Tips to Plan the Best Alaskan Cruise

So, you’ve decided to cruise to Alaska! One of our favorite types of vacations are cruises. It’s a combination of adventure and relaxation! A lot of times when we book trips we want to see the most possible, and that involves changing hotels and locations quite frequently, but with a cruise, your ship with basically is your hotel takes you directly to the next destination. 

We booked our first Alaska cruise in December of 2019, planned for the Summer of 2021. We didn’t end up going until June of 2022, I’m sure you can guess why. Its not uncommon to book these bucket list trips 18 months or more in advance. But, if you’ve got a little more flexibility, you can sometimes book a last-minute super great deal. Here is everything we learned from our Alaska cruise that we think you should know. 

Tips to Plan the Best Alaskan Cruise

When to Book and When to Go

Anytime is a great time to start planning your cruise vacation. Getting connected with a travel agent can help you track deals and special with the cruise lines. Typically the itineraries get announced 18 to 24 months in advance, so you have plenty of time to look at all the options. If you have the flexibility to wait for a last minute deal you also could book in March or April of the year you’d like to go and get a huge discount.

The Alaska season really begins to heat up in May, and is in full swing by June. They run consistently until August. The shoulder season is April and September, which is where you can get some really good deals. There are also some repositioning cruises around this time and the ships sail to and from Alaska, which is a really neat opportunity to spend some extra time on board at a discounted rate. 

The time when you book is dependent on what you are interested in. Animal sightings are more abundant in July and August, as the weather is warmer. But May and June are usually a little less expensive, and still offer all the great views, as well as less rainy afternoons, so you can stay a little more dry. 

Who to Cruise With

There is one stop in Alaska that tops all the rest, in our minds, and that’s Glacier Bay National Park. Only a few Cruise Ship companies are authorized to sail in Glacier Bay National Park, and that is Holland America , Norwegian and Princess Cruise Lines. We sailed with Princess, and chose an itinerary specifically that visited Glacier Bay. Not all ships and itineraries visit, so you’ll want to pay close attention to that when choosing your voyage. 

In addition to the ports of call, there are a few other things to consider when choosing a cruise line for your trip. We’ve only cruised to Alaska on Princess, but we have cruised on other lines in the Caribbean. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and even some smaller specialty lines all operate itineraries to Alaska. Sometimes price can be a big deciding factor to what cruise you book, but take into account the atmosphere of the cruise. Holland America is known for having an older clientele, while Carnival is known as the fun ship, their words not ours. So, if you are looking for a night life to keep you partying into the early hours of the morning, or if you are looking for a quiet atmosphere for an afternoon tea break, your cruise line will make a big impact on how you spend your time on the ship. 

Do I need a Balcony? 

A balcony on a cruise is an absolute luxury, wherever you are sailing. If you have the means to book one, absolutely do it. However, if an inside state room is more in your budget, you will still have every chance to see Alaska. Whatever gets you on the ship, honestly. Most people spend their time on scenic cruising days up on the top decks, and most days in port you are off the ship. Our view is that is a nice thing to have, but not a deal breaker. 

What to Pack

I’m an over packer. So I probably bought way more than I actually needed, but it’s good to have options. The weather is unpredictable in Alaska, so pack for anything from a chilly and rainy day to a sunny afternoon. We brought quite a few jackets, and a rain coat to help prepare us for the weather. Dressing in layers is also a great idea to help plan for quick weather changes. If you are like us and from a warmer place, as just a reminder a hat and gloves will also come in handy for staying warm.

In addition we also brought a couple of things that you might not think of, like binoculars, a power strip for our room (look for cruise ship specific ones on amazon), and hiking poles. The great thing about a cruise is you can unpack and organize your cabin for the whole trip. We brought a few things to help organize our cabin as well, like magnetic hooks and a shoe caddy for the closet.

What to do While you Are There

The towns in Alaska with cruise ports are very well prepared for the visitors that show up daily to explore. So in Alaska you have many different options for tours on land. We booked the majority of our excursions via the cruise line because they offer a guaranteed return to ship, but sometimes a private operator can offer quite a discount comparatively. In Juneau we visited the Mendenhall Glacier, in Skagway we planned to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, and we were going to try whale watching as well.

Some of the cruise lines offer an up-close glacier viewing opportunity on one of the scenic cruising days. You’ll actually have the chance to board a much smaller boat, and explore a glacier lagoon or fjord. These tours are very limited, so booking them as soon as you confirm your itinerary is definitely recommended to grab your spot.

Where should you go Next? 

If an Alaska Cruise is your first cruise, I guarantee you’ll book another cruise within a year. Cruising is such a fun experience, you’ll almost certainly be hooked. Other bucket list trips to consider are places like Iceland. We visited Iceland this past year, and the glaciers almost top Alaska’s. We also have a trip to Costa Rica planned soon, where wildlife is a big focus. When you get home, you can really reflect on what your favorite part was, and start planning another trip to see the world.

If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out our Alaska series on YouTube. We had a little bit of an abrupt ending, but we absolutely can’t wait until the next time we get to visit! 

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