Updated: Sep 10
Cruising to Alaska is such a unique experience and very different than your typical tropical destination cruise. There is so much to consider when selecting the right Alaska cruise for your family. Here are my top 6 tips you need to know before planning an Alaska cruise.
#1 Which month to sail
Alaska cruises take place from April to October with the summer months being the most popular and warmest weather. High temperatures in the summer months range from the 60s to 70s. One of the most frequent questions I get is which month is the best month to take an Alaska cruise?
Off-peak sailing season
If you are traveling during the off-peak sailing season (April-May and September-October), you can save on costs but you may still experience snow on the ground. This could cause some challenges if you are hoping to do some hiking. Plus, it is more common during these months for boat and helicopter tours to be canceled and for Denali National Park to be closed due to inclement weather.
If you are looking to select one of these off-peak sailing months, May is typically the driest and September is the time when you are more likely to see the Northern Lights. It’s also important to note that September can be one of the choppiest months to sail in the Gulf of Alaska, so it’s not recommended for those who are prone to seasickness.
Peak sailing season
June, July and August are the most popular months for Alaska cruisers.
During this summer season, June is usually the least rainy; however, July and August are when you are likely to see more wildlife.
#2 Which cruise line to select
There are many factors to consider when determining which cruise line to select. The first decision you will need to make is the type of cruise you are looking to experience. Do you want a rugged-expedition cruise or a more luxurious cruise? The smaller ships have the ability to explore more regions and stop in ports that the larger cruise ships cannot. Oftentimes, the smaller ships will also feature a more upscale experience with a higher ratio of guests to crew members who can offer more personalized services.
If you are seeking to sail with a larger cruise line featuring a variety of amenities onboard, it’s a fabulous option and most of those itineraries offer spectacular viewing along Alaska’s inside passage.
The ports of call on these large cruise ships' itineraries don't vary too much, but the ambiance and entertainment onboard will vary by each cruise line. It’s important to recognize which activities you want to experience onboard, the average age of the guests and any unique opportunities that the cruise line offers during the sailing.
#3 Where to sail from
The majority of the Alaska ports begin in Vancouver, Seattle, Seward and Whittier.
Roundtrip itineraries are typically the most affordable, but the one-way cruises allow more time to visit the different ports in Alaska.
If you are prone to seasickness, an itinerary from Seattle would not be recommended since a portion of the sailing is through the Gulf of Alaska’s choppy waters.
#4 What stateroom category to select
Like most cruises, an inside stateroom with no window is usually the most affordable - followed by staterooms with porthole windows, oceanview rooms with balconies and then, of course luxury suites.
Splurging on an oceanview balcony room is highly recommended for any type of Alaska cruise.
Much of your time onboard will be spent admiring the spectacular views.
Having your own private balcony or having a convenient view from the warmth of your comfortable stateroom is more enjoyable than having to secure a spot on deck out in the rain with other guests.
#5 Which cruise itinerary to select
Deciding on the ports of call you want to visit depends on what locations you want to explore and the type of activities you want to experience. Here are some of the most popular ports of call on an Alaska cruise.
Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital of the world, Native Alaskan totems and a gateway port for scenic tours of the Tongass National Forest, Misty Fjords, and Totem Bight State Park, as well as fishing trips and crab-feasts.
Juneau, Alaska’s capital features kayaking, canoeing or hiking in nearby Mendenhall Glacier. There’s also Mount Roberts Tramway which takes riders 1,800 feet up for gorgeous views and hiking trails. Plus, there are lots of breweries and distilleries to discover nearby.
Skagway is famous for its gold rush history tours. Guests can take a train ride along the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to view the same scenic route that the gold-seekers took on foot.
Sitka is a unique cultural melting pot for both Alaska Native and Russian-descent populations. It’s also home to the Alaska Raptor Center, a not-for-profit facility dedicated to healing injured birds of prey like American eagles.
Cruise ships may also visit the majestic Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay or College Fjord.
If viewing wildlife is on your must-do list, then Tracy Arm is a great place to see wildlife such as seals and whales up close.
#6 Adding on a land tour
Since cruise ships can only provide access to the shores of Alaska, many cruisers take advantage of cruise lines' land base tours either before or after their cruise. These tours take you further into Alaska’s beautiful landscape with local tour guides and also include overnight stays at charming hotels.
One of the most popular activities on the Alaska land tours is the Wilderness Express Railcars, a luxurious, glass-domed train that takes you through the interior of Alaska. The most convenient way to explore the rest of this beautiful state is by selecting a cruise itinerary that begins or ends in an Alaska port so you can explore that region before and/or after your cruise.
If you are considering a Disney Cruise for your Alaska adventure, make sure you read about the Top 6 Reasons Why Families Sail with Disney Cruise Line.
Lissa Ryan is a Senior Travel Advisor with Kingdom Destinations specializing in luxurious family vacations. Lissa helps busy parents who want to create travel memories with their families through luxury travel experiences, but are too busy or overwhelmed with all the effort and research that is required to plan that perfect vacation.