Alaska cruises are among the most popular cruise itineraries in the world. Delivering picturesque sailings to the state’s fjords, glaciers, and historic coastal towns, it’s no wonder so many cruise passengers flock to Alaska each summer. Over half of all tourists to Alaska visit via cruise ship, and it’s estimated that around 1.5 million passengers will cruise to Alaska in 2022 alone.
After virtually zero cruise ship passengers in 2020 and figures at only a tenth of the typical passenger level in 2021, 2022 is shaping up to be a more “normal” year for Alaska’s cruise industry.
Passengers visiting Alaska this summer should expect crowds both onboard and in port. With Royal Caribbean’s ships set to reach full capacity and some Alaska cruise ports able to accommodate upwards of 15,000 visitors at once, you might be wondering if it’s possible to avoid crowds on your upcoming Alaska cruise.
The good news is that, no matter how crowded a ship or port may be, it’s always possible to find ways to escape the crowds. Whether that means opting for a private excursion as opposed to one with a large group, exploring on your own, or waking up early to enjoy an emptier cruise ship, here are our top tips for avoiding crowds on an Alaska cruise.
Wake up early
My best advice for avoiding crowds on any Royal Caribbean cruise, whether in Alaska, the Caribbean, or Europe, is to wake up early. Popular morning spots like the Windjammer, Cafe Promenade, and even the hot tubs are much less crowded early in the morning around 7AM as opposed to 8 or 9AM.
While waking up early on vacation may seem absurd, early morning on a cruise ship–especially in Alaska–can be extremely peaceful. Grabbing a latte or breakfast and watching the scenery from nearly empty public spaces onboard is a great way to start the day, and far less stressful than trying to eat in a jam-packed buffet once everyone else wakes up!
Book a balcony stateroom
If it fits into your cruise budget, consider booking a balcony stateroom to avoid crowds on an Alaska cruise. There’s no denying that a balcony enhances a cruise vacation, and having your own private space onboard where you can relax and watch Alaska’s scenery can be a huge benefit.
If a balcony room is out of your budget, though, you can still have a fantastic Alaska cruise vacation. In fact, a balcony may not be as necessary as you initially believe. You'll have more limited views from a balcony when compared to watching scenery from more panoramic areas onboard and you might find that you spend less time on the balcony due to chillier temperatures.
However, if maximum privacy is important to you, a balcony might be the best option.
Find underrated spots to watch the scenery
A highlight of an Alaska cruise is watching the state’s magnificent scenery as you sail through the Inside Passage. Waterfalls, rocky mountain peaks, glaciers, and trees dot Alaska’s wilderness, and watching the scenery pass by from the ship is truly awe-inspiring.
Most passengers tend to flock to the pool deck on scenic cruising days, hoping to catch the best view of the scenery in all directions. Unfortunately, this area can get quite crowded and you may not always be able to snag a great viewing spot.
Therefore, instead of heading to the pool deck, consider watching scenery from other areas onboard. The Promenade deck, helicopter pad, far back of the sports deck, and indoor lounges like Two70 and the Viking Crown Lounge may have far fewer guests than the pool deck.
The Windjammer can be another unexpected great spot for scenery viewing, too. Windjammer locations on Royal Caribbean ships have large, floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a panoramic view of the scenery outside. Some ships may even have an outdoor seating area in the Windjammer, which is almost guaranteed to have fewer crowds than other areas onboard.
Book an Alaska cruise during shoulder season
If you haven’t booked your Alaska cruise yet but are hoping to avoid crowds, consider cruising to Alaska in the shoulder season. The months of May and September tend to bring fewer crowds than the peak summer months of June, July, and August.
Because the peak summer months coincide with the school calendar, you tend to see more families and crowds onboard and in port. This is also when Alaska’s weather is warmest, leading to higher demand.
While cruising to Alaska in the shoulder season may bring fewer crowds, it might also mean more unpredictable and rainier weather. However, prices during this time can often be much lower than in the peak season, allowing for some potentially big savings on cruise fare.
Read more: When is the best time to cruise to Alaska?
Explore ports on your own
Exploring ports on your own is always a nice way to avoid crowds, as you won’t be traveling with a large tour on a shore excursion. Luckily, Alaska cruise ports tend to be small and walkable, giving you easy access to the town’s highlights and nature on foot. You may also opt to rent a car, bike, or scooter to explore ports more in-depth on your own.
If you are exploring on your own, travel just a little off the beaten path to avoid crowds. Most visitors tend to stay within the first few streets of town closest to where cruise ships dock. By walking further away from the ship, you’ll encounter far fewer crowds while still being able to enjoy a nice walk through town and the surrounding areas.
If you’re hoping to visit destinations further from port, such as Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, consider visiting independently as opposed to booking an excursion. A guided tour may seem nice in theory, but being able to explore the glacier and hiking trails on your own time–and with fewer crowds from the tour group–will be well appreciated.
We recommend researching Alaska cruise ports in advance so you can have a better idea of what activities are available before your ship docks in port. Here are a few of our favorite activities and things to do in Alaska’s most popular cruise ports:
- Top 10 things to do in Juneau
- Top 10 things to do in Ketchikan
- Top 10 things to do in Skagway
- Top 10 things to do in Sitka
Book an excursion through Royal Caribbean’s Private Journeys
If you’re looking for a truly private and personalized shore excursion option, consider booking through Royal Caribbean’s Private Journeys. Royal Private Journeys is Royal Caribbean’s shore excursion option for those who would like a fully customizable, personalized excursion curated by the cruise line's Destination Insiders.
To book a Private Journey, you’ll first fill out a request form detailing the number of guests in your party, places of interests you would like to visit, and language preferences. Destination Insiders will then use your preferences to tailor a private shore excursion that fits within your interests.
Private Journeys do come at a higher cost than a regular shore excursion, but if avoiding crowds is important to you, a private excursion may be a nice solution.
What are your best tips for avoiding crowds on an Alaska cruise? Let us know in the comments!