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Your Alaskan Cruise Tips Guide: Essential for First Timers

Updated: Jun 5

Welcome aboard to your ultimate guide for navigating the wonders of an Alaskan cruise! For first-timers and seasoned travelers alike, embarking on an Alaskan adventure can be both exhilarating and overwhelming.

Water view in Sitka

Fear not, as I have curated a comprehensive collection of essential tips to ensure your journey through the Last Frontier is extraordinary.

From selecting the ideal cruise line and ship to maximizing your wildlife encounters and embracing the unique experiences that await, this guide is your compass for a seamless and unforgettable Alaskan cruise experience. Here are 11 of the best Alaska cruise tips!

1. Picking the Right Cruise Line and Ship for You and Your Party

Holland America floating in Sitka with snow topped mountains in the background

Traveling to Alaska on a cruise ship promises a breathtaking journey, showcasing stunning landscapes and awe-inspiring wildlife. However, selecting the ideal cruise line is pivotal in ensuring a tailored experience for you and your party. 

For those seeking an atmosphere of refinement and tranquility, Holland America Line or Princess Cruises may be the perfect choice, particularly for couples desiring a mature and romantic ambiance with fewer families.

Conversely, families or those craving vibrant onboard energy may find Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, or Carnival Cruise Line more appealing.

A neighboring cruise ship's top deck and mountains in the background in Vancouver

In addition to selecting the appropriate cruise line, picking the right ship that aligns with your preferences is crucial. While some favor the cozy allure of intimate settings, others enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and modern cutting-edge technology.

Fortunately, each major cruise line offers a few different ship options for Alaskan cruises, enabling you to customize your journey to suit the tastes of you and your party.

Moreover, conducting research beforehand is essential to aligning your preferences with the cruise's atmosphere and amenities - setting the stage for an unforgettable adventure.

2. Splurge on a Balcony Cabin

The view from DLT's balcony on their Alaskan cruise

The unparalleled beauty of an Alaskan cruise lies in the breathtaking vistas that unfold along your journey. As such, investing in a balcony room is highly recommended; it allows you to savor these magnificent views from the comfort of your own private space!

Imagine waking up to the stunning scenery without stepping outside the realm of your stateroom, relishing the tranquility of your cabin while indulging in a delicious breakfast or a steaming cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea with room service at your fingertips. 

Balcony Stateroom on Quantum of the Seas

If a balcony room stretches your budget too far, an oceanview room still grants access to the awe-inspiring panoramas, even if you cannot venture out into the chilly air.

Furthermore, an interior room may offer a budget-friendly option; however, the added luxury of gazing out at the landscapes or creating your own secluded retreat makes the upgrade well worth considering!

3. Choosing your Alaskan Itinerary

Mountain views and water in the ice in the Alaskan Inside Passage

When planning your Alaskan cruise, consider the array of itineraries offered by different cruise lines and ships. Each itinerary has its unique advantages, tailored to the characteristics of the vessel. 

For instance, smaller ships excel in navigating close to glaciers and maneuvering through narrow passages, offering an intimate experience with Alaska's natural wonders. Conversely, larger ships boast stability and a wealth of onboard entertainment options.

Popular destinations and passages featured in Alaskan itineraries include Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia, along with Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, College Fjord, and Whittier in Alaska.

Mountains in Alaska

It is worth noting that some Alaskan cruises are one-way sailings, adding an extra layer of adventure to your journey. For example, our Royal Caribbean cruise departed from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and concluded in Seattle, Washington.

Alternatively, other cruise lines embark from Vancouver and disembark in Anchorage (Whittier), Alaska. One-way cruises traverse longer and more scenic routes, maximizing your exploration of the region and providing additional ports of call.

In addition to ensuring you are satisfied with the cruise itinerary, it is essential to review the port times. We encountered some unusual port times during our trip, which proved inconvenient. For example, in Victoria, we arrived at 5 pm on a Sunday when most establishments were closed.

4. Enjoying the Inside Passage and Similar Experiences

Snow topped mountains and green tree filled mountains with ice in the water

When cruising through the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park, and similar routes, it is essential to note that, unlike traditional port stops, there is no disembarkation for exploration, nor are there significant announcements signaling entry or exit from these passages and parks. 

Instead, you will find the timings for these scenic passages listed on your cruise itinerary and within the cruise line's mobile app. Remember these times, or find another way to remind yourself so you do not miss out on these amazing experiences.

For example, we traversed the Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier in the Alaskan Inside Passage from 5 am to 10 am. Typically, this fell during our sleeping hours following late-night fun and musical entertainment. 

Hubbard Glacier

Without committing this information to memory and setting an alarm, we might have entirely missed this breathtaking experience. 

Additionally, considering the significance of splurging on a balcony or oceanview room, I was too exhausted from the previous day's activities to venture out and witness the passage from public areas. 

Instead, I opted to stay in bed and admire the views through the balcony doors. Matthew, however, seized the opportunity to enjoy the scenery from the forward of the ship, securing even more impressive views than me. 

Nonetheless, from the comfort of our room, I was treated to remarkable vistas that would have been unavailable in an interior room.

5. Alaskan Shore Excursions

Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour in Juneau, Alaska

Now, let's focus on the adventures awaiting you off the ship! Before delving into the various experiences available onshore, it is worth noting that Alaskan shore excursions tend to be pricier compared to those in the Caribbean. 

This is not to discourage anyone from enjoying an Alaskan cruise with a limited excursion budget - it is entirely feasible, as we discovered when we embarked without realizing the extent of the costs involved. 

However, for future trips, we aspire to set aside more funds for shore excursions, particularly for experiences like helicopter tours and dog sledding. 

A helpful guideline for a party of two is to allocate a similar amount to your excursion budget as you did to your cruise fare, if not more.

Dog Sledding

On average, a helicopter tour costs around $600 per person, while a dog sledding adventure may run around $400 per person. These figures are approximate and may vary, but they reflect what we encountered during our journey.

There are several popular excursions to enjoy during an Alaskan cruise, from visiting the Mendenhall Glacier via helicopter tour, kayak expedition, or a trip to the visitor center. Exploring the Tongass National Forest through hiking offers a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and observe wildlife. 

Dog sledding is another thrilling excursion option. Additionally, do not miss the chance to journey along The White Pass & Yukon Route in Skagway. Moreover, for a unique and cheaper experience, consider embarking on a scavenger hunt for totem poles across Alaska in search of the most distinctive pieces.

Alaskan train to Denali National Park

Princess Cruises also offers land tours, allowing you to explore Denali National Park on a cruise tour. This adventure encompasses a cruise, train ride, and lodge experience within the stunning Denali National Park.

We explored Ketchikan on foot and attended the captivating Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. In Sitka, we used their public transportation to reach the Fortress of the Bear, where we marveled at eight adorable and fluffy bears. 

Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier

In Juneau, we did an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and a scenic hike to Nugget Falls. 

Finally, upon arriving later in the day at Victoria, we took public transportation to Downtown, where we wandered on foot and treated ourselves to delightful indulgences such as dipped ice cream cones at Chocolats Favoris and a strawberry shortcake BeaverTail.

​Side Note: Public transportation in Alaska is somewhat limited. While Sitka did have one, each bus could only accommodate up to 25 people, and the next bus did not arrive until an hour after the previous one.

6. Wildlife Viewing

Whale splashing its tail on the surface of the water

An Alaskan Cruise promises unforgettable wildlife encounters, with many shore excursions offering the chance to witness these majestic creatures up close. However, you may also spot them on your own during the journey. 

For example, during two ports of call, we were delighted to observe wild bald eagles and hawks soaring overhead and perched near the water's edge. 

Cruising along the Pacific Ocean, we saw humpback whales breaching and splashing their tails against the water. Some fortunate travelers even caught sight of wild bears while exploring the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

3 sea otters swimming

Nevertheless, if you are eager to guarantee sightings of these remarkable animals, consider embarking on a Whale Watching excursion, visiting the Fortress of the Bear, exploring the Alaska Raptor Center, or embarking on the Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest.

7. Witnessing the Northern Lights

Auroras in Alaska

While enjoying your Alaskan cruise, there is a good chance you will have the opportunity to witness the Northern lights. The optimal time to view this natural wonder in Alaska falls between mid-August and mid-April when shorter daylight hours result in darker night skies. 

We relied on the University of Alaska - Fairbanks' Aurora Forecast website to enhance our chances of seeing the lights, and it proved invaluable in tracking our prospects. 

Fortunately, we caught a glimpse of the Northern lights one night during our seven-night cruise. However, we initially underestimated the best viewing time, expecting it to be around 3 am. 

Northern lights on the top and sunrise on the bottom taken by DLT! on their Alaskan cruise

To our surprise, we later discovered that midnight offered the ideal conditions, as the sun had already begun to rise by 3 am. However, this timing resulted in a captivating blend of the Northern lights and the sunrise, creating a truly remarkable sight! 

We attempted to catch sight of them once more during our cruise. However, we could not see them again due to dense cloud coverage blocking our view or the lights being further north than our location. 

8. Onboard Activities

Pool deck on a cruise going through Alaska

Beyond the excitement of excursions, port visits, and scenic vistas, an essential aspect of your cruise experience lies within the ship itself. With one or two sea days likely on your itinerary, lounging and soaking in the views is enjoyable, but it may lose its charm quickly.

Hence, it is essential to confirm that your cruise ship provides onboard activities aligned with your preferences.

Typically, cruise lines offer fundamental amenities like pools, hot tubs, and dining choices. Do not forget to pack your swimsuit and appropriate attire for formal dining evenings in the main restaurant.

Bumper Cars in the SeaPlex

Additionally, many cruise lines offer a variety of additional activities, including exercise classes, dance lessons, arts and crafts sessions, bingo, karaoke, trivia, and more.

During our Alaska cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, we enjoyed various thrilling activities such as bumper cars, rollerblading, laser tag, and numerous sports options available at their sports complex. 

It was so much fun and a great experience. It underscores the importance of selecting the cruise line and ship that best suits your preferences and party's needs!

9. Drink Package

Person wearing a wide-brimmed hat holding their right hand in the air holding a tropical alcoholic beverage

Many cruise lines provide an unlimited beverage package, allowing you to indulge in alcoholic beverages, freshly squeezed fruit drinks, specialty coffee, and soft drinks throughout your voyage.

This option can significantly enhance your vacation experience, especially if you enjoy relaxing by the pool, dancing, or unwinding in the hot tub with your favorite beverage in hand.

10. Navigating Wait Times

Surprisingly, we faced several long waits for boarding and disembarking during our Alaskan cruise, unlike our usual experience at Floridian and Caribbean ports. Let me walk you through the waits we encountered.


Vancouver, Canada skyline

At the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada cruise port, expect to undergo customs and security procedures. Our experience involved approximately an hour of standing and walking through queues for both processes. However, we have heard of this taking up to 2 or 3 hours for some individuals. Therefore, patience is key. 

Moreover, ensure you have all necessary cruise documents readily accessible, such as your passport and boarding passes. Make sure not to inadvertently hand your important documents over to porters when surrendering your luggage. 

Also, unlike Florida cruise ports, where you can drive up to drop off your luggage, at this port, you will need to walk through a convention center building and hand over your luggage midway through.

Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

In Ketchikan, Alaska, exiting and reboarding the ship was quite challenging. We waited around an hour after they opened the gangway, hoping the lines would be shorter, but we still had to wait an hour to leave the ship. 

Then, when it was time to get back on board, it took about 40 minutes. We had never waited that long to get on or off a ship before, and it was pretty frustrating.

Downtown street of Sitka, AK

In Sitka, they told us that shuttle buses would transport passengers from the port to Downtown, with an estimated travel time of 15 to 20 minutes. To streamline the process, we needed to collect shuttle ticket numbers onboard for disembarkation, helping us to avoid lengthy waits.

However, despite this initiative, we waited about 25 minutes in line on the ship for these tickets and another 15 minutes to board the bus after leaving the vessel. 

While the overall experience was an improvement compared to the previous port, we still had to wait a total of 40 minutes. On the bright side, embarking the ship posed no issues for us.

Parliament House in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

We encountered no difficulties when disembarking or embarking the ship in Juneau and Victoria, as it should be.

Thankfully, they resolved the issues by the end of our cruise. While I hope the waits we experienced in Ketchikan and Sitka are not typical, I wanted to share this advice with you just in case.


At the Seattle Cruise Port, we faced a 20 to 30-minute wait to clear customs. Once again, it is essential to have your important documents readily available to expedite your exit from the port.

However, the main issue at the Seattle Cruise Port was securing transportation upon disembarkation. We disembarked around 9:30 am and found that Uber was charging around $150 to go to the airport, while Lyft was about $80. 

AI Generated Image of a Taxi in Seattle with the Space Needle in the background

Taxis were $40, but some drivers increased the fare to $50 upon reaching the airport. Moreover, the taxi queue was exceedingly long, with only a few taxis arriving at a time.

In the end, we opted for public transportation. However, it is worth noting that public transportation may not be suitable for everyone, as it requires a walk of nearly a mile and navigating some stairs with your luggage to reach the bus stop. 

After a few stops on the bus, we disembarked to locate the train that would transport us to the airport. Overall, the process was relatively straightforward, taking us an hour and a half and costing only $5.75 per person.

Toy cars with the logos for Uber and Lyft on top of them

We found it to be faster than waiting in line for a taxi and significantly cheaper than ordering an Uber. For the Seattle cruise port, I recommend prearranging your transportation to the airport.

I observed that some individuals paid lower Uber fares because they had scheduled their rides in advance. Additionally, it appears that the cruise line's shuttle service was more economical compared to nearly all other options available at the port, making it another viable choice to consider.

11. Things to Bring on Your Cruise

Balcony view of Sitka, Alaska

Essential items to pack for an Alaskan cruise include layered clothing, motion sickness medication, travel insurance, and for photographers, a zoom lens.

Having layers is crucial in Alaska, as the weather can be unpredictable, even if you have researched the weather beforehand. Layers ensure you are ready for any condition. Although we checked the weather forecast prior to our trip and anticipated cold and rainy days, our experience was quite different. 

We encountered only two cold days, one rainy day while cruising the ocean, and the remainder were warmer than expected. Consequently, we needed more short-sleeved clothing, prompting us to purchase shirts in Juneau for the remainder of the trip. 

A person in rain gear walking through a forest

However, it is wise to pack rainy-day essentials like water-resistant jackets and shoes, as locals informed us that we were fortunate to experience minimal rainfall, as it typically rains a lot in Alaska.

Motion sickness medication is crucial for your journey, especially since much of it is spent on a cruise ship where you may experience seasickness. Purchasing motion sickness medication onboard can be costly, so it is wise to bring some from home to save money and avoid discomfort.

Travel insurance is another essential consideration because unforeseen circumstances can arise at any time. During our Alaskan voyage, we witnessed a family disembarking in Ketchikan due to health issues with their elderly mother, necessitating ambulance assistance.

Additionally, having experienced mishaps on previous trips, we have learned the importance of having travel insurance the hard way. As such, I recommend opting for travel insurance through a travel credit card.

Chase Bank Storefront with an ATM and a title card that reads: 10 Reasons Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is Worth the Annual Fee

For more information about a great travel credit card, check out my blog post, 10 Reasons Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is Worth the Annual Fee, and discover why it is an ideal choice for your travel needs.

For photographers, do not forget to pack your zoom lens to capture nature's breathtaking beauty up close. Whether it is breaching humpback whales or bald eagles gliding gracefully through the sky, an Alaskan cruise offers endless opportunities for stunning photographs that you will not want to miss!

For additional packing suggestions for your Alaskan cruise, refer to my blog post, Your Alaska Cruise Packing List (PDF Checklist Inside). In this blog post, you will find a visual listing with links to purchase the items.

Do you just want the checklist emailed to you?

Preview of the Free Printable Packing List for your Alaskan Cruise created by Dale, Let's Travel! LLC

Fill out this form with your first name and email address below to receive the link for a downloadable PDF version of this listing that you can print out and treat as a checklist.

Another Great Tip is on How to Score the Best Deal on a Cruise

5 cruise ships docked at a port with words in the middle that say: How to Get a Cheap Cruise: The Do's and Don'ts

Check out my blog post, How to Get a Cheap Cruise: The Do's and Don'ts, to learn about the best practices to score the best deal on your next cruise.

Voyage to the Last Frontier

Ketchikan water and mountain view

Now equipped with a treasure trove of Alaskan cruise tips, you are ready to embark on your journey with confidence! From selecting the right cruise line to packing essentials like layered clothing and motion sickness medication, you have learned the ins and outs of navigating this unique adventure.

Whether you are a seasoned cruiser or a first-time adventurer, may your Alaskan cruise be filled with unforgettable moments and cherished memories!

Have you ever been on an Alaskan Cruise? Are there any tips you think I am missing? Let me know in the comments below! Share this article with the person or people you want to go on your next adventure with! Also, be sure to SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places you should add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!

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