Cruising to Alaska is one of the best ways to see everything this stunning state has to offer. From May to September, cruise ships will sail through the Inside Passage and through the beautiful, icy fjords of Alaska.
Packing for a cruise to Alaska is vastly different than packing for a Caribbean cruise. For obvious reasons, the weather and scenery are complete opposites. You’ll trade sugary sand beaches in the Caribbean for snow-capped mountains and glaciers in Alaska.
The weather in Alaska is undeniably best in the summer during the cruise season with more daylight, less rain and warmer temperatures. However, you can still experience rain, snow and chilly temperatures throughout the year.
I’ve sailed to Alaska three times. The first time I sailed to Alaska was from Seward to Vancouver in July. The second cruise was roundtrip from Seattle to Alaska in August. The most recent time I sailed to Alaska was a round-trip cruise from Vancouver in May.
Two of my three cruises had typical Alaska weather with chilly temperatures and rain showers throughout the week. I would say my first cruise in July was the coldest weather while my most recent cruise in May was slightly warmer, but still cold.
Read more: When is the best time to cruise to Alaska?
My husband and I lucked out with great weather when we cruised in August 2021 with 70 degree days and sunny skies all week. We were told multiple times that our good weather was unusually warm for Alaska, so I think this was just good luck.
Essentially, packing for Alaska will require some planning and preparation. Ensuring you pack layers and versatile clothing will be key for a successful cruise week.
If you’re looking for outfit ideas for your upcoming Alaska cruise, look no further! Here’s our Alaska cruise outfit guide to help you perfectly plan both practical and versatile outfits.
Focus on Layers
When you start picking your cruise outfits for Alaska, focus on packing pieces that can be layered together. Focusing on layers will let you maximize your suitcase space, which is important since warmer clothes will be bulkier. With layers, you can also mix-and-match outfits depending on both weather and activities.
Read more: 50 tips for planning your Alaska cruise
For women, this could include packing leggings and dark jeans as outfit staples. Leggings are extremely versatile for an Alaskan cruise; from active excursions to exploring an Alaskan town in the rain, you won't regret packing black leggings. If it's super cold, you can even layer 2 pairs of leggings for extra warmth.
Also, leggings can be worn with a long tunic, a cozy plaid shirt, an oversized sweater or fuzzy sherpa.
Leggings or dark jeans can easily be layered with a jean jacket to provide extra warmth. A jean jacket is a great piece to bring and can be worn while exploring ports for warmth or as a casual jacket onboard the ship. I prefer to wear a jean jacket on travel days since the airplane is normally cold.
When it comes to layering for men, versatile pieces that can be layered together will be the best option for Alaskan cruise outfits.
For men, dark jeans and khaki pants can be a great option to wear both during the day and also onboard for dinners. When planning outfits for your Alaska cruise, it’s good to consider whether the pants you pack can be used for dinner outfits as well.
Long-sleeve knit or plaid shirts can also layer well under a rain jacket, providing both warmth and versatility. Half-zips are another great piece to consider packing because these layer well with an outdoor jacket but can also be worn with khakis onboard the ship.
Prepare for Rain
As much as you can hope for incredible weather during an Alaskan cruise, you should be prepared to experience rain throughout your vacation. Alaskan weather consists of gloomy clouds, foggy skies and chilly rain, even in the summer.
Packing a waterproof rain jacket is a must for your Alaskan cruise, along with an umbrella. I prefer to pack a black rain jacket because it goes with everything.
If you are sailing at the very beginning or end of the Alaskan season, you might want to consider packing a waterproof coat with a warmer lining, like sherpa or fleece. A light puffer jacket would travel well for an Alaskan cruise as well.
If you don’t pack a rain jacket and find that the Alaskan weather is too cold for you to handle, every port will be selling fleece-lined, waterproof jackets that are embroidered with 'Alaska'. These also make a great souvenir because they are reasonably priced, some are sold as low as $9.99.
Here's an example of the souvenir jacket you can snag in the ports if you would rather purchase a coat during your cruise. I would guess at least 15% of the people on our cruise were wearing a jacket like this by the end of the week.
Don’t Forget Boots
When planning your Alaskan cruise outfits, you’ll absolutely want to consider which waterproof boots you’re packing. Unless the forecast is showing sunshine all week, these are essential for your Alaskan cruise.
You’ll want to make sure these boots are comfortable for walking and any other excursions you might have planned.
For women, this could include Chelsea rain boots or classic Sperry boots. Both of these are perfect options for an Alaskan cruise and pair well with leggings and rain jackets. Hunter rain boots could also be a good option depending on how much space you have in your suitcase.
Men will also want to pack a waterproof pair of boots that can be worn during the day, such as Timberland Waterproof Boots. If you have any active excursions or you want to go hiking, you should consider packing comfortable hiking boots or duck boots that would pair well with your outdoor gear.
Hats, Scarves and Mittens
Imagine sailing through the Alaskan fjords and getting up so close to a glacier that you can hear the ice cracking and falling into the sea. It’s unbelievable to see the natural beauty of Alaska when you cruise; but your ears and hands won’t be enjoying the scenery as much unless you’ve packed properly.
As such, be sure to pack a pair of gloves and a hat for your Alaskan cruise, as your hands and ears will be cold both in-port and on the ship when sailing the Inside Passage.
For women, a cute hat or warm headband is a perfect accessory for your Alaskan cruise! If it’s looking particularly cold, you can even pack a stylish scarf that you can wear throughout the week.
For men, a beanie paired with a light scarf will be a great addition to your Alaskan wardrobe. A puffer jacket or vest can also be a versatile piece to add more flexibility to your wardrobe, especially if the weather is colder than anticipated.
Consider that you will likely be on the top deck of your cruise ship for whale watching or sailing through the Inside Passage, so it’s best to have a pair of gloves too. I had to buy a pair of gloves on my last Alaskan cruise because my hands were much colder than I expected.
Packing for any cruise requires a little consideration about what to wear each night onboard the ship for dinners and shows.
In my experience on Alaskan cruises, people are less concerned about what they wear at dinner each night because they’ve had a long day exploring the ports. The ship isn’t necessarily the destination as much because Alaska’s beauty and wilderness is really the draw for these cruises.
As such, you will probably need to pack a few nice outfits to wear at night when you go to dinner or one of the shows. If this isn’t your thing, you can always enjoy a casual dinner at the buffet and not worry about packing separate dinner outfits.
For women, I suggest packing a few dresses or jumpsuits for dinner. I love wearing a jumpsuit at dinner because it's comfortable, warm and easily styled for formal night.
A sleeved midi dress or long-sleeve dress is perfect for evenings at sea. Typically, you only need one pair of nice heels, wedges or sandals to wear for dinners at sea, so I prefer a classic pair of nude or black heels.
If you like to go all-out for formal night, you can definitely pack a more glitzy gown; however, this takes up more space in your luggage. With all of the warm winter clothes that are usually packed for an Alaskan cruise, you might not have as much room in your suitcase.
For men, dinner outfits should also be a consideration, a pair of slacks paired with a button-up shirt and dress shoes is a great outfit for most nights at dinner. A blazer is another good versatile piece that can be worn in the evenings onboard your Alaskan cruise.
Men can also consider bringing a more formal outfit; but again, this will take up more luggage space that might be better utilized by packing warmer clothes and boots.
Nothing's worse than unpacking your suitcase in your stateroom and feeling like you've packed horribly for the upcoming week. With unpredictable weather these days, it's even more important to plan ahead and be purposeful with the outfits you choose to bring on your Alaskan cruise.
Properly planning for your Alaskan cruise will ensure that you've packed the essential pieces that will keep your outfits warm and comfortable throughout the day (that is, unless you're hoping to have a vacation shopping spree!).