excursions that you shouldn’t miss. Typically, we book excursions in at least half the ports of call, and we do our own self guided exploration in the others.

Budget Extra for Shore Excursions

One reason Alaska cruises are so expensive are the shore excursions. So, if you have your heart set on experiences like Glacier Hikes, Helicopter Tours, and Dog Mushing rides, make sure to budget accordingly.

Many of these experiences can cost upwards of $500 a person, or more. Of course, you don’t need to spend that much money on a tour, but some of these activities are bucket list items for many.

We typically book one or two big ticket excursions per cruise. Then, we opt for more reasonably priced tours or a just spend the day exploring with lunch or some shopping. But, we would suggest budgeting at least $100 per person, per port. So with 3-4 ports per cruise, don’t be surprised if your family is spending thousands of dollars on excursions.

On a recent cruise to Alaska, we spent over $1,000 a person on tours, but we were able to finally do one of the “once-in-a-lifetime” tours that we’ve been trying to do for the past 10 years…but it just kept getting cancelled on us!

Book Shore Excursions Early

Since an Alaska cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many travelers, shore excursions do book up quickly. Waiting to book onboard the ship or delaying until the actual port of call is a risk we would not take. The last thing you want to hear is the excursion you have been waiting for all year is already sold out!

Bear viewing in Ketchikan, Alaska on a Cruise

We suggest booking your shore excursions early, as you can always cancel if something pops up. Keep an eye on your online cruise planner, as most cruise lines will periodically run sales on items like shore excursions.

Also, you should investigate local tour providers and third party tour vendors as they often offer smaller group tours and cheaper prices.

Try the Local Flavor

The food on the ship is delicious as always, but when in Alaska, you should eat like an Alaskan. This means you should indulge in the plentiful seafood available.

Salmon bakes and Alaskan King Crab are just some of the fresh local specialties that you should sample during your cruise. Of course, you will need some beverages to wash down the food as well.

Some recommendations (and popular tourist stops) include the Red Dog Saloon (Juneau), Tracy’s King Crab Shack (Juneau), and Red Onion Saloon (Skagway). There is also the popular Creek Street with shops and restaurants in Ketchikan.

Bring Some Extra Gear

While cameras on smartphones have come a long way over the years, they won’t do the scenery and wildlife in Alaska any justice.

If you want great photos to last a lifetime, we recommend bringing a camera with a zoom lens. If you don’t own one, you could always rent one. We rented a zoom lens for our camera during our last trip to Alaska and are so glad we did. You can also rent other equipment like action cameras, 360 cameras, as well as accessories like stabilizers.

You should also invest in some binoculars for this trip. They don’t have to be expensive, but a pair of binoculars is crucial when scouting the area for wildlife. Of note, some more premium cruise lines do provide a pair in each cabin.


Have you cruised to Alaska yet? What are some of your best Alaska cruise tips? Drop us an anchor below to share your Alaska cruise tips, tricks, and secrets.

Don Bucolo, or “DB”, loves everything about cruising- the ocean, the food, and the atmosphere. While he may be obsessed with doing extensive amounts of research on ships and all elements of a cruise, Don enjoys sharing his new found knowledge with fellow cruisers. When he is not sailing the high seas, he does whatever his wife tells him to do-it only took 10 years to realize this.
Don Bucolo
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  1. Love these tips! It’s really great to know insider tips like the weather, excursion booking, and seasonality. This will really come in handy as I plan my own cruise

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