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Our In-depth Guide on What to Expect on a Cruise to Alaska

Our In-depth Guide on What to Expect on a Cruise to Alaska

Alaska cruises are hugely popular, and it’s easy to see why. With rugged, untouched wilderness, majestic glaciers, and abundant wildlife, Alaska is a bucket-list destination for many travellers. But what can you expect on a cruise to Alaska? 

In this blog, we share everything you need to know before going on an Alaskan cruise, including how to choose the best Alaska cruise itinerary and cruise line, what to pack and what you cannot miss on an Alaskan cruise.

Is a cruise the best way to see Alaska?

Sailing around the coastline of Alaska is a breathtaking experience. However, choosing a cruise to explore Alaska offers many practical benefits too.

It’s an all-inclusive, hassle-free option for seeing this incredible region. In an environment that can be tricky to navigate independently, you’ll have no worries about transport, accommodation or meals and the logistics involved.

Instead, you can explore the area’s many captivating attractions in one trip and simply concentrate on making the most of it all. 

What is the best Alaska cruise itinerary?


One of the highlights of an Alaskan cruise is sailing through stunning waterways and past towering glaciers. Most cruises will include a visit to Glacier Bay National Park, where you can see massive glaciers calving into the ocean and hear the crackling sounds of ice breaking off the glaciers. Other popular scenic cruising destinations include Tracy Arm Fjord and the Inside Passage.

When deciding on the best Alaska cruise itinerary, there are a few things to think about: 

What is your cruise duration?

Alaskan cruises can vary in length, from a few days to several weeks. Consider how much time you have available for your trip and how much you want to see and do.

Where do Alaska cruises leave from?

alaska gold rush

Most Alaskan cruises depart from Vancouver, Seattle, or Anchorage. Consider the logistics of getting to the departure port and factor in any travel time or expenses.

If you are wondering if you can cruise from Southampton to Alaska, this is possible, but it will need to be a more extended cruise holiday. There are no direct routes between these two locations, but you could book a transatlantic cruise that passes through the Panama Canal and sails along the west coast of North America to reach Alaska.

Where do cruise ships dock in Alaska?

Alaskan cruises typically visit ports such as Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Sitka, as well as Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier. Consider which destinations are most important to you, and ensure they are included in your chosen itinerary.

When to do an Alaska cruise

Alaskan cruises typically operate from May to September. The best time of year to cruise to Alaska is usually between June and August. If you are worried about whether Alaska cruises are cold, this is the best time to go as it is warmer. Average temperatures are around 10-15 degrees Celsius, and the days are also longer. 

However, spring and early autumn are generally better for whale-watching, while September is the usually best time to see the northern lights. Therefore, you need to weigh up what’s most important for your cruise holiday.

What you cannot miss on an Alaskan cruise

Whether you’re seeking to discover a unique glacial landscape, get first-hand sights of incredible land and marine mammals or enjoy a dog sledding ride across the ice, Alaska has it all. 

When deciding what to do on a cruise to Alaska, here are four things to consider:

Can you see whales from cruise ships in Alaska?

Many cruise guests want to know if you can see whales from cruise ships in Alaska. Whale-watching is a highlight of an Alaska cruise, and the possibility of spotting these majestic marine mammals is very high, particularly in spring and summer. 

As cruise ships sail through the Inside Passage, cruise guests may be able to spot species, such as humpback, orca and grey whales, right from on deck. However, excursions will also be available where you can have the chance for an even closer encounter. 

Can you see northern lights on an Alaska cruise?

These colourful dances of light in the sky, known as the aurora borealis or northern lights, attract many visitors to Alaska. This region is regarded as one of the best locations in the world to see them. However, conditions do need to be just right in order to spot them. 

September is typically the best month to experience this natural phenomenon, when the nights are dark and lengthy. You’ll also have to stay up late, as they are most likely to appear in the small hours, between midnight and 4am. 

How to explore the native culture of Alaska

Alaska has a rich history and culture that dates back thousands of years. Many cruises include stopovers at ports where you can learn about Alaska’s native people, their traditions, and their art. 

Ketchikan is a fascinating stop for those looking to discover native Alaskan heritage, as three native tribes reside here. Sitka is also rich in native history, with its national park displaying totem poles and offering traditional craft demonstrations. Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the Gold Rush, make sure your cruise itinerary includes a stop in Skagway.

Can you go dog sledding in Alaska?

alaska husky sledding

Dog sledding is a popular activity in Alaska, and many cruises offer excursions where you can ride on a sled pulled by a team of huskies across the snowy landscape.

Choose a cruise with a stop in Juneau, where you can enjoy a helicopter ride up to the glacier and board a dog sled for a ride on the ice fields.

Which cruise line for Alaska is best?

There are a variety of cruise lines offering different cruise holidays to Alaska. The best one for you will depend on the type of experience you are looking for and what you wish to see.

Some of the top cruise lines that offer Alaska cruise holidays include:

Holland America Line

Holland America is highly experienced at offering Alaska cruises, having operated there for nearly eighty years. The line is known for its elegant ships, immersive shore excursions, and culinary experiences that feature locally sourced seafood and Alaska-inspired dishes.

Holland America also offers some spectacular Alaskan cruise and land tours that include visits to the Canadian Yukon. 

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises is also well-established in offering cruises to Alaska, sailing there for over 50 years.

As well as their expertise, it has the most wilderness lodges in Alaska and a ‘direct-to-wilderness’ rail service that ensures some of the most unique and wonderful experiences. 

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its more relaxed approach to cruise holidays.

If you are travelling as a family, Norwegian Cruises Line has an excellent range of fun onboard activities to entertain children and teenagers. It is also a great cruise line for cruise guests travelling solo. 


These three cruise lines are also part of just a few that have exclusive permission to sail around the stunning Glacier Bay.

Other top cruise lines offering Alaska cruises include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard.

What to pack on a cruise to Alaska

When packing for an Alaskan cruise, it’s important to remember that the weather can be unpredictable, and temperatures can vary greatly depending on the time of day and location.

Be sure to pack layers, including warm clothing like jackets and sweaters, as well as waterproof gear like raincoats and boots. You’ll also want to bring comfortable walking shoes, binoculars for wildlife viewing, and a camera to capture the stunning scenery.

alaska grizzly bear

Do I need a US visa for an Alaska cruise?

If you are travelling from the UK, you will not need a US visa for an Alaska cruise if the cruise is roundtrip from a US port and does not make any stops in Canada- or any other foreign country. 

In this case, UK citizens can enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows eligible travellers to visit the US for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. However, UK citizens must obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before travelling to the US under the VWP.

If you have any questions about Alaska cruises, or would like help booking one, please get in contact with our cruise specialists.

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