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Are you looking for a list of helpful, go-to Alaska cruise tips for your upcoming Alaska cruise?

Having recently returned from an Alaska cruise, we’ve put together this mega list of practical, and incredibly helpful Alaska cruise tips that will help you get the most enjoyment from your trip.

This article contains important, need-to-know tips and advice on booking, ways to save, stateroom selection, excursions, and items to pack for an Alaska cruise.

We also have a fun selection of miscellaneous Alaska cruise tips at the end that you may not have heard before.

Hold on tight – and get ready to take notes – as you read our 45 Alaska cruise tips that you absolutely need to know as you embark on this vacation of a lifetime!

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
Alaska family cruise!

Alaska Cruise Tips: Booking Your Cruise

Take your time in deciding which cruise line and which cruise ship to book for your Alaska cruise vacation – after all, there are many to choose from!

The following list includes tips on how to choose a cruise line, and how to go about booking your Alaska cruise.

1. Different cruise lines appeal to different passengers.

First-time cruisers often ask what is the best cruise line for going to Alaska.

The choice comes down to your budget, expectations, and the overall vibe preferred by a cruise line.

Some choose a cruise ship for the cruise itinerary and destination only, and the ship is merely the mode of transportation.

Others look at the ship’s age opting for a more modern ship or desire a ship with multiple conveniences and resort-like attractions to keep the family entertained.

Nevertheless, some factors influencing your decision could include finding a discount or cruise promotion, the ship’s embarkation port, the size of the ship, and the ability to add on a land tour.

When it comes to Alaska cruise tips, choose a cruise line and ship that meets your needs and your budget – this will be different for everyone.

Here is a list of cruise lines that go to Alaska:

  • Royal Caribbean
  • Princess Cruises
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line (We cruised on Norwegian Encore to Alaska)
  • Holland America Line
  • Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
Choir of Man musical on the Norwegian Encore
Choir of Man – Norwegian Encore

2. Choose a ship with several indoor things to do.

A ship with a fancy pool deck and fun, outdoor swimming pools is more notable when cruising to the sun-soaked Caribbean.

Realize that due to the chilly weather and occasional rain showers, you’re likely to spend more time indoors on an Alaska cruise, however.

If you’re interested in having several options for things to do, find a ship that has a large selection of both indoor and outdoor leisure and relaxation areas.

Activities such as indoor shows, comedy clubs, casinos, arcades, and spas provide hours of entertainment.

In addition, various Alaska cruise lines have either indoor, covered, or solarium-type swimming pools that are appealing if swimming on the ship is of importance to you.

3. Sail late in the season for the best chance at Northern Lights.

The most popular time to go on an Alaksa cruise is during the months of June, July, and August as they offer both the warmest weather and longest hours of daylight.

The shoulder season of September–October is growing in popularity, however, as it boasts fewer crowds, lower prices, and seasonal attractions like the Northern Lights.

If you sail late in the season (late August -October), the daylight starts getting shorter leaving a longer, and darker, time for you to be able to see the Northern Lights.

There’s never a guarantee you’ll get to see this nighttime spectacular, but cruising late in the season will increase your odds.

4. Check into stateroom capacities.

Though this is a general cruise tip versus directly pertaining to Alaska, it is something that affected us so I want to mention it to you.

The capacity limits on cruise ship staterooms are strict, meaning that if the room says it fits 2-3 people, you may not have more than 3 people assigned to the room.

For bigger families or families with small children, check to see if there are ‘family staterooms’ that allow higher capacities, or look into getting adjoining staterooms.

Understand that even if you have 2 staterooms that are connected, each stateroom will require a separate cruise ship reservation, with a minimum of 1 adult assigned to each room.

This can be a hassle when it comes to booking shore excursions and making reservations, as each stateroom must be dealt with separately.

You’ll have no other choice, however, if you’re traveling with a large family or group that wants/needs to stick together.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
Popular Mendenhall Glacier tour in Juneau, Alaska

5. Book shore excursions well in advance; popular ones fill up fast.

Alaska cruises are sought after for their epic scenery and unique, outdoor excursions.

Because of this, the most popular Alaska shore excursions fill up fast.

Research what shore excursions you’re interested in ahead of time and choose excursions that match the ages, abilities, and interests of your family.

Next, mark your calendar for when the shore excursion booking window opens and be ready to book your excursions that day. (I do not recommend waiting until you’re on the ship to book shore excursions.)

If you’re booking shore excursions through the cruise line, I recommend calling to book your initial excursions versus booking them online.

Questions are bound to arise, and having someone on the phone to help is invaluable.

If you’re booking shore excursions independently, assure that you’re using a reputable tour company and you leave yourself with plenty of time to re-embark the ship before it leaves the port.

More tips about shore excursions coming up…

Cagney's Steakhouse specialty dining
Specialty dining venue – Cagney’s Steakhouse

6. Book specialty dining well in advance; popular times and restaurants fill up fast.

Most cruise lines offer specialty dining restaurants that require reservations.

If this is the case, research your dining options ahead of time, and be sure to make reservations at popular specialty dining restaurants as soon as the reservation window opens (this varies per cruise line).

Again, much time will be spent indoors on an Alaska cruise, and many people place emphasis on securing ideal restaurants and dining times.

7. Consider booking your Alaska cruise through a travel agent.

Booking and understanding the ins and outs of an Alaska cruise can be a big task.

With all of the money and time that you’ll be investing, you may appreciate trusting the details of your trip to a travel agent.

Booking through a travel agent can help you find the best deals, find additional perks, and assure that you’re up to date on the latest cruise recommendations.

Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska Cruise Tips: Cost & Ways to Save

An Alaskan cruise is a costly vacation and one that most people will only experience once in their lifetime.

Here are our Alaska cruise tips that will help you plan, save, and budget accordingly.

8. Alaska cruises are expensive.

Two of the most important Alaska cruise tips are to budget appropriately and to expect to spend more than you anticipated on an Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruises tend to be more expensive than i.e. Caribbean cruises due to the seasonality of Alaska cruises (supply vs. demand) and its remote location yielding higher permit and port fees.

Do note that some cruise lines are less expensive for the same sights and itinerary (i.e. Holland America), so if the ship itself doesn’t matter that much to you – this is a place where you can save money.

Also, cruise lines have a reputation for nickel and diming passengers once onboard so be sure to look into what activities and fees are covered by your general cruise fare, and which are not.

Leave room in your budget for onboard restaurants, treats, and attractions that cost extra.

9. You’ll find the cheapest fares in May and September.

Alaska is a seasonal cruise destination from late May/early April through the end of September.

June through August is considered the prime season, and therefore, costs more.

Cruising during the shoulder seasons of May or September will save you money.

10. Watch for cruise promotions.

Oftentimes you’ll find that cruise lines run various promotions to stir up excitement and increase business.

Be sure to watch for promotions such as free onboard credit, discounted airfare and excursions, as well as free beverage packages and specialty dining.

This is definitely a way to save money on an Alaska cruise, however, read the fine print and be sure that the promotions actually apply to your interests.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
The mountainous terrain of Alaska

11. WiFii is spotty in Alaska.

Most cruise fares do not include free WiFii for your devices.

Instead, you must purchase a WiFii package for either an unlimited or a certain amount of minutes.

While cruising Alaska, be aware that the ship’s internet access may be spotty and/or slow in some areas due to geography, weather, and satellite positions.

Because you’ll likely not going to be on your phone much, consider buying a cheaper WiFii package – or not purchasing one at all.

12. Do the math before buying a drink package.

Again, when it comes to how to save money on an Alaska cruise, consider if the cost of a drink package is worth it.

Depending on how many and how long your excursions are, you may be spending the majority of your time off of the ship and away from the ‘free drinks’.

Also, keep in mind that the vibe on an Alaskan cruise may not lend itself as much to drinking as it does on a Caribbean cruise, for instance.

If an unlimited beverage is part of a cruise promotion, I always opt for it. (I feel that it is a great value for me.) If not, I consider how many drinks I’ll realistically have in 1 day and buy a limited (more affordable) drink package for that amount.

13. Don’t get stuck having to buy warm clothing onboard.

It goes without saying that some people will forget, or fail to bring the appropriate cold-weather gear for their Alaska cruise.

Warm jackets, hats, rain ponchos, and more are typically sold onboard the ship for this reason – but for a hefty price.

Trust me…pack accordingly and don’t get stuck having to purchase your warm clothing onboard.

U.S. Canadian border sign
One of our excursions that crosses into Canada

Alaska Cruise Tips: Documentation

This section of our Alaska cruise tips regarding documentation is not meant to be a guide on what documentation you do, or do not need for an Alaska cruise.

That information is found on your government’s travel website and should be verified against your actual itinerary and excursions.

Non-legally speaking, our tips are as follows:

14. Ensure that you have the correct documentation.

It is important to know what documentation is needed when cruising to Alaska, and specifically, what documentation is required per your particular cruise line.

For instance, your cruise company may require you to have a passport, even if U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not.

Finally, it is important to know that travel regulations and policies are subject to change without notice for the sake of national security…

So in my opinion, the more documentation you have on hand, the better.

15. Consider bringing a passport even if the cruise line itself doesn’t require it.

Though some “closed loop” cruises may not require a U.S. passport, I always recommend bringing yours in case of an emergency.

Situations such as an unexpected medical air evacuation or the ship docking at an alternate port are indeed possible, and you can never be too prepared when it comes to having proper documentation.

Also, keep in mind that even though the cruise itself may not require a passport, some shore excursions do.

For instance, while there are some Skagway, Alaska train tours that don’t require passports, all of the tours that extend past the White Pass Summit require them (as they pass into Canada).

In other words, be sure to read the fine print on your shore excursions to see if passports are required or not.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
White Pass Railroad – Skagway, Alaska

16. Keep your documentation safe.

It goes without saying that you should always protect your passport from theft and ensure that you don’t lose it.

It’s also important to protect your passport from damage by keeping it in a cool, dry place, and by using a passport holder or family travel document holder.

Last, be sure to have your passport with you as you first board the ship, and do not leave it in your luggage.

Alaska Cruise Tips: Staterooms

When it comes to Alaska cruise tips and tricks, these are my most important recommendations when it comes to your cruise ship stateroom.

View from Alaska cruise balcony room
Port view from our balcony stateroom

17. Book a balcony room!

An Alaska cruise is all about the wildlife and the views.

For this reason, I strongly recommend booking a balcony stateroom when cruising Alaska.

It is well worth the additional cost for the balcony views, not having to fight for rail space on the main deck, and to make your room feel bigger.

In order to save money, I typically do not book a balcony room for tropical destination cruises. Again, I 100% recommend a balcony room on an Alaska cruise – quite simply, they’re awesome!

18. Storage is limited for your bulky outdoor gear.

As you know, cruise staterooms are not what you would consider ‘big’.

Carefully plan out how to store your bulky outerwear and rain boots in your stateroom so that they are not blocking the main walkways in your room.

You can always ask your room steward for more hangers or purchase magnetic room hooks ahead of time.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
Ranger-led talk broadcasted on our stateroom TV

19. Get to know your stateroom TV.

Your stateroom TV is a hub of helpful information – it just takes some time to learn how to find the information that you may be looking for.

Most stateroom TVs will have access to the local weather, as well as broadcast the daily itinerary, port information, and the current view from the bow of the ship.

You can also access your cruise ship account to track upcharges as well as watch pre-recorded videos on ship information and the debarkation process.

Our stateroom TV on the Norwegian Encore even broadcasted the park-ranger-led talks that were being held in the ship’s Observation Deck on the day we were in Glacier Bay (see photo above).

20. Consider if an upgrade is worth it.

Several cruise lines offer staterooms or packages that give passengers access to private sundecks and pools.

I personally do not recommend upgrading to a private pool and sundeck, as you’ll rarely use it on an Alaska cruise.

Onboard newsletter on Alaska cruise
Norwegian Cruise Line – Freestyle Daily

21. Check your ship mail.

Each cruise line prints a daily itinerary of events and activities that includes information on the daily forecast, showtimes, and restaurant hours.

These onboard newsletters are placed outside your stateroom on a clip – or in a slotted mailbox – each afternoon on your cruise (with information regarding the next day).

The timing of their delivery varies, but I’ve noticed that daily onboard newsletters seem to arrive before 5 PM.

I have yet to find a way to access onboard newsletters prior to boarding. The cruise lines simply do not release them in advance. Some online cruise forums will have pdfs of daily itineraries that previous passengers submit if you’re interested as to what they look like.

Alaska Cruise Tips: Excursions

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of an Alaska cruise are the unique, memorable, and often time once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions!

Here are a few Alaska cruise tips pertaining to shore excursions.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!
Backcountry canoeing in Alaska

22. Do things unique to Alaska.

Consider taking shore excursions that are extremely unique to Alaska, after all – you’re in Alaska!

Options include dog sledding, glacier landing helicopter tours, whale watching, and crab fishing.

Yes, these Alaska-unique shore excursions tend to be more expensive, but consider adding at least one special excursion to your itinerary if you think you’ll never be back to Alaska.

Shore excursion backpack

23. Have an ‘excursion backpack’.

Often times shore excursions leave early in the morning making it essential to pack and prepare for your excursion the night before.

I recommend having 1 backpack dedicated to shore excursions (that you never fully empty) that contains clothing layers, rain ponchos, your passports and wallet, a first aid kit, and any miscellaneous items.

This backpack should stay packed and ‘ready to go’.

Having a waterproof day bag or backpack is a bonus, but we didn’t find this necessary.

24. Don’t underestimate the weather.

Check the forecast for the day of your shore excursion and pack any necessary weather-related gear in your excursion backpack.

Excursions that involve fishing or are out on the ocean tend to get very chilly, so be sure to bring layers, a warm hat, mittens, and potentially rain gear.

These items are worth bringing along ‘just in case’, as the easiest way to ruin a shore excursion is to end up too cold – too wet – or both.

25. Know the cancellation policy.

The cancellation window for shore excursions is typically 3 to 30 days before embarkation day.

That doesn’t leave much room for flexibility or anything that may come up immediately before or while you’re on the ship.

Additionally, refunds are usually in the form of onboard credit instead of going back onto your credit card.

Generally, shore excursions that are canceled because of weather (which can happen on an Alaska cruise) will be fully refunded to your credit card with no fees or penalties.

26. Consider exploring the port on your own.

Often times Alaska cruise ship passengers forgo going on a guided shore excursion, and instead, disembark the ship in port and explore the towns on their own.

The Alaska cruise ports all have, either free or for a small fee, shuttles that take cruise passengers to and from the downtown port areas that are designed for tourists.

The important detail to find out, however, is how long the shuttle ride is so that you can leave yourself enough time to explore the town and get back to the ship on time for departure.

Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan, Alaska are all popular ports to explore on your own.

Alaska Cruise Tips: What to Pack

The topic of what to wear and what to pack for an Alaska Cruise is so big, that we’ve written an entire article on it!

Upon finishing this article, head to our guide on “What to Wear on An Alaska Cruise” that includes our entire Alaska packing list and photos of our daily outfits and gear.

45 Alaska cruis tips from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Our quick tips on what to pack for an Alaska cruise include:

27. Pack layers, layers, layers. Alaska temps can fluctuate 25-30 degrees in one day.

28. Bring travel-size binoculars. You’ll be glad that you did.

29. Bring lightweight rain boots. Your feet will stay warm and dry.

30. Don’t forget your swimsuit. Hot-tubbing is awesome on an Alaska cruise.

31. Check the carry-on alcohol policy. Bring what is allowed if applicable.

32. Bring sunscreen ‘just in case’. There are definitely sunny days in Alaska.

Family photo in Alaska

Alaska Cruise Tips: Miscellaneous

Last, but not least, here are some of our more basic Alaska cruise tips that you may or may not know.

All of these tips are incredibly helpful in making the most of your Alaska cruise experience.

Miscellaneous tips:

33. Learn basic nautical terms, as they will be used while sailing. Portside=left side of the ship when facing forward – Starboard=right side of the ship when facing forward.

34. Always fly into port the night before departure – to avoid missing the ship’s departure due to a canceled or delayed flight.

35. Always download your cruise line’s app before your cruise. You will use this app onboard.

36. Don’t forget cruise insurance. Alaska cruises are expensive; protect your investment.

37. Prepare for long daylight hours. This may affect your sleeping pattern.

38. Expect odd port times. Alaska cruises are on tight schedules and port times vary.

39. Know where the best observation areas are on the ship.

40. Keep all of your paperwork and reservation information in 1 place.

41. Use your cabin safe to store your documentation and valuables.

42. Go to the presentations offered by onboard naturalists and historians.

43. Go to a table service restaurant for breakfast – the buffet is crazy busy in the morning.

44. Most Alaska cruises are near capacity due to their popularity and limited sailing season. It is hard to find seating for a large group in the common areas of the ship.

45. There will be a time change onboard an Alaska cruise. Your ship will keep you updated.

Well, that covers it!

If you have any further questions about your Alaska cruise, please feel free to ask in the comments below

Happy travels!

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find our exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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