A First Timers Guide To Taking An Alaska Cruise
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If you have never taken a Alaskan cruise before then you absolutely should! Cruises are an amazing way to visit a destination and maximise how much you see whilst you are there.
After taking two cruises in Alaska I have collected a bunch of tips and advice that I think will help first timers to plan for the cruise, make the most of their time on board and above all have fun! My most recent cruise was with Carnival Cruises in Alaska and in this guide I share my top tips for joining an Alaskan cruise!
Price Shopping Prices Are The Same Across Sites
You can make your head spin by searching site after site for the best cruise deal. And while many promise low fares, weve found that the prices are almost always the exact same whether you go to the cruise lines website. What might change is the incentives to book. So one site might charge $1,000 for a cruise, but have $50 in onboard credit. Another might have the same trip for $1,000 as well, but with $100 in onboard credit. All told however, the differences are usually small.
Whats The Best Time To See Whales On An Alaska Cruise
Gray whales, humpback whales, orca, beluga whales Alaska has them all. Here are some quick tips to help you increase the odds of seeing whales during your cruise.
- Humpback whales: June and July are the best months for seeing these giants of the deep. Over 500 humpback whales spend summer within the Inside Passage, so select a cruise that passes through this route and visits the Barren Islands.
- Beluga whales: You can spot belugas in Turnagain Arm from mid-July through August, just south of Anchorage. September is also a good month for belugas, as long as your cruise passes Nome.
- Gray Whales: April and May are ideal for gray whales, as they feed around Kodiak, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Seward.
- Orca : The ideal time for orca spotting is between early May and early June when you can find these colorful behemoths feeding in Resurrection Bay and along cruise routes going between Seattle and Alaska.
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You Will Take A Ton Of Pictures
If you have been relying on your smartphone as your camera, it might be time to upgrade. It seems like everywhere you look, there is an image straight out of a travel magazine. Inevitably, you will take a lot of pictures. Investing in a digital camera, or even a new mirrorless camera, will give you the picture quality you want without maxing out your phones memory.
Hair & Makeup Products
Hair can require extra taming when coming in from a day at the beach or a windy sea day up on deck. Be prepared with all the hairstyling products, accessories, and tools you need, as well as a brush/comb, too .
Bring along your makeup . You might also want a small bottle of perfume or cologne to spritz from, as well.
Advantages Of Visiting Alaska In June
- Warming coastal temperatures between 40-60 degrees and even warmer interior temperatures of 50-70 degrees.
- Between 18-20 hours of daylight, giving you lots of time to enjoy the Alaskan wilderness and wildlife.
- Wildlife is everywhere in June, with caribou, black bear cubs, mountain goats, moose calves, and even polar bears, out in force. On the water, pods of beluga whales can be spotted, along with plentiful seabirds and seal pups.
- Cruises offering land tours are available, as all the major national parks open in June.
- The warmer weather and longer daylight hours mean that tourist attractions in towns like Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks are fully open.
Girdwood Forest Fair. Photo by Brook Binkowski/Flicker
Sailing From Vancouver Fly Into Seattle & Take The Train
While Seattle is the big departure port for Alaskan cruises, a fair number also sail from Vancouver, Canada. The issue here is that for many in the United States, a plane ticket to Vancouver can be hundreds more than the same ticket to Seattle. This is despite the fact that the two cities are just a couple of hundred miles apart. If you find this situation, its much cheaper to book the flight to Alaska and then take one of the many services between the two cities. For example, the four-hour train ride from Seattle to Vancouver only costs about $40.
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What To Wear On Days At Sea
During days at sea, you will spend time enjoying the ships facilities. Be prepared for the outside decks and balconies to be windy and chilly, unless you get lucky with a burst of sunshine.
Attire on board is pretty casual during the day: jeans or leggings, hiking pants, or exercise clothes are all appropriate. On top you probably want to dress in layers with a long-sleeve t-shirt topped with a sweater, light fleece, or down vest. I would still bring one or two short-sleeve t-shirts and a pair of shorts just in case it is warm enough to enjoy the sun deck or your balcony.
Since you dont want to have to pack too many shoes, stick with either sneakers, flip flops, hiking boots, or flats which can be interchanged between the gym, spa/pool, outdoors, and dinner.
Whether you are sitting outside or in the observation lounge, you will probably want to have something cozy to snuggle up in. If you have room to pack a thin blanket, you will enjoy having that to curl up in while you are relaxing outside
What to wear:
What Should I Wear On An Alaskan Cruise
I really recommend you pack everything and anything you think you might need. Bring your swimsuits and lighter clothes .
But also make sure you bring plenty of col weather outfits. The days out at sea are bitter cold. So even sitting on your balcony requires multiple layers. And if you decide to do an excursion like a helicopter ride to a glacier thatll be really cold too.
And finally, dont forget your formal wear. There are usually 2 formal nights that require almost like a wedding-guest look. But even on normal nights, you have to follow a dress code to eat in the dining rooms .
You can see more specific outfit ideas and seeing exactly what I packed for our Alaskan cruise.
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Always Pack A Dry Bag
While you might not realize it, theres a lot of rain in Alaska. Theres also a lot of fog, mist, and drizzle. That makes it a priority to keep electronics and valuables dry. One way of doing that is with a dry bag. This vinyl bag has a sealed top that is then rolled down for more protection. It then clips together creating a handle. They come in several sizes and make it easy to keep your things dry even if caught in a downpour. You can read more about dry bags here.
The Demands On The Camera
Canon EOS 5D mark IV, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM 400 mm, 1/320, f/8, ISO 2500
After reading through the Subject Matter and Shooting Scenarios section, you might be able to guess at some of the demands that your camera will likely need to meet.
The good news here is that unlike a lot of places, the kind of photography youll be doing on a cruise doesnt require a specialist camera.
What this means in terms of specs, is that you dont need a particularly high resolution, frame rate, AF system, or beyond stellar high ISO capabilities. Instead, youll want a good balance of all of those features. As I said though, that really just describes most DSLRs, mirrorless, and even bridge cameras that have been made in the last, well, probably 8 years.
In my opinion, the key areas to consider are:
- A good balance between FPS and resolution.
- A reasonably good AF system with a reasonably dense pattern of AF points.
Personally, Ive never run into a situation in Alaska where I wished I had a 10+ FPS capable camera. However, when photographing whales, eagles, and bears, I definitely recommend more than 3 or 4 FPS too.
Meeting these frame rates inst much of a problem for most modern cameras. However, there are exceptions, mostly in the entry level DSLR and mirrorless space. At the mid and higher tiers, almost universally this isnt a problem.
Canon EOS 5D mark IV, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM 321 mm, 1/320, f/5.6 ISO 1000
What Ive Used
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Sail On A Ship With Lots Of Indoor Things To Do
So much of taking an Alaskan cruise is about the scenery, but you cant spend all your hours outside watching nature go by. Thats why its a good idea to book a ship that has a lot of indoor activities and things to do. Given that the weather in Alaska can be rainy and cool, indoor things to do give you a chance to have fun while also staying out of the weather. In general you can find a lot more to do on the bigger and newer ships say those built in the past 10 years.
Cute Outfits For An Alaskan Cruise
I had anticipated the towns in Alaska would be the coldest part of my trip but I was SO wrong. Your time on the ship is way colder. Being out at sea made for some very cold and windy days.
Fleece-lined leggings were my savior! I wore these as regualr leggins all around the ship. They worked great as a comfortable option that kept me warm .;
The fleece-lined leggings were also thin enough to layer underneath a pair of jeans or jogger pants in case it got REALLY cold outside.;
Youll also want to add a comfortable pair of shoes for just walking around the ship. These shoes are my go-to for any traveling I do. They are super comfy for airports and pretty much match with anything.
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Top Clothing For Your Alaska Cruise Packing List
Waterproof And Windproof Jacket
Alaskan cruises typically sail from late April through early-October. So you need to take into account Alaskas unpredictable and unfamiliar summer weather when considering your Alaskan cruise packing list.
The temperatures along Alaskas Inside Passage usually hover in the 50s/60s to low 70s at best during the daytime. And in the 40s to 50s at night. Think windproof and waterproof.
I like this jacket from Columbia because it comes in many colors, has a hood, is waterproof, and comes with the Omni-tech technology. I also like this Columbia jacketbecause it is a bit more affordable, but still is waterproof with all the technology Columbia has to offer.
You definitely want to be prepared for those cold Alaskan breezes. Especially when you are out on those chilly Alaskan waters, or when strolling on the deck of your cruise ship.
If you are going to invest in one new thing for your Alaska cruise packing list, I recommend a great jacket so you arent cold and you can enjoy your cruise!
Especially if you are planning a cruise with your best girlfriends!
Thermal Long Underwear
Long underwear has come a long way in the last few years and is a must on your Alaska cruise packing list. Companies are using some pretty incredible;technology which gives you the warmth you need but the bulk you dont.
They would keep your core and legs warm when worn as your base layer so def put them on your Alaskan cruise packing list! These are what I wear as well.
Your Alaska Cruise Itinerary Can Determine What To Pack
Inside Passage:; The overwhelming majority of ships for seven-night round-trip cruises to Alaska depart from either Seattle or Vancouver, Canada.; A one-week Alaska cruise spends two days northbound and the same back plus three or four Alaska cruise ports, all in the Inside Passage.;
On any seven-night round-trip Inside Passage cruise from the Lower 48, you wont have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Alaska before or after your cruise.
On the other hand, choose a small ship adventure cruise and your ship will probably embark and disembark in either Juneau or Sitka.; In this case, you can easily spend a couple of days on land before or after your cruise.
Cross-Gulf:; These Alaska cruises can also be seven nights with departures northbound from Vancouver and Seattle or southbound from Seward and Whittier, Alaska.; A cross-Gulf cruise will give you the time to spend in Alaskas interior before or after your cruise.
The clothes youll need can vary, too. Especially if you cruise early or late in the season in May or September.
My Alaska packing list covers everything youll need to pack for a 7-day Alaska cruise, like my Holland America Eurodam Inside Passage cruise. If your cruise is longer or youve chosen a cruise and tour, I also include how and what to pack.;
Basically, you would pack the same but plan on either sending out a load of laundry on the ship, doing a sink wash or hauling it into a town to a laundromat.; But theres more to know.;
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Sip Some Alaskan Brews
As with the rest of the United States, craft brewing has seen a huge spike in popularity in Alaska. Breweries like Denali Brewing Co.,Alaskan Brewing Co., and 49th State Brewing have popped up in recent years, with the one caveat being that you cant find their beers anywhere else in the lower 48. So get your Alaskan brews while you can; most cruises have drink menus that are heavy on the local brews so be sure to taste a classic Alaskan Amber before you disembark.
Frequently Asked Questions About Packing For Alaska Cruises
Do I need to pack a swimsuit?Yes, we suggest bringing a swimsuit on our cruise. But swimming in Alaska? Remember that much of your time is actually going to be spent on the cruise ship. While there are pools, there are also hot tubs. So bring your swimsuit and you can take a dip in the hot tub or even lay out if the weather is warmer and sunny. The good thing is that swimsuits dont take a lot of room in luggage, so even if you dont use it, its not a big deal.
Can I bring a hair straightener or curling iron?Despite the ban on items that heat up, items like hair straighteners and curling irons are allowed on the ship. That said, its a good idea to be extra careful using them and never leave them plugged in.
How much luggage can I bring?One of the great things about cruising is that rules around how much luggage you can bring are relaxed. There are no fees for your bags like you might find on an airline and there are no real limits on how many bags you can bring.
That said, we suggest keeping things reasonable. Remember, anything you pack you will need to get from home to the cruise port. Its better to pack a little lighter and have an easier time handing all of your bags.
Have other suggestions of things to pack? Let us know in the comments below!
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Invest In A Camera With A Zoom
These days almost all of us use our phone as our camera. While phone cameras are great for most shots, they often lack in the zoom capability. If you want to spot wildlife in Alaska and catch a snapshot, then youll want a decent camera with a zoom feature. This will allow you to get stunning pictures of the beauty of Alaska, even if you are quite a distance from your subject.
Alaska Cruise Formal Nights
Although Alan and I love dressing up for formal nights, we leave the dinner jacket and long gown at home when cruising to Alaska. In fact, wed do the same on any 7 to 14-day cruise. During port-intensive cruises, theres not enough time on ship to make bringing the formal wear worth it.
Ill pack a pair of dressy black pants, sparkly top and shoes, especially if Ive adhered to the two pants/five top/1 par of shoes list I mentioned for casual nights in the packing list that follows. If you really want to cut down on clothing, wear the black pants from elegant casual night in place of an additional pair of dressy pants.
For an Alaska formal night, Alan wears a sport coat and dress pants or khakis, perhaps without a tie as they are usually optional. Hell bring one, though, just in case he changes his mind.
No need to worry about formal nights on an expedition cruise because there arent any.
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Selecting A Cabin Type
For most people cabin selection will be based on your budget but there are a few things to consider when selecting your room and whether its worth upping your budget a little to get a room you truly love. There are a variety of state rooms, and I think the first choice is whether you want an interior room , a sea view room , a balcony room or a suite with balcony.
If you are claustrophobic or get a little seasick, then going for a room with a window or balcony is essential. We enjoyed a balcony room and found this was such a great way to be able to enjoy the sailing days, relaxing on the balcony, book in hand, waiting for a whale to swim by!
The second consideration is which part of the boat you want to be on, the back, middle or front. Honestly, I personally dont think this is as much of a consideration as selecting which room type you go for. The selection of which location is usually based on what you want to be close to, but with activities on board all over the boat you will be walking from one end to the other no matter what.
One thing to check if possible is that you are not in a middle corner room. Our room was on a corner in the middle of the ship where the next section of cabin rooms and balconies jutted out farther than ours to one side. This meant we had a large wall next to our balcony completely obscuring the view to the left and front of the boat so could not see anything ahead of us when we were sailing.