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Ultimate Alaska cruise guide

In:
13 Jul 2022

While on an Alaska cruise you can view some of the world’s most majestic scenery, spot amazing wildlife, taste delicious seafood, and learn about Alaska’s history and culture.

Radiance of the Seas in Seward, Alaska

Alaska truly is one of those places you have to see to believe, and a Royal Caribbean cruise is a fantastic way to visit the Last Frontier. Planning a vacation to Alaska means knowing where you want to visit, what you want to do in port, and how to save money along the way.

In this comprehensive guide, we’re sharing everything you need to know about planning an Alaska cruise to ensure you have the best vacation possible and make memories to last a lifetime.

In this guide:

Alaska cruise ports: Where can I go on an Alaska cruise?

Cruises to Alaska visit ports primarily along Alaska’s Inside Passage, visiting small, picturesque towns, some of which are inaccessible by road.

Juneau is the most commonly visited Alaska cruise port and state capital. It is the largest town visited in Alaska on a cruise and offers the most excursion options of any Alaska port. Activity highlights in Juneau include whale watching, exploring Mendenhall Glacier, and riding the Goldbelt Tramway up Mount Roberts. Don’t forget to taste local seafood, either, with Juneau’s king crabs, salmon, and halibut among the best in the world.

Related: Top 10 things to do in Juneau, Alaska

Ketchikan, the southernmost Alaska cruise port, is a quaint waterfront town surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. The town’s gold rush history alongside its Native culture offers a chance for visitors to experience Alaska through history.

Walking through Creek Street can give insights into the town’s historic red light district, and visiting the Saxman Totem Park provides a lesson on the Native Tlingit peoples’ culture and traditions. Kayaking, hiking, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, and walking through downtown are all great options for a day in Ketchikan as well.

Related: Top 10 things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska

Skagway is further north in Alaska’s Inside Passage and, while small, is filled with Alaska's gold rush history.

Located on the Lynn Canal, panoramic vistas surround Skagway and the town is a gateway into Canada’s Yukon Territory. Many passengers choose to ride the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, taking visitors through a mountain pass once climbed by those hoping to strike it rich in the gold-rush era.

Others may choose to cross the border into Canada, kayak the Lynn Canal, or rent a scooter and explore Skagway on their own.

Related: Top 10 things to do in Skagway, Alaska

Sitka is home to a blend of American, Tlingit, and Russian influences and was once the capital of Russian Alaska.\

A visit to the Baranof Castle State Historic Site is an option for spending the day in Sitka, which was where the formal transfer ceremony of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place. Strolling along the forest at the Sitka National Historical Park is a popular activity, too, which preserves the site of a battle between the Tlingit people and Russian traders.

Downtown Sitka is a charming place to walk around, where you can view the city’s cultural influences on every street.

Related: Top 10 things to do in Sitka, Alaska

Icy Strait Point, while less commonly visited on an Alaska cruise, offers a chance to get closer with nature in a tranquil environment. The port, near the town of Hoonah, is Alaskan Native owned-and-operated, founded by the Huna Tlingit Native Alaskans in 2004.

Getting close to nature and wildlife is recommended while in Icy Strait Point, with whale watching and ziplining popular activities to book. Cultural excursions are another option, where guests can learn more about the Huna Tlingit people through song and dance at Icy Strait Point’s Native Heritage Center Theater.

Haines, Alaska is a relatively new port for Royal Caribbean cruises to visit. Located on the way to Skagway along the Chilkoot Inlet, Haines is a small port accommodating just one large cruise ship at a time. Kayaking, hiking, hunting, and wildlife viewing are all popular activities in Haines. Flightseeing tours can be booked from Haines to visit sights like Glacier Bay, one of the most beautiful glaciers in Alaska.

Victoria, British Columbia is a port visited on Alaska cruises departing from Seattle. While in Canada and not Alaska, Victoria still offers an array of landscapes and culture to explore. Visiting the Butchart Gardens is a popular destination in Victoria, where visitors can wander among 55 acres of floral display that date back to 1904.

Visiting glaciers on an Alaska cruise

Glacier seen from cruise ship

Outside of port stops where passengers disembark the ship, Alaska cruises offer scenic cruising days to glaciers along the Inside Passage. Passengers do not disembark the ship on these days. Instead, the ship slowly sails within a view of a glacier, often completing a 360 degree turn to ensure all guests onboard can have an excellent view of such amazing scenery.

There’s also the opportunity to spot harbor seals, wolves, brown bears, and other wildlife that call these areas home.

Visiting a glacier

Tracy Arm Fjord is another glacier visited on scenic cruising days. The deep, narrow passage of the Tracy Arm Fjord travels over 30 miles alongside the Tongass National Forest, with the twin Sawyer Glaciers at the end of the passage.

Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier will surely impress cruise passengers, featuring a scenic sail through the Endicott Arm Fjord followed by a panoramic view of Dawes Glacier, a 600 foot tall, half-mile wide active icecap.

Hubbard Glacier is a glacier commonly visited on an Alaska cruise. Located in Disenchantment Bay, Hubbard Glacier is an astonishing sight. The glacier’s ice is 400 feet tall, 76 miles long, and 1,200 feet deep.

Depending on your cruise itinerary, there may be a chance to book an excursion on a scenic cruising glacier day. Some glaciers offer a “Wilderness Explorer” excursion, during which passengers disembark the cruise ship and embark a small vessel, allowing them to get up close and personal to glaciers. Be sure to check if this shore excursion is available on your Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise departure ports: Which embarkation city should I choose?

Most Alaska cruises depart from either Seattle or Vancouver on round-trip 7-night sailings. Some cruises to Alaska are one-way only, though, starting in Vancouver and ending in Seward, Alaska or vice versa. This is to allow for pre and post-Cruisetours to Alaska or Canada, allowing guests to experience more inland destinations like Denali National Park and Reserve and Banff National Park.

Deciding whether to start your cruise in Seattle, Vancouver, or Seward is one of the first decisions you make when planning an Alaska cruise.

Radiance pulling into Seward

If you’re from the United States and have to fly to an Alaska cruise port, flying to Seattle tends to be cheaper than getting to Vancouver or Seward. A passport isn’t necessary when cruising out of Seattle, either, although it is recommended.

Sailing from Seattle will likely offer an Alaska cruise vacation on Royal Caribbean's big ships and is your best bet for someone new to the itinerary.

Related: Top 20 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

Cruises departing from Seattle include a stop in Victoria, British Columbia, as the Jones Act requires foreign-flagged cruise ships to visit a foreign port when departing from the United States. Therefore, cruises leaving from Vancouver tend to include more port stops in Alaska itself as there is no legal obligation to stop in Victoria.

Starting your cruise in Seward is recommended for those who plan to travel in the interior of Alaska ahead of time, whether independently or on one of Royal Caribbean’s organized Cruisetours. One-way Alaska itineraries tend to be more port-heavy, as well, as there is less distance to cover than on a round trip sailing.

Smaller ships tend to sail from Vancouver whereas larger ships sail out of Seattle. This is due to the fact that Quantum Class ships are unable to fit under Vancouver’s Lion Gate Bridge outside of a very low-tide. Therefore, ships like Radiance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, and Enchantment of the Seas sail out of Vancouver instead.

Best itinerary on an Alaska cruise

There is no “perfect” itinerary for an Alaska cruise, and one itinerary is not necessarily better than another.

While cruise ports do differ in history, local attractions, and size, many ports offer the same type of excursions to book. Activities like whale watching, kayaking, nature walks, gold rush towns, museums, and food tours are available in nearly every cruise port.

Likewise, every Alaska cruise will sail through the Inside Passage, meaning you won’t miss the state’s beautiful scenery on any itinerary. Oftentimes it’s just as enjoyable sitting on the pool deck and watching Alaska’s scenery pass by as it is to explore the ports you visit!

Being flexible on an Alaska cruise is important, especially when it comes to your cruise itinerary. High seas and storms can change your port stops at the last minute. Oftentimes another port is visited in place of your original destination. If this happens, be flexible! You may end up enjoying the replacement port even more than you would have enjoyed the original itinerary.

Related: How to choose the right Alaska cruise itinerary

Best time to cruise to Alaska

The Alaska cruise season generally runs from April to October, and each month offers its own advantages and disadvantages. While there is no best time to cruise to Alaska, knowing what to expect in terms of weather, wildlife, and activities is helpful before booking your cruise or shore excursion.

Read moreHow far in advance to book an Alaska cruise

Cruising to Alaska in the early season, April and May, brings lower crowds and prices. Expect to see daily temperatures with highs in the mid 50s and lows around 40 degrees. Less rain is expected during the early season, as April, May, and June are among the driest months of the year in Alaska. (However, this is Alaska, so don’t forget to pack a rain jacket!). Daylight hours will increase each day leading up to the summer solstice, with daylight hours from 4AM to 10PM in late May.

Alaska’s peak cruise season is from mid-June to August, coinciding with the school vacation schedule. During the summer, visitors can expect to see the warmest temperatures and most hours of daylight. More crowds are to be expected during the summer, too, both onboard and in port.

Read moreTop ways to avoid crowds on an Alaska cruise

Making sure you book shore excursions early is important when cruising to Alaska during the peak season to ensure tours do not sell out.

Related: When should I book my Alaska shore excursion?

The fall shoulder season in Alaska is during the month of September. As days become shorter and temperatures cool down, cruise crowds and prices tend to be lower. In fact, September is the cheapest month for an Alaska cruise.

Wildlife is harder to spot during the fall and rainier weather is likely. That being said, it’s possible (though not guaranteed) to see Alaska’s northern lights in September, which is a plus for those planning an Alaska cruise in the fall.

Related: What it’s like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

Alaska cruise activities: What to do in port

An Alaska shore excursion will allow you to explore what each of the ports have to offer, including taking in the natural beauty of this part of the world.

Alaska cruises tend to favor outdoor activities, whether getting active on a hike or taking a relaxing canoe ride down a river. Exploring the state’s mountains, glaciers, trails, and lakes is a fantastic way to spend a day in port, although choosing the best tour to book can be a tough decision.

Related: Best things to do on an Alaska cruise

Whale watching tours are one of the most popular shore excursions to book on an Alaskan cruise, as many visitors hope to catch a glimpse of some of the largest mammals on Earth. A variety of whales are able to be spotted on an Alaska cruise, including grey whales, killer whales (orcas), and humpback whales.

Certain ports, such as Juneau and Icy Strait Point, tend to offer better whale watching opportunities than other Alaska cruise ports. Be sure to read our whale watching guide before booking your whale watching excursion to ensure you book it at the right port and time of year.

Visiting glaciers is another recommended activity on an Alaska cruise. Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is the most easily accessible glacier for cruise passengers, where visitors can view the glacier from easy walking trails and visit the Nugget Falls waterfall. Most cruise itineraries to Alaska will include a scenic cruising day at a glacier as well, such as Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier or Hubbard Glacier.

Related: Visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau

Active cruisers will enjoy kayaking through Alaska’s fjords and lakes, hiking on glaciers, and biking through the rainforest. Magnificent scenery can be viewed on day hikes up Alaska’s dramatic mountain peaks or when paddling a kayak near glaciers.

Animal lovers are in luck on an Alaska cruise, too, as they can choose from a plethora of wildlife-viewing excursions. Outside of whale watching tours, cruisers can visit the Fortress of the Bear to observe Alaska’s black bears, the Sitka Raptor Center to learn about the state’s birds of prey, and wildlife cruises during which seals, sea otters, salmon, and bald eagles may be spotted. Dog lovers will enjoy learning about dog mushing, Alaska’s state sport, and go dog sledding on top of a glacier!

Related: What is the best time of year to see wildlife in Alaska?

Other popular excursion options on an Alaska cruise include:

  • Salmon bakes
  • Cultural tours to learn about Alaska’s Native Tlingit people
  • Ziplining through the rainforest
  • Rafting
  • Fishing
  • Walking around historic towns
  • Relaxing at restaurants and saloons

Read moreWhere to eat like a local on your Alaska cruise

Which Royal Caribbean ships sail to Alaska?

Royal Caribbean sends 4-5 cruise ships to Alaska each summer, with each ship offering a different layout, amenities, dining options, entertainment, and stateroom options. Some of Royal Caribbean’s smallest and largest cruise ships sail to Alaska, so it’s important to consider which ship works best for you before booking an Alaska cruise.

The following ships will sail to Alaska in 2022 and 2023:

  • Ovation of the Seas (Quantum Class)
  • Quantum of the Seas (Quantum Class)
  • Radiance of the Seas (Radiance Class)
  • Serenade of the Seas (Radiance Class)
  • Enchantment of the Seas (Vision Class - 2023 only)

Both the most technologically advanced, large Quantum Class ships and the smaller, more traditional Radiance and Vision Class ships will offer a wonderful Alaska cruise experience. 

Related: Comparing the Royal Caribbean ships sailing to Alaska in 2022 and 2023

Most ships Royal Caribbean sends to Alaska offer plenty of indoor features, meaning the ship can be enjoyed in all types of weather. From each ship’s enclosed, temperature-controlled Solariums to the indoor pools on Quantum Class ships, guests can enjoy their ship even in the chilliest of temperatures.

Quantum Class ships can be a great choice for families, as they feature the SeaPlex, an indoor sports court and arcade where guests can enjoy activities like bumper cars, circus school, rollerblading, basketball, volleyball, and more. They also feature RipCord by iFLY, an indoor skydiving simulator, and the North Star, a 360 degree observation pod taking guests 300 feet above sea level.

Vision and Radiance Class ships offer a more traditional cruising experience. While there are still activities for guests of all ages onboard, there are less options overall for dining, staterooms, entertainment, etc. Smaller cruise ships offer more itinerary options in Alaska, though, visiting destinations such as Haines, Icy Strait Point, and Hubbard Glacier.

Related: What’s the difference between a large and small cruise ship?

Like any cruise ship, there may be a better ship choice for your family depending on what you are looking to do and experience as part of your vacation.

Most people going on an Alaska cruise are most interested in the destinations, with the ship choice a secondary consideration. Given the long hours spent in port, having a ton of activities or whizz-bang features may not be as important.

However, families with kids are always going to appreciate having more options available to them, especially on sea days.

Royal Caribbean Cruisetours: Visit inland Alaska and Canada

In addition to a 7-night Alaska cruise, you can extend your trip with a land-based tour.

Known as pre or post-sailing Cruisetours, these extended trips can range between 9 and 13 nights, including the 7-night cruise. These land tours are arguably the best way to see Alaska's interior and the most popular destinations.

Highlights of a Cruisetour include visiting Alaska’s biggest city of Anchorage, going back in time at a former gold mining boomtown, traveling by train on the scenic Wilderness Express, or marveling at the unbelievably high mountain peaks of Denali National Park.

Cruisetours in Canada are also offered, which feature a comfortable overnight train ride through the Rocky Mountains and visits to Jasper and Banff National Parks, including an overnight stay at Lake Louise.

While Alaska’s Inside Passage provides awe-inspiring views of Alaska’s fjords, glaciers, and mountains,  cruisetours offer the opportunity to see more of Alaska or Canada, which you can book before or after your one-way cruise in Alaska.

Cost of an Alaska cruise

Your budget for an Alaska cruise can affect your ship choice, sailing date, stateroom category, excursion options, and onboard add-ons. Knowing how much Alaska cruises cost in advance is helpful to ensure you can budget and save for such an incredible vacation.

Related: How much does an Alaska cruise cost?

There is no set cost for an Alaska cruise. Cruise fares are dynamic, with prices constantly shifting based on demand. The shoulder seasons of May and September will see the lowest prices whereas June, July, and August see the highest cruise fares.

A 7-night cruise for two adults in an oceanview stateroom on Serenade of the Seas in July may be around $2200 whereas the same cruise in September can be around $1600. Newer ships, such as Ovation of the Seas, will often be priced $300-500 more expensive than smaller ships on a similar itinerary.

Related: 45 ways to save money on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Newer cruise ships have more balcony staterooms available, though, so balcony staterooms on ships like Quantum of the Seas are not usually significantly more expensive than interior or oceanview cabins. As smaller ships like Radiance of the Seas have far fewer balconies available, booking a balcony stateroom on a small ship can be much more expensive than other cabins.

Shore excursion prices can quickly add up while on an Alaska cruise. While booking early will help lock in a low price, some Alaska shore excursions are simply more expensive than others. Activities like helicopter tours, luxury whale watching, and dogsledding can easily cost a few hundred dollars per person.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save money in port. Royal Caribbean offers more budget-friendly excursions that still take you to some amazing destinations. As an example, a wildlife safari and bear viewing tour in Haines will run around $89 per adult, whereas a ride on the White Pass Scenic Railway in Skagway is around $100 per person.

Exploring ports through independent tour operators or on your own is another option. All Alaska cruise ports have complimentary attractions and nature activities right near where the ship docks, so it’s not always necessary to book an excursion.

Related: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

What to pack for an Alaska cruise

Packing for an Alaska cruise does not have to be stressful. A bit of research and preparation will get you far when deciding what to bring on an Alaska cruise.

Your Alaska cruise packing list should focus on layers, as the weather can change rapidly… and several times per day!

Having the following layers is recommended, especially on port days:

  • Base layer: t-shirt, jeans, yoga pants
  • Warm layer: fleece, down jacket, sweater, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt
  • Waterproof layer: thin waterproof jacket

Read moreAlaska cruise outfits

Those cruising to Alaska in the peak of summer may find the weather surprisingly warm, making it comfortable to wear just a t-shirt during the day. Those cruising in the shoulder seasons, on the other hand, will want to make sure they have warm layers in case of inclement weather.

Water-resistant shoes are also a must, as many excursions take guests through hiking trails or near lakes and streams. In addition, water-resistant shoes can be a lot more comfortable and warm on rainy days in port.

Other accessories, such as binoculars and cameras, are nice to have as well, whether when on an excursion or watching scenery from onboard the cruise ship.

When should I book an Alaska cruise?

Booking your cruise in advance is always a good idea, but Alaska cruises are so popular that you really need to book early to get the prices. Ideally, if you can book your cruise at least 12 months in advance, you will likely get some of the best prices.

In fact, when Royal Caribbean announces new Alaska itineraries is the best time to book. Royal Caribbean almost always announces new Alaska cruises in late November for the season to come in two years.

Alaska waterway

If you want to book a balcony or suite, then booking early becomes even more important. Since so many people value a private balcony on Alaska cruises, demand for these categories is even higher than on Caribbean or European itineraries.

The same can be said for booking shore excursions, too. Booking shore excursions early ensures you can pay the lowest price possible and reserve a spot on a tour on the chance it sells out.

Related: When should I book my Alaska shore excursion?

2022 Alaska cruise news

The 2022 Alaska cruise season is well-underway and there's been a few things of note for anyone that is taking a cruise this year.

Serenade of the Seas in Sitka

Sitka: One of the cruise ship docks in Sitka was damaged early in the season when a ship struck one of the mooring dolphins, which are used to tie the ship up.

Repairs are underway, but it will take over $2 million to repair. The dolphin off the north end of the Sitka Sound dock was damaged May 9 when it was struck by the Radiance of the Seas as it was maneuvering nearby. 

Until repairs are made, only one ship, not two, can use the dock at a time. This means your ship could have to tender passengers in.

Skagway: In late June, an early morning rockslide in Skagway damaged the dock.

Just like Sitka, in the meantime tendering could be required for some ships visiting Skagway.

Quantum of the SeasQuantum of the Seas in August will be forced to skip glacier viewings in order to undergo engine repatirs.

Thus far, the August 1, 8, and 15 Alaska cruise sailings are impacted. 

Royal Caribbean says the speed limitations are caused by a technical issue with one of the engines.

Royal Princess in Vancouver

Covid: A few cruise lines brought back mandatory face masks to combat rising Covid cases on Alaska cruises, although Royal Caribbean is not one of them.

Princess Cruises, Holland America, & Lindblad Expeditions all reinstated face mask requirements of passengers sailing to Alaska this summer.

 

Alaska cruise outfits: ideas of what to wear

In:
13 Jul 2022

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. 

People watching glaciers on Alaska cruise

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 moreWhen 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 more50 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.

Dinner Outfits

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. 

Final Thoughts

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!).

More Alaska cruise tips:

Alaska cruise whale watching guide & tips

In:
11 Jul 2022

A whale watching tour is one of the most sought after shore excursions on an Alaska cruise, and for good reason. Viewing some of the largest mammals on earth in their natural habitat is breathtaking and one that will be a highlight for many on an Alaska cruise.

Whale watching in Juneau

Deciding where to book a whale watching excursion, what to bring with you, and what to expect can be confusing, so here are a few tips and tricks to make your whale watching experience as unforgettable as possible.

Types of whales to see in Alaska

There are four main types of whales to see in Alaska: humpback whales, gray whales, killer whales (orcas), and beluga whales.

Humpback whales are the most common to spot on a whale watching excursion, and are most prevalent in June and July.

If you’re traveling to Alaska in the early season, you may be able to spot gray whales as they migrate further north. Gray whales are most likely to be seen in late April to early May.

Killer whales, or orcas, can sometimes be spotted on a whale watching excursion as well. Orcas are quick moving animals, though, and have more unpredictable movement patterns than humpback whales, so they are less common to see.

Beluga whales are unlikely to be spotted on an Alaska cruise, as they spend their time further north in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. Occasionally they may go as far south as Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, but it is highly unlikely you will spot a beluga whale on a typical southeast Alaska cruise itinerary.

Other whales, such as minke and fin whales, are present in Alaska although far less common to see on a whale watching excursion.

Best ports for viewing whales in Alaska

While it’s possible to view whales in any Alaska cruise port, two of the most popular whale watching destinations are Juneau and Icy Strait Point. Both locations are home to feeding grounds for humpback whales, making sightings extremely common.

Juneau is the most popular whale watching port. Not only is it a more common port stop than Icy Strait Point, but it offers the biggest chance of spotting whales.

That being said, Juneau is a port offering an abundance of other activities to enjoy, from hiking at Mendenhall Glacier to the Goldbelt Tram Cable Car and drinking in saloons. Some guests opt not to book a whale watching tour in Juneau and instead book it in a port where there are less excursion and activity options.

In Icy Strait Point there are fewer excursions to choose from, leading many to save whale watching for their day in this port instead.

Seward, Alaska is another recommended port for whale watching. If you are doing a one way cruise to or from Alaska, consider a whale watching tour in Seward before or after the cruise. This can be a good option for guests interested in other excursions while on the cruise but still wanting to book a whale watching tour before heading home.

Although not in Alaska, Victoria, British Columbia can be another excellent port for whale watching.

It’s common for whale watching excursion providers to offer a guaranteed whale sighting. If you do not end up seeing a whale, they may offer you a partial cash refund. Be sure to read your tour operator’s policies before booking to be aware of the details.

Whale watching in your cruise departure port

If you don’t want to book a whale watching tour while in Alaska, consider booking one in your cruise departure port. Both Seattle and Vancouver offer whale watching opportunities, so this can be a nice way to add another day of excitement to your vacation before or after a cruise.

Plus, by booking a whale watching tour in your departure port, more time is opened up while in Alaska to book other types of shore excursions.

Viewing whales from the cruise ship

If a whale watching excursion is out of your budget, you are prone to seasickness on small vessels, or you prioritized other activities while in port, you may still be able to spot whales while on an Alaska cruise.

While the ship is sailing through the northern Pacific waters, whales can sometimes be spotted from the ship. This can happen in the open ocean on the way to or from Alaska, or while the ship is sailing through the Inside Passage.

When whales are spotted by the captain, an announcement will be made on the loudspeaker to let guests know there are whales near the ship. When this happens, expect a flood of guests quickly heading to the outside decks eager to catch a glimpse of whales.

The best spots onboard to watch whales from the ship are from a private balcony, Promenade deck, upper pool deck/running track, and outdoor area at the Windjammer.

Bring binoculars

It’s a good idea to bring binoculars on an Alaska cruise regardless of if you booked a whale watching tour or not. Alaska’s scenery is so vast that sometimes a closer look through binoculars at mountains, glaciers, and wildlife is helpful.

The same is true on a whale watching excursion. Pack a pair of binoculars with you for your tour to ensure you can catch the best glimpse of whales if they happen to be far away. While a binocular is not necessary for every person in your travel party, having a pair to share with the group is recommended.

Get your camera ready

Make sure your camera and phone battery are fully charged before your whale watching excursion. Photography aficionados may want to bring a full camera setup with a telephoto lens to ensure they can capture the best pictures possible.

Whichever camera you bring, though, remember to spend some time away from the lens and view whales without the use of a screen or camera viewfinder. While capturing photos is something you may value, it’s just as important to spend time during the excursion away from your electronics.

Seasickness medication or remedies

Whale watching boats are usually quite small and can encounter choppy waters. Even on the smoothest of days, the rocking of a small boat can make some passengers feel seasick.

If you are prone to seasickness, don’t hesitate to pack seasickness remedies with you for your whale watching excursion, whether medication or natural remedies.

Whale watching excursions with other activities

Some guests may want to go whale watching but combine the tour with other popular activities in port. This gives the opportunity to not only spot whales, but experience what else a port has to offer.

In Juneau, for example, you can book the “Mendenhall Glacier, Whale Watching, and Wildlife Quest” excursion which brings you on a whale watching tour followed by free time to explore Mendenhall Glacier. This can give guests the best of both worlds by experiencing two of Juneau’s most popular attractions.

In addition, some excursions may not be listed as a ‘whale watching excursion’ but may offer the opportunity to spot whales. In Icy Strait Point, guests can book a kayaking excursion that brings them on a tour through the waters of Port Frederick. This is a route commonly followed by humpback or killer whales, so passengers will have a chance of spotting whales while on a kayak.

Planning a cruise to Alaska? Be sure to read more of our tips for an Alaska cruise:

Alaska cruise packing list: What to pack for your sailing

In:
25 Jun 2022

What to pack for an Alaska cruise is not as difficult as it may seem. While packing for a cold weather cruise may require more preparation than a cruise to the Caribbean, a few key layers should suffice in nearly all weather conditions.

Alaska glacier viewing

When looking at a map, you may be surprised to see just how far south Alaska cruise ports are located.  While Alaska cruise marketing tends to show images of snow and glaciers, it’s not necessary to pack for Arctic-level temperatures. In fact, you probably already have most clothing items you’ll need for an Alaska cruise at home!

In this guide, we’ll discuss the key things you should have in your cruise packing list for an Alaska cruise and provide a checklist for your upcoming sailing.

Alaska cruise: the basics

Before starting to pack, it’s important to understand the basics of an Alaska cruise so you know what to expect both onboard and in port.

Royal Caribbean’s Alaska cruises are generally 7-night sailings, offering 3 or 4 days in port with 2 or 3 days at sea. Cruises visit towns along Southeast Alaska, the panhandle of the state, which borders British Columbia, Canada.

Southeast Alaska is quite a ways away from the Arctic Circle and polar bears, so you may be surprised to encounter nice weather while visiting the state. Alaska cruises are offered during the warmest months of the year, from April to September, so it’s not uncommon to experience warm, sunny days.

Related: What is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

The month you sail can have a huge impact on what you need to pack as well. For cruises in June, July, and August, you may want to pack more short sleeve shirts than in May or September. And while wool socks and warm hats are recommended at any time of the year, it’s especially important to pack warm layers in the very beginning or end of the Alaska cruise season.

Related: What it’s like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

The main thing to remember when packing for an Alaska cruise is to plan for any and all types of weather conditions.

What to pack for an Alaska cruise

Layers

Packing layers is necessary on an Alaska cruise. Morning and evening can be much colder than what you may experience in mid-afternoon, so having the flexibility to put on or take off clothing will be well appreciated.

Your base layer will be a short or long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of jeans, leggings, or other lightweight pants. On the warmest of days, shorts may be preferred whereas the coldest days may have you layering both leggings and jeans.

Over your base layer you’ll want to pack a warm layer. Sweaters, sweatshirts, and fleece or down jackets will help keep you warm no matter the weather, and they’re easy to take off if it gets too hot.

In addition, don’t forget to pack a waterproof layer. Due to strong winds and ease of use in crowded areas, we don’t recommend packing an umbrella. Therefore, it’s important to pack a waterproof jacket with a hood. This should keep you dry in the wettest of conditions.

Footwear

An Alaska cruise calls for a wide range of footwear, as you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes to wear in port and shoes to wear onboard. A pair of water-resistant sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes is recommended, as they tend to keep your feet comfortable and warm while providing enough support for a range of outdoor activities. Active sandals, such as Chacos, can be nice in the summer months as well.

Packing a pair of comfortable lounge shoes for the ship is a good idea, too. Slippers, flip flops, or comfy sneakers can be nice to have when walking around the ship and your stateroom.

Whichever type of shoes you decide to bring, make sure the soles of your shoes have plenty of grip. You may encounter slippery or rocky surfaces on shore excursions or while exploring on your own, so you want to make sure your shoes have enough friction.

Accessories

Outside of your main clothes and footwear, don’t forget to pack accessories for an Alaska cruise. From hats to wool socks, scarves, gloves, sunscreen, and sunglasses, there are many accessories that you’ll want to bring with you to Alaska.

Related: What should you bring on an Alaska cruise?

A water-resistant daypack is one of our top Alaska cruise packing tips. You’ll need somewhere to put your valuables during the day, so making sure the pack is water-resistant or waterproof is crucial. A backpack will be the most comfortable option and can fit everything you’ll need for a busy day in port.

Binoculars may be of interest to you as well, especially if you plan to do any wildlife viewing excursions. Being able to see the state’s wildlife and nature up close is well worth the cost of an entry-level pair of binoculars.

Cruise clothes

Outside of what you’ll wear in port, remember to pack for your time onboard the ship! Don’t forget to pack clothes for formal night, your swimsuit to wear in the pool, and comfy clothes for lounging in your stateroom.

While it’s not necessary to pack an entirely new outfit for dinner each night, rotating 2-4 outfits can be a nice way to ensure you have dressier clothes to wear while still keeping your packing relatively light.

Related: What to wear on a cruise formal night

Alaska cruise packing list

Family on Alaska tour

Clothes

  • Waterproof jacket with a hood
  • Fleece or down jacket
  • Sweaters and sweatshirts (to wear onboard and in port)
  • T-shirts and long sleeve shirts
  • 2-3 pairs long pants (jeans and slacks for dinner)
  • 1-2 pairs leggings
  • 1-2 pairs shorts
  • Formal wear for dinner (2-4 dresses, collared shirts, etc.)
  • Swimsuit
  • Pajamas
  • Casual loungewear for onboard
  • Underwear and socks
  • Clothes for the onboard fitness center

Footwear and accessories

  • Water-resistant shoes with a sturdy, non-slippery sole (hiking boots, sneakers)
  • Dress shoes for dinner
  • Comfy shoes for walking around your stateroom/ship (sandals or sneakers)
  • Water-resistant daypack
  • Hat (baseball cap, beanie, etc.)
  • Gloves
  • Binoculars
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf
  • Camera
  • Waterproof case for cellphone
  • Portable cellphone charger
  • Things to do onboard (books, card games, etc.)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray

More Alaska cruise tips:

When is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

In:
18 Jun 2022

Want to know when is the best time to go on an Alaska cruise for great weather, low prices, or fewer crowds?

The beautiful natural scenery of Alaska is simply unparalleled, and the spring and summer months are when cruise ships visit each year. You'll find many hours of daylight in the summer with long days.  It's why Alaska is known as the land of the midnight sun.

It is hard to top the majestic beauty of rugged glaciers, plethora of unique animal sightings, or huge mountains. Going on a cruise to Alaska is an extremely popular kind of cruise, because it offers an easy way to see so much in a compact amount of time.

The peak of the Alaskan cruise season is between Memorial Day in May and Labor Day in September because of the warmer temperatures. All the cruise lines will be operating in Alaskan waters during this peak season.

Royal Caribbean also sails to Alaska in early May and into late September or even October, where you can find some great deals.

While it is impossible to see and do it all over the course of a one week cruise, Alaska has the power to enchant even brief visitors.  So while you are stuck at home, this may be the perfect time to start planning a cruise to The Last Frontier.

Here is your guide for figuring out the best times to visit for your first (or 50th) Alaska cruise.

The best time for an Alaska cruise to avoid crowds

The Alaska cruise season runs between May and September, but there are definite ebbs and flows to demand and crowds in the ports you will visit.

If you are looking for the months with the lowest crowds in Alaska, try for May or September.  These are the "shoulder season" months, which is when the season begins and ends, and is when you will find less people vying for a cruise. 

Moreover, going during May or September is also when most kids are still in school, which means families are unable to cruise during this period.

Skagway ship at end of street

The downside to these months is the weather tends to be the most unpredictable, and that can be an issue with possibly impacting your shore excursions.  Most notably helicopter and boat excursions are the most at risk for cancellation.

Since Alaska cruises are so dependent on outdoor activities, your best chance for sunny days can be opposite of when the best time for crowds are each season.

Read more: What is the best month to cruise to Alaska?

The best months for an Alaska cruise for good weather

The weather in Alaska can, and will, change multiple times per day, but you will find the warmest months to be June, July and August.

The median months will see higher temperatures and longer days for touring, and it represents the limited summer that Alaska enjoys. However, July and August tend to also have higher levels of precipitation.

Here's a look at the average temperatures in Southeast Alaska:

  • May: average high 54 degrees and average low is 39 degrees
  • June: average high 62 degrees and average low is 47degrees
  • July: average high 65 degrees and average low is 51 degrees
  • August: average high 63 degrees and average low is 48 degrees
  • September: average high 55 degrees and average low is 41 degrees
Franklin Street

If you do book a cruise during summer, be sure to plan your shore excursions well in advance to avoid tours selling out.

If you are willing to trade warmth for less precipitation, then go for May. In fact, the end of May and early June offers some of the best weather in the region throughout the year.

Sitka, Alaska

If you want to see snow on the ground, April or early May is the best month for that.

Most cruise passengers tend to avoid the early season because of the school calendar and cooler weather.  By going in the summer months, many people get to enjoy Alaska when things are in full swing and of course the warmer weather.

Read moreComparing the Royal Caribbean ships sailing in Alaska 2022

The best months for an Alaska cruise for low prices

Alaska is not a cheap cruise, but if you want to save money on your cruise fare, then your best bet is May or September.

For the same reasons May and September feature lower crowds, these months see most often the lowest prices for a cruise because of the combination of colder temperatures and the school calendar.

Read moreWhat is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

The best time to see the Northern Lights on an Alaska cruise

Few places allow for viewing of the aurora borealis, and the best time see the Northern Lights is in September.

September is the time of year when the sun sets earlier during the cruise season, which means the sky gets darker and makes for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Woman wearing jacket in Alaska

Of course, temperatures during September will be lower than other times of the year, but the opportunity to see the Northern Lights is a real treat.

As mentioned in this article, not only does September provide the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but you will also enjoy less crowds and likely lower prices on a cruise.

Read moreTop 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

The best time to see wildlife on an Alaska cruise

You will see plenty of wildlife during your Alaska cruise throughout the cruise season, including whale watching, sea lions, bears, & birds.

The best months to catch a glimpse of the amazing fauna that call Alaska home are the months of June and July. 

  • Moose: Moose give birth around June.
  • Caribou: June is the best month to see herds of caribou
  • Humpback Whales:  June and July is when the humpback whales migrate through Alaska's Inside Passage.
  • Black bears: Spring is ideal because the new vegetation lures back in sheep, mountain goats and black bears. July is also good because that is when salmon runs start to get busy.
  • Brown bears: July and August are when you will have a better chance to see brown bears since they are near rivers and streams.
  • King Salmon: King salmon runs start in late May.
  • Bird watching: June is when you have a good chance to see unusual birds migrating.
  • Bald eagles: You'll find eagles throughout the season, but August is a great time since they are found near the sockeye salmon spawning locations.
  • Killer Whales:  Your best chance at seeing Orcas is from May to the beginning of June.

Read moreWhat Is an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise?

What month should I book my Alaska cruise?

Ultimately, there is no perfect time to sail to Alaska, as each month offers its own advantages and disadvantages, and choosing when to cruise to Alaska comes down to your preferences.

If you prefer fewer crowds and lower pricing…

Empty Skagway street

If a cruise with fewer crowds is important to you, it might be a good idea to avoid Alaska cruises in June, July, and August. Not only will there likely be more guests onboard during the summer, but in the ports you are visiting as well. If you are looking for a more quiet experience onboard and on shore, consider cruising to Alaska in May or September.

Plus, as prices are cheaper in the shoulder season, it can be an excellent opportunity to upgrade your stateroom category or splurge on add-ons like excursions, dining packages, or beverage packages.

A suite that costs $2000 per person in May may cost upwards of $3300 per person in mid-July. Such a large price difference allows you to enhance your Alaska cruise experience in other ways, whether booking a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour or kayaking through fjords.

However, it’s not necessarily a good idea to pick a cruise based solely on price. While price should definitely be a consideration, it’s important to consider other factors before choosing an Alaska cruise.

If you want the best weather…

If having the highest chance of warm temperatures and sunny days is important to you, cruising to Alaska in the peak summer months is your best bet.

Weather can get fairly warm in June, July, and August, which can make port days more comfortable. It’s not uncommon for the weather to be nice enough for t-shirts in the summer as opposed to the raincoats and down jackets you may have to wear in early spring or fall.

That being said, while the shoulder season in Alaska may lead to cooler temperatures and more rain, packing appropriately will keep you dry and warm when exploring Alaska’s ports.

White Pass train in Skagway

Additionally, June, July, and August may come with more crowds, but offer several more hours of daylight compared to in the fall. This can be a huge advantage for Alaska cruises in the summer.

More hours of daylight on an Alaska cruise means more time to sightsee, whether in port or when sailing through the Inside Passage. Juneau, for example, sees around 18 hours of daylight in June compared to just 12 in September.

If you’re hoping to spot wildlife…

If spotting wildlife is a priority for you on an Alaska cruise, pick your sailing date carefully. June, July, and August are fantastic times to cruise Alaska to view wildlife, as these months bring the highest chances of spotting whales, bears, and salmon.

If you plan to book a whale watching excursion or want to see bears, you may be left disappointed if you cruise to Alaska at the very end of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed

No matter how much planning you do before selecting your cruise dates, it’s very important to remember that nothing is guaranteed on an Alaska cruise. Sure, it may be more common to view Alaska’s wildlife in the peak of summer, but it’s also possible you’ll see little to no wildlife at all on your cruise, or that you will see a plethora of wildlife in the shoulder season!

Likewise, while weather should be colder during the shoulder seasons of May and September, Alaska’s weather is quite unpredictable. You might be surprised with warm days in September or chilly, rainy days in July! Packing for all seasons is a must when cruising to Alaska.

In addition, sailing in the shoulder season does not necessarily mean there won’t be crowds onboard. While it’s possible the ship will not be sailing at 100% capacity, it’s unlikely you will encounter an empty ship. Plus, Royal Caribbean will adjust prices according to demand, so if a shoulder season cruise is not selling well, prices may drop until more people book the cruise.

Whatever month you choose for your Alaska cruise, though, is sure to bring the opportunity to visit charming towns, explore phenomenal nature, and make memories with family and friends. There’s no right or wrong time to cruise to Alaska, but having an idea of the pros and cons of each season should help decide which time of year works best for you.

Read more on when to cruise to Alaska:

What it's like to go on an Alaska cruise in the early season

What it's like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

What is the best time to cruise to Alaska? (month by month)

Advice for visiting Vancouver before your Alaska cruise

In:
07 Jun 2022

Vancouver is one of Canada's premier cities, and it's also a wonderful place to visit before or after your Alaska cruise.

Vancouver

Royal Caribbean usually bases a couple of its cruise ships in Vancouver for the Alaska cruise season (in addition to ships sailing from Seattle, Washington).  Since Vancouver is outside the United States, there are a few nuances that make the cruise experience just a little bit different from other embarkation ports.

Whether you have an Alaskan cruise booked from Vancouver, or are thinking about reserving one, here are some important tips for how to enjoy and plan a cruise that sails from Vancouver.

Fly in two days early

Vancouver aerial

When you have to fly to a cruise, you should always fly in at least one day before the cruise begins to guard against travel delays impeding your ability to board the ship.

If you are flying from the east coast, coming in two days before the cruise is an even better idea because of the time change.

The shift up to three hours later means you'll be struggling to stay up past 9pm. By coming in two days early, you have more time to adjust to the west coast time zone and once you get on the ship, be able to stay up later for the fun evening activities.

Another advantage to coming in more than a day early is it provides you ample time to explore Vancouver without feeling rushed, or fatigued from the trip over.

Drive, train, or fly

Vancouver map

To actually reach Vancouver, you could get to the city a few different ways, and each has their advantages.

The most straight-forward way to get to Vancouver is to fly there. Vancouver has a major international airport, although getting a direct flight may not be so simple.

Depending on where you live, there may be multiple flights required, with layovers in other cities along the way.

Seattle

An alternative to flying to Vancouver is to fly to Seattle instead, which tends to be cheaper (for Americans) and has many more direct flights.

Once in Seattle, you could then either take the train, rent a car, or even take a car service into Vancouver.

As of 2022, the Amtrak train service between Seattle and Vancouver has not resumed yet, but the Cascades train ride is a beautiful ride. In the interim, Amtrak offers bus service to get across the border.

There's no separate line if you buy The Key

When you check-in for your cruise, there's no special line for guests who purchase The Key.

Vancouver is one of the few places where priority access is not offered for The Key (Australia and Singapore are the other places).

The weather changes a lot, so plan for it all

Canada Place in Vancouver

Just like Alaska, it will likely rain and then go back to being sunny, and then alternate between chilly and warm, before restarting the cycle again.

Vancouver's weather can vary greatly, so plan on experiencing it all.  They key is to have a good waterproof jacket, along with warm clothes.  But don't rule out a warm spell, because it is summer after all.

While you probably won't need super warm clothing (unless you are visiting in the beginning or end of the Alaska cruise season), being able to deal with the rain is a good idea while you're exploring the city.

The Pan Pacific hotel

Canada Place

If you are looking for the ultimate convenience for the day your cruise begins, you might consider staying at the Pan Pacific hotel.

The Pan Pacific is built on top of Canada Place, which is where your cruise ship will be waiting for embarkation.

Guests who purchase a cruise package can actually have bell services come to their hotel room on the morning of the cruise and take their bags directly to the cruise ship. No need to lug luggage back downstairs and give it to porters.

Of course, the Pan Pacific hardly the best deal in town or the cheapest hotel you can find, but if you value convenience, then a stay in this hotel might not be a bad idea.

Fun spots to visit

Street in Vancouver

Like any major city, you'll have a lot to explore while in Vancouver.

Depending on where you stay, there are lots of fun things to do around town.  Assuming your hotel will be closer to the cruise port, here are a few suggestions:

  • Walk around Stanley Park, which features walking, jogging, and bike trails. There's also the Vancouver aquarium here.
  • Gastown is a neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and shops.
  • Even if you aren't staying at the Pan Pacific hotel, you can go there to watch cruise ships depart.
  • Granville Island Market is an indoor market featuring lots of food and produce stores, showcasing handcrafted products and unique gifts.
  • Vandusen botanical gardens are beautiful

I also recommend making a point to get coffee and a bite to eat at a Canadian staple: Tim Horton's. Tim Bits are great, along with their sandwiches.

Alaska cruise excursions

In:
01 Jun 2022

An Alaska cruise is a highly-anticipated vacation not only for the experience onboard the ship, but because of the wide range of unique shore excursions available in Alaska cruise ports.

Cruising to Alaska brings many of the same onboard features as cruising elsewhere in the world, such as entertainment, dining, and activities, but the cruise excursion experience could not be more different.

In contrast to a Caribbean cruise, an Alaska cruise means trading sunny beach days for mountains, sloths for bears, and jungle for rainforest.

Whether spotting humpback whales, dogsledding atop a glacier, or kayaking through scenic fjords, you want to make sure you do proper research before booking a shore excursion to ensure you have the best experience possible in the Last Frontier.

Here’s what you need to know about Alaska cruise excursions before deciding what (and when) to book.

In this guide:

Best cruise excursions in Alaska

Whale in Alaska

Whale watching tours

Whale watching is one of the most common Alaska cruise excursions, where you’ll have the opportunity to spot the world’s largest mammals up close. Humpback whales, gray whales, and orcas are commonly spotted while on an Alaska cruise, and seeing these magnificent animals up close is sure to leave you speechless.

Whale watching tours are offered in many Alaska cruise ports, but the most common ports for whale watching are Juneau and Icy Strait Point.

Read more: Alaska cruise whale watching guide & tips

Helicopter and flightseeing tours

Helicopter in Alaska

One aspect of cruising to Alaska that’s sure to take your breath away is just how grand the state’s nature is in every direction. Jetting out from the ocean are massive mountain peaks covered in trees and waterfalls. These mountains create Alaska’s iconic fjords in the Inside Passage, which can be viewed either from the cruise ship… or the air!

Helicopter and flightseeing tours are both popular shore excursions in Alaska, offering the unique opportunity to view the state’s nature from above. Helicopter tours often include a landing atop one of Alaska’s glaciers, where visitors have the chance to walk–or dogsled–on the glacier itself.

Flightseeing tours take visitors up and over majestic destinations including Hubbard Glacier and Misty Fjords National Monument in Ketchikan.

Read more: Local’s guide of places to visit in Ketchikan, Alaska

While not the most budget-friendly excursions, seeing Alaska from above is well worth the splurge for many cruisers.

Wildlife tours

Outside of whale watching, an Alaska cruise provides the chance to spot bears, sea otters, sea lions, eagles, and more. It’s possible to see wildlife by simply walking around port, but if spotting wildlife is a big priority for you on an Alaska cruise, it might be better to book a wildlife excursion.

If you’re in Juneau, consider booking an excursion to Admiralty Island, home to an estimated 1,600 brown bears and accessible only by boat or floatplane.

Read more: Local’s guide of what to do in Juneau, Alaska

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly way to spot brown bears, consider a visit to Fortress of the Bear, a bear rescue facility and sanctuary located in Sitka. For only $15, you can visit the sanctuary and learn about how the facility rescues orphaned bears that may otherwise have died in the wild. You’ll be able to get relatively “up-close” to the bears and witness their behavior as well.

Read more: What is the best time of year to see wildlife in Alaska?

Active shore excursions in Alaska

A cruise to Alaska is less about lounging on the beach and more about getting active and exploring all that the state has to offer. Alaska is a paradise for those who love the outdoors, and you’ll find plenty of excursions catered to active travelers.

One of the most popular active activities is a kayak tour along Alaska’s scenic fjords, lakes, and glaciers. Kayak tours are offered in most cruise ports, offering passengers the chance to feel connected with nature by the gentle rock of a kayak.

Bicycle excursions are also offered on an Alaska cruise, taking visitors through the state’s forests and historic towns. If you’re feeling really adventurous, consider a 15-mile downhill bike ride following the path of the White Pass & Yukon Railway in Skagway.

Read more: Best things to do on an Alaska cruise

Outside of kayaking and biking, visitors to Alaska can enjoy canoeing, hiking, ziplining, and even snorkeling!

Cultural and historical tours in Alaska

Cruising to Alaska provides the chance to learn more about the state’s culture and history. Food tours, visits to Native villages, and touring museums can offer unique insights into the region.

If learning more about Alaska’s Native history is of interest to you, you’ll be amazed by the hand carved, detailed totem poles dotted throughout Southeast Alaska. Some excursions may even offer the chance to visit where totem poles are carved and see this impressive handiwork in action.

Read more: Visiting Saxman Native village in Ketchikan

Alaska’s gold rush history is another fascinating topic to discover. From saloons to historic hiking trails and Ketchikan’s red-light district, you don’t need to travel very far off the ship to spot remnants of the gold rush era.

Lastly, if tasting Alaska’s fresh seafood is on your Alaska cruise bucket list, consider booking a tour that includes a “salmon bake”. Most salmon bakes will occur in the rainforest, where you can feast on freshly-caught salmon, chicken, baked beans, salads, and blueberry cake.

Read more: Where to eat like a local on your Alaska cruise

What to do in each Alaska cruise port

Depending on your cruise itinerary, you’ll be visiting 3-4 different ports on an Alaska cruise, each of which offers plenty of shore excursions to book. While you can find excursions like whale watching, hiking, and kayaking in several ports, certain ports are better suited for these activities than others.

Juneau is the most commonly visited port on an Alaska cruise. Popular cruise excursions in Juneau include whale watching, visiting Mendenhall Glacier, tasting local seafood, and riding the Goldbelt Tramway to Mount Roberts.

Read more: Top 10 things to do in Juneau, Alaska

Ketchikan is the southernmost Alaska cruise port. While exploring this quaint town, visitors can enjoy viewing Native totem poles, walking historic Creek Street, watching the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, and hiking the Tongass National Forest.

Read more: Top 10 things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska

If your cruise visits Skagway, be sure to immerse yourself in the town’s gold rush history through a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railway, hiking the Chilkoot trail, and perhaps even crossing the border into Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Read more: Top 10 things to do in Skagway, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska

Visitors to Sitka will be impressed with the blend of Russian, Tlingit, and American cultures. Whether visiting Russian Orthodox churches, the Baranof Castle State Historic Site, and the Sitka National Historic Park, there’s plenty of history and culture to explore in this small Alaskan town.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are in abundance as well, with the Alaska Raptor Center and Fortress of the Bear nearby.

Read more: Top 10 things to do in Sitka, Alaska

Icy Strait Point is a small cruise port owned and operated by the Huna Tlingit Native Alaskans. Visitors to Icy Strait Point can choose from a variety of unique excursions, from riding the SKYGLiDER tram ride up a mountain, ziplining or bird watching in the rainforest, and taking a back country Jeep adventure. Icy Strait Point is also one of the best ports for whale watching on an Alaska cruise.

Haines is another small Alaska port offering a selection of outdoor activities including kayaking and hiking. If visiting Glacier Bay is on your bucket list, you can book a flightseeing tour of the massive glacier from Haines.

Victoria, British Columbia is visited on Royal Caribbean Alaska cruises departing from Seattle. One of the most popular activities in Victoria is visiting the Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre floral display dating back to 1904. Walking around the city to admire the area’s British heritage is another fun way to spend the day, whether enjoying afternoon tea, shopping on Wharf street, or indulging in local cuisine.

Read more: Visiting Victoria while cruising on Explorer of the Seas

How to book Alaska cruise excursions

When it comes to booking an excursion for an Alaska cruise, you have two main options: book through Royal Caribbean directly or with an outside provider.

Booking through Royal Caribbean

Booking directly through Royal Caribbean tends to be more expensive, but is a safe option in terms of reliability and cancellation policies. Royal Caribbean vets tour operators thoroughly before offering an excursion to guarantee you’ll have the safest, most authentic experience possible.

On the chance a Royal Caribbean excursion runs late, the cruise ship will wait for the tour group before leaving port. If for some reason the ship is unable to wait, Royal Caribbean will make arrangements and cover the cost of the tour group's return to the ship.

Read more: Is it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

Booking through Royal Caribbean directly also tends to be convenient, as all excursions are listed directly on the Cruise Planner site. You won’t have to browse the internet and read reviews from independent companies prior to booking an excursion. Plus, if you have onboard credit, you can put that toward an amazing excursion!

Booking through an independent provider

While there are several pros to booking an Alaska cruise excursion through Royal Caribbean directly, booking through an independent tour operator can provide a wider range of excursion options, lower prices, and smaller groups.

Read more: Top ways to avoid crowds on an Alaska cruise

Simply put, there are many more shore excursions available in Alaska than the limited supply offered by Royal Caribbean. A quick search on Tripadvisor or Viator for Alaska cruise excursions will result in far more choices than what may be offered on your cruise.

Ketchikan charter boats

Royal Caribbean excursions tend to be priced higher than independent excursions because the cruise line receives a cut of the excursion cost from the tour operator. Booking on your own eliminates the middleman, often leading to more affordable prices.

While the cruise ship will not wait for you if you’re running late on an excursion through an independent provider, this is a rare scenario as reputable tour providers have years of experience getting tour groups back to the ship on time. In addition, tour operators may offer similar cancellation policies to Royal Caribbean on the chance your cruise itinerary changes.

Read more: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

How much do shore excursions cost in Alaska?

While it’s possible to find great deals on cruise fares to Alaska, shore excursions can often be more expensive than what you are used to on a Caribbean cruise. Knowing how much you’re willing to spend on Alaska cruise excursions can better help you budget your vacation while still having an incredible cruise experience.

Shore excursions can run anywhere from $50 to well over $500. To give an example of how varied prices can be, here are a few sample prices you may see for Royal Caribbean excursions:

Juneau

  • Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest ($158.99/adult, $110.99/child)
  • Helicopter Glacier Walkabout ($406.99)
  • Mendenhall Glacier River Rafting ($141.99)
  • Mount Roberts Tramway ($59.99)

Skagway

  • Klondike Bicycle Tour ($115.75)
  • Ghost and Goodtime Girls Walking Tour ($45.99)
  • White Pass Scenic Railway ($140.99/adult, $74.99/child)
  • Glacier Discovery by Helicopter ($379.00)

Sitka

  • Taste of Sitka ($78.99/adult, $62.99/child)
  • Siginaka Islands Cruise & Kayak Adventure ($163.99/adult, $125.99/child)
  • Tongass Forest Nature Hike ($84.99/adult, $60.99/child)
  • Native Cultural and Historical Tour ($55.99/adult, $42.99/child)

Prices of shore excursions through independent providers are often cheaper than Royal Caribbean’s pricing, so be sure to look outside of Royal Caribbean for better deals.

When to book Alaska cruise excursions

It’s always a better idea to book excursions as far in advance as possible to ensure you can pay the lowest price and secure a spot on the chance the excursion sells out. Because shore excursions are so popular on an Alaska cruise, it’s not uncommon to see popular tours like whale watching, glacier visits, and helicopter tours sell out.

If excursions sell out, Royal Caribbean will occasionally add more tour options and times to book, but this is not guaranteed. Therefore, booking as early as possible is recommended.

Read more: When should I book my Alaska shore excursion?

When you book an excursion through Royal Caribbean, you are allowed to cancel with no penalty up to 48 hours before your cruise, so there’s no harm in booking an excursion and changing your mind later.

Additionally, if you book an excursion far in advance and later see the price drop, you can cancel your reservation and rebook the same excursion at the lower price. Waiting to book an excursion in hopes that the price will go down is unnecessary and will usually leave you disappointed and forced to pay a higher fare!

Do I need a shore excursion on an Alaska cruise?

It’s not necessary to book a shore excursion on an Alaska cruise. In fact, some passengers prefer to explore on their own to have maximum freedom over activities, dining, and travel pace. While excursions are an “easy” option due to the fact that all logistics are handled by the tour operator instead of yourself, they can be a bit too limiting for some travelers.

Read more: Top 50 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

Luckily, Alaska cruise ports are small and walkable, allowing visitors to experience the town’s history, culture, and nearby nature on foot. Even Juneau, the largest Alaska cruise port, still has plenty of walkable areas and ways to get around without booking an excursion, such as the Goldbelt Tramway and Mendenhall Glacier shuttle bus.

Some activities, like kayaking, whale watching, and ziplining, tend to be easier with a shore excursion than without, as all equipment, lifejackets, transportation, etc. is provided for you. Others, like hiking, visiting museums, and trying Alaska’s cuisine can easily be done without a pre-booked excursion.

What to bring on an Alaska cruise excursion

Packing for an Alaska cruise excursion is a bit more complicated than bringing a beach towel and flip flops. You’ll want to make sure you are prepared for any weather conditions you may face so you remain comfortable and warm throughout the day.

Read more: What should you bring on an Alaska cruise?

Clothing

Family on Alaska tour

Packing layers is key on an Alaska cruise. Depending on the month you’re cruising to Alaska, packing a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt as a base layer is essential. Even though you’ll be surrounded by glaciers, it can get relatively warm in southeast Alaska, especially in the summer months.

A waterproof jacket is another necessity, as rain is extremely common to encounter on an Alaska cruise. Instead of an umbrella, wear a waterproof jacket with a hood that you can take on and off throughout the day.

Read more: What should I pack for a cruise to Alaska?

Woman wearing jacket in Alaska

Packing a warm layer is also important in case of chilly temperatures. Sweatshirts, sweaters, and down jackets will keep you warm on the coldest of days!

Choose your footwear carefully before an Alaska cruise excursion. If your excursion involves hiking through the rainforest, tennis shoes with non-slip soles or hiking boots will be helpful. If you’re just planning to walk around town, regular sneakers will be fine. It’s a good idea to make sure the shoes you pack for an Alaska cruise are water-resistant. Having water seep through your shoes is very uncomfortable!

Accessories

Bringing a waterproof or water-resistant daypack on an Alaska cruise is essential to ensure your electronics, identification, and any other valuables remain protected throughout the excursion.

Packing a warm hat and gloves is also recommended, particularly if you’re cruising to Alaska in the shoulder season months of May and September.

Read more: What it’s like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

binoculars

Binoculars can be another great item to pack for an Alaska cruise excursion, as they give you the chance to view Alaska’s wildlife and scenery up close. Bringing binoculars will definitely come in handy if you book a wildlife excursion.

Sunscreen and sunglasses are also important to pack. While you may not associate an Alaska cruise with needing protection from the sun, it can be strong on sunny days, as sunlight shines not only from the sky but also from glaciers and snow. A travel-sized sunscreen container should be adequate for an Alaska cruise.

You may also want to consider packing snacks to bring with you on your excursion, especially if traveling with kids. Alaska shore excursions can be more active than what you’re used to, so having a bag of trail mix or granola bars on hand is helpful.

More Alaska cruise resources:

Local’s guide of what to do in Sitka, Alaska

In:
31 May 2022

Sitka, Alaska, sitting on the westward side of beautiful Baranof Island, captures the quintessential essence of wild Alaska. This is a town steeped in history. Originally settled by the Tinglit people over 10,000 years ago, Sitka became Alaska’s first capital city following the signing of the Alaska Purchase in 1867.

Sitka, Alaska

While downtown Sitka is a small cluster of quaint buildings set the backdrop of towering mountains, the town of Sitka spans over 4,800 square miles. This makes it the largest incorporated city in America. 

Though the city limits are expansive, less than 10,000 residents reside in the city year-round. Tourists flock to the historical enigma, swelling the population by thousands throughout the summer. This town is only accessible by plane or boat and is a perfect stop when voyaging through Southeastern Alaska. Here, visitors can enjoy all the incredible sights of an Alaskan journey in one-stop – bears, mountains, glaciers, whales, and endless Alaskan beauty. 

While there are plenty of things to do to fill your hours in port, this guide will give you some of our top local favorites. So, prepare to go along back roads and the forgotten paths on your Alaska cruise.

Enjoy a quiet walk through an old Russian cemetery  

Russian cemetery in Sitka

Prior to the United States’ purchase of the Alaskan territory, Russian fur traders and fishermen were the principal foreign inhabitants of coastal Alaska (then called Russian America). Reminders of these past adventurers remain embedded throughout Alaskan communities, and if you talk to a local, the chances are high that they have a Russian relative in their bloodline. 

As the once capital of Russian America, Sitka maintains strong ties and cultural undertones to this period of Russian heritage. Visitors can see this history firsthand at the old Russian Orthodox cemetery located in the heart of downtown Sitka. This 200-year cemetery contains beautiful tombstones marking the graves of Russian Orthodox parishioners. Each tombstone is remarkably unique, with some falling to the test of time and nearly completely covered in moss. Placed in the moss-covered forest, a walk in this cemetery will make you feel miles away from town. 

While walking a cemetery may not seem like an exciting affair, this walk allows visitors to see a lasting mark of history today. When visiting, remember to be respectful, as this cemetery is still in use today by local families.

You can access the cemetery off Seward Street, near the Sitka Lutheran Cemetery. The cemetery was vandalized in January 2022, but local organizations continue restoring the area and returning it to its former beauty. 

Take a hike along Beaver Lake Trail and look for wildlife 

Beaver Lake in Sitka

If you’re up for a little more adventure, head over to Beaver Lake Trail to enjoy a 3-mile hike through old-growth forests and along a pristine mountain lake. You will need to rent a car or pay for a taxi to access this route. The trailhead is outside of town at Blue Lake Campground. However, there are plenty of sights to enjoy in the area, making the trek worth it. If you have a more extended stay in the area, you can hike to the trailhead from downtown Sitka via the Herring Cove Trail. This trail departs from Sitka road and is about a one-hour trip. 

Beaver Lake Trail is a 3-mile trail with a steep elevation gain in the first quarter of a mile. The trail rises sharply up 200 feet with a series of switchbacks before leveling off to its ascent to Beaver Lake. The huffing and puffing is worth it once hikers reach the lake and behold the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. This trail is short enough to be combined with other sightseeing stops throughout the day. Wildlife is common along this path, so keep your eyes out for bears, eagles, deer, and ermine. 

Local tip: Pack rain gear, bear spray, and bug spray for this outing. While the Alaskan wilderness is beautiful, it is also incredibly buggy in the summer months. Bears can be frequent visitors along this route, so take extra precautions and always be Bear Aware.  

Grab lunch at the Fresh Fish  

Fresh Fish in Sitka

While you should visit Sitka for the scenery, you will want to stay for the food. Sitka is not short on delicious restaurants and cafes, and you could spend weeks experiencing all the wonderful flavors found in this city. However, if you’re only in town for a short bit, make a stop at the Fresh Fish food truck for one of the best meals in town. After all, you can’t visit Alaska without trying the local seafood! 

Fresh Fish cart in Sitka

Fresh Fish offers a bare menu of locally-caught poke, chowder, and ceviche. The menu changes often, so it is always fun to swing by and see what they are offering. Meals are made quickly, so you can grab a delicious treat quickly before heading out on your next adventure. 

Local tip: Fresh Fish is typically open Friday-Wednesday from 11:30-3:00. Depending on the day, the cart does move around in town. Check out their Facebook page or Instagram @thefreshfish.ak for the latest updates. 

Take a boat ride to Goddard Hot Springs

Even in the summer, Sitka can experience chilly temperatures and gloomy days. One of the best ways to still enjoy the outdoors, even on a cloudy day, is to catch a boat to Goddard Hot Springs. The boat ride from Sitka is about an hour and offers splendid views of Baranof Island from the water.

Keep your eyes on the lookout for whales and other marine mammals on your journey. Located to the south of Sitka, visitors can plan to spend at least half of a day exploring these natural wonders and enjoying a dip in the warm waters. 

The city of Sitka owns the Goddard Hot Springs, and the springs are free to the public. Each spring is protected within wooden huts, keeping out the worse of the Alaskan weather. Pack plenty of layers for the return trip, as temperatures can dramatically vary on the water. 

Look for Puffins at St. Lazaria Island

Lazaria Island sitka

Sitka sits on the outside of the Interior Passage, making it an excellent destination for bird viewing during the short summer months. Thousands of sea birds flock to the Sitka area between May and September to breed and nest along the sea cliffs and islands. One of the best places to see this natural phenomenon is St. Lazaria Island. 

St. Lazaria is the summer home of dozens of bird species, including puffins, petrels, auklets, and oystercatchers. These birds nest along volcanic cliffs and feed upon the abundant Fish and marine life that congregates in the waters around the island. St. Lazaria is one of 2,500 Alaskan islands that comprise the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. It is estimated that over half a million birds return to this location each year to raise their young. 

St. Lazaria Island is located to the north of Sitka and is only accessible by boat. Numerous charters and water taxis depart from Sitka every day to take eager birdwatchers, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts on a cruise along the edges of this protected island. Otters, seals, and humpback whales are also a common sight on this journey. 

Local tip: This may not be the best choice for visitors prone to seasickness. Pack a pair of binoculars for this journey, as there will be much to see! While much of the water around Sitka is protected from weather, the ride out to St. Lazaria can be rough if the weather turns.  

Regardless of how you choose to spend your day in Sitka, Alaska, you are guaranteed to enjoy it. This makes it one of the top stops to enjoy your Great Alaskan Journey! Fair winds and smooth sailing! 
 

How far in advance to book an Alaska cruise

In:
30 May 2022

If you’re cruising to Alaska, is it better to book a cruise years in advance or try to find a last-minute cruise deal?

Knowing the ins and outs of booking an Alaska cruise can help guarantee you the lowest price, best stateroom, and most enjoyable vacation. While you can experience a wonderful Alaska cruise regardless of whether you book two years or two weeks in advance, here’s what you need to know about the best time to book.

Book early, save money

Alaska cruises are extremely popular, and it’s almost always a good idea to book an Alaska cruise far in advance. Booking an Alaska cruise 12 months or more in advance can save you money and provide the most flexibility on itinerary and stateroom choices. 

You may also want to be prepared to book as soon as Royal Caribbean releases new Alaska cruise itineraries. Royal Caribbean tends to release Alaska cruise itineraries in late November for the season to come in two years. If you can plan far enough in advance to know you want to take an Alaska cruise two years from now, it’s a good idea to book as soon as new itineraries are released.

Read more: What to know before booking a Royal Caribbean cruise

Even if you’re unable to book a whole two years in advance, you’ll still be able to find great Alaska cruise deals by booking 6-12 months prior to sailing.

If you look on the Royal Caribbean website, you may occasionally come across Alaska cruises that are priced higher for the following year than the current season. Because of this, you might decide to wait with hopes that the price on the sail date you are interested in will go down. This is never a good idea due to Royal Caribbean’s Best Price Guarantee program.

Best Price Guarantee Program

Royal Caribbean runs their Best Price Guarantee Program year round, which guarantees you will receive the lowest price on your cruise up until the final payment date if you live in a country that allows price adjustments (US, Canada, and others).

Read more: Do cruise prices drop?

If you book a cruise and later spot a drop in the cruise fare, Royal Caribbean honors the lower rate by refunding you the difference in price. Price adjustments can be allotted up until you make final payment, which is 75 days prior to the sailing date for 1-4 night cruises and 90 days prior to the sailing date for cruises 5 nights or longer.

It is up to you to find any differences in fare, which you can do by making a “mock booking” on the Royal Caribbean website and see if the overall cruise fare is lower. You can also contact your travel agent to check if the price has dropped.

When booking an Alaska cruise, the Best Price Guarantee Program comes in handy when you want to book the cruise as far in advance as possible, but still want to guarantee you can pay the lowest cruise fare for your stateroom category and cruise itinerary.

Consider your stateroom choice

An important consideration for any cruise is which stateroom you want to book. From the most basic interior cabins to lavish, two-story suites, Royal Caribbean has a stateroom to fit any vacation style and budget.

Read more: What’s the best cruise ship cabin for my family?

Generally speaking, it’s best to book your Alaska cruise as far in advance as possible when you have a specific stateroom in mind. If you know your budget only allows for an interior cabin, be sure to book far in advance so you don’t have to pay more for an oceanview or balcony.

Likewise, if you’re looking to splurge on a suite, booking early ensures you have the most choice on suite category and location. While staterooms do not always sell out, it’s not worth the risk if you have a particular cabin selection in mind!

Shore excursions and booking early

Booking your Alaska cruise as early as possible means you will be able to start purchasing pre-cruise addons, like drink packages, dining packages, and internet, far in advance.

Most importantly, you will be able to start reserving Alaska shore excursions. Shore excursions are one of the most amazing aspects of an Alaska cruise, whether whale watching, hiking, or visiting glaciers. Popular shore excursions can (and do) sell out as the cruise sailing date approaches.

Read more: Best things to do on an Alaska cruise

Booking your cruise early gives you more time to research, plan, and purchase the shore excursions that interest you the most.

Last minute Alaska cruise deals

Despite our advice above, it can be possible to snag a great last-minute cruise deal. Cruise prices are dynamic, and the cost of an Alaska cruise one day can often be much cheaper or more expensive than the next. Occasionally there may be more supply than demand on Alaska cruise cabins and itineraries, leading to a relatively cheap last-minute fare.

Be sure to check airline prices before booking a last-minute Alaska cruise deal, though, as any savings on the cruise fare can be negated by inflated, last-minute airfare prices. Additionally, last-minute fares may not be during the month or season you would like to sail.

Read more: Are last minute cruises really cheaper?

Therefore, we don’t necessarily recommend waiting until the last minute to book an Alaska cruise with the hope of finding a cheap fare. It’s usually always a better idea to book your Alaska cruise much further in advance to ensure you can reserve the ship, stateroom category, and itinerary that works best for you.

Next steps: How to book (and reprice) your cruise and excursions

Now that you have a better idea of when to book your Alaska cruise, you should follow these steps to ensure your Alaska cruise is off to a great start:

First, you should book your cruise with a travel agent. A good travel agent will cost you nothing extra, but is an extremely valuable resource before and during your cruise. Travel agents are available to answer any questions you may have, offer suggestions on ships and itineraries, and work out any problems or issues you may face when planning your cruise.

Read more: Top things you didn’t know travel agents could do for your cruise vacation

After booking through a travel agent, start researching the best shore excursions for an Alaska cruise and decide whether you want to book through Royal Caribbean directly or with an outside provider.

In the months leading up to your cruise, be sure to reprice the cruise often. Make a bookmark of your cruise in your internet browser so you can easily access the itinerary’s page on Royal Caribbean’s website. It only takes a few seconds to make a “mock booking” (pretend you are booking the cruise and select the number of guests, stateroom category, etc.).

If you notice the price has dropped, send a quick email to your travel agent and they can have the price difference refunded to you if it is before the final payment date.

You can do the same with shore excursions, too. If you notice the price of a Royal Caribbean shore excursion has dropped, cancel and rebook the excursion to lock in the lower price.

How far in advance do you usually book a cruise? Have you ever found a fantastic last-minute deal on an Alaska cruise? Let us know!

What is the cheapest month for an Alaska cruise?

In:
26 May 2022

An Alaska cruise makes for an unforgettable vacation experience, but the cost of sailing to Alaska can vary greatly from month to month. While some cruisers may not put a price on such a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, others prefer to travel as budget-friendly as possible.

While a cruise itinerary as beautiful as Alaska may seem like it would come with a shockingly-high price tag, visiting Alaska on a cruise can actually be surprisingly affordable. In fact, if you’re willing to be a little flexible with the time of the year you sail, itinerary, and stateroom selection, it’s possible to find Alaska cruise deals for as little as $85 per day, per person!

Let’s look at the cheapest month for an Alaska cruise and see just how much the cruise fare can change from month to month.

Alaska cruise season

The Alaska cruise season typically runs from late April to late September, and the cheapest months to cruise to Alaska are during the shoulder season months of April, May, and September.

Prices tend to be cheaper during shoulder season due to chillier temperatures and the fact that school is still in session. Weather can also be more unpredictable at this time, although, to be fair, that can be said about nearly every day in Alaska!

Read more: How to cruise on the cheap

Regardless, if booking the cheapest Alaska cruise is important to you, a good starting point is to look at fares during the months of April, May, and September. Let’s take a look at a few examples of an Alaska cruise fare for 2 adults in the shoulder season compared to the peak summer months of June, July, and August.

7-night Alaska Glacier Cruise on Ovation of the Seas

Price of 2 adults in a balcony stateroom, including taxes and fees:

  • May 19, 2023: $2,182
  • July 21, 2023: $3,613
  • September 15, 2023: $2,193

7-night Alaska Glacier Experience on Enchantment of the Seas

Price of 2 adults in an interior stateroom, including taxes and fees:

  • April 23, 2023: $1,215
  • July 2, 2023: $2,091
  • August 27, 2023: $1,571

7-night Alaska Glacier Cruise on Quantum of the Seas

Price of 2 adults in a 1 bedroom Grand Suite, including taxes and fees:

  • May 22, 2023: $9,674
  • June 19, 2023: $10,736
  • September 18, 2023: $9,574

It’s possible to have savings upwards of $1000 by sailing during shoulder season as opposed to mid-summer. These savings can easily be put toward Alaska shore excursions like whale watching, kayaking, and even helicopter tours!

Read more: When should I book my Alaska shore excursion?

Alternatively, you can use these savings and book a higher category stateroom. If a balcony room is out of budget for a cruise in July, it might be doable in April, May, or September.

Simply put, by cruising in shoulder season, you can get more bang for your buck on an Alaska cruise.

Benefits of booking an Alaska cruise during the cheapest months

Booking an Alaska cruise during shoulder season can lead to benefits beyond a cheaper cruise fare.

Cruising to Alaska in the early season of late April and May can come with a lower chance of rain than late summer and fall. In addition, daylight hours are from around 4AM to 10PM in May, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy Alaska’s attractions. Temperatures can be quite comfortable as summer approaches, with highs in the 60s common in mid to late-May.

The early season also brings the chance to spot gray whales, bears, and orcas.

Read more: What it’s like to go on an Alaska cruise in the early season

Cruising in September brings the start of fall foliage and snow capped mountain peaks. You may also have the chance to spot the northern lights in late September, although this is not guaranteed.

Drawbacks of booking an Alaska cruise during the cheapest months

October is the rainiest month of the year in southeast Alaska, with September coming in second. This can lead to high chances of cloud coverage and precipitation as well as colder temperatures. It may also lead to rougher seas when outside of the Inside Passage and a higher chance of ports being changed at the last minute. 

There are also fewer daylight hours in September, with only around 12-13 daylight hours in Juneau as opposed to 18 in June.

Read more: What it’s like to go on an Alaska cruise at the end of the season

If you are planning an Alaska cruise with kids, the shoulder season falls during the school calendar. Cruising in April, May, or September may require taking kids out of school for a week, which can lead to extra logistics with making up homework and tests.

Likewise, if you are interested in booking an Alaska Cruise Tour before or after your cruise, it’s important to note that visits to Denali National Park & Reserve are limited to when the park is open to visitors. The earliest and latest Alaska cruises of the season will likely not offer a Cruise Tour option.

Open-jaw sailings

The cheapest Alaska cruises tend to be in the months of May and September, but booking an open-jaw Alaska cruise can lead to even bigger savings not only in the shoulder season, but during the peak summer months as well.

Open-jaw Alaska sailings are one-way cruises to or from Alaska. One-way cruises travel between Vancouver, Canada and Seward, Alaska, visiting a variety of ports and glaciers along the Inside Passage. They can be booked either Northbound (departing from Vancouver and ending in Seward) or Southbound (departing from Seward and ending in Vancouver).

Read more: Ultimate Alaska cruise guide

One-way cruises exist primarily to serve Royal Caribbean’s land-based Cruise Tours, which are multi-day land tours before or after an Alaska cruise. However, one-way cruises are open to all passengers regardless of whether or not they booked a Cruise Tour.

Let’s compare a few one-way cruises to roundtrip sailings and see how much prices can differ. This pricing is for a guaranteed interior cabin for 2 adults during the peak summer season, including taxes and fees.

One-way 7-night Northbound Alaska & Hubbard Glacier cruise on Radiance of the Seas

  • June 17, 2022: $1,126
  • July 29, 2022: $1,258

Roundtrip 7-night Alaska Glacier Cruise on Quantum of the Seas

  • June 27, 2022: $1,956
  • July 25, 2022: $2,096

As you can see, it’s possible to find fantastic cruise fares on one-way sailings if you want to sail during the warmest months of the year in Alaska. 

Why one-way cruises are cheaper

Cheaper prices can be found on open-jaw Alaska cruises due to the travel logistics needed on a one-way cruise, including flying into one city and out of another, figuring out transportation from Seward to the Anchorage airport, and being unable to drive to port.

If you don’t mind the extra logistics, open-jaw sailings can lead to great savings and the opportunity to visit Alaska more in-depth. Because there is less travel time required as opposed to a roundtrip cruise, open-jaw sailings often include more port stops and fewer sea days.

As a plus, you can also visit Alaska’s inland destinations such as Talkeetna and Denali National Park & Reserve by starting or ending your cruise in Seward.

Is it worth it to cruise to Alaska in the shoulder season?

While prices may be cheaper in May and September compared to June, July, and August, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each month before selecting a sail date.

If an Alaska cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you and you want the warmest temperatures and most daylight, booking the cheapest fare in, say, late September, may lead to disappointment.

Read more: Why you shouldn’t book the cheapest cruise you can find

Temperatures on an Alaska can actually be quite comfortable in late spring, so while it’s of course recommended to pack a jacket, hat, and gloves, you may be surprised with sunny skies and somewhat warm weather.

Regardless of the month you book an Alaska cruise, it’s important to remain flexible. Temperature, precipitation, port changes, and unexpected mishaps can happen at any time of year in Alaska, so keeping an open mind will help you have the best experience possible.

More Alaska cruise resources:

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