Helpful Tips For Planning An Alaska Cruise

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Planning An Alaska Cruise In The Summer

We thought we would share a few tips if you are planning an Alaska cruise.  Alaska is a very popular destination in the summer. Some people head to the national parks like Denali and explore the interior. Many people choose to head up the west coast on an Alaska cruise. We took a one week Alaska cruise.

Choose A Cruise Itinerary That Fits Your Needs

There are many things to consider when you are planning an Alaska cruise. The first thing we start with is the itinerary. Our initial plan was to fly to Juneau, Alaska and spend some time there – and then take a very small boat cruise for a week or more. We felt this might let us explore out of the way places. We ultimately decided that we would take a more traditional cruise with Oceania Cruises as a taste test. And if we really loved Alaska, consider a much longer trip that would include the interior.

We looked at cruise ship routes and ports. Most of the cruises went up the west coast into Alaska and then back. A very few of them actually went one way. Many were 7 days and others were more. The longer cruises will get you one or two additional ports.

The next thing we looked at was start and end points. We could start the Alaska cruise in British Columbia in Canada or Seattle in Washington State. Ultimately we decided to start and end in Seattle. We had to fly to the west coast from Toronto. It turned out that it was significantly cheaper to fly in and out of Seattle than Vancouver – with the same Canadian airline! Imagine that!

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We enjoyed a visit to Seattle at the start of the cruise. At the end, we did a short hop to Vancouver from Seattle to visit family for a few days. In retrospect, we probably should have booked an Alaska cruise that started in Seattle and ended in Vancouver. Or vice versa!

Leaving From Seattle - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Leaving From Seattle.jpg

Leaving From Vancouver - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Leaving From Vancouver.jpg

The final itinerary decision when planning an Alaska cruise is the ship size. I start with size because this often eliminates brands. Are you cruising as a couple or a family? You may want a big ship with lots of family activities. Or a much smaller ship? There is a lot of choice since all of the major cruise ship lines cruise to Alaska in the summer.

Plan Your Shore Excursions Well In Advance

The ports you visit may vary by cruise line or by length of cruise. If you start in Seattle, you may get a stop in the south of British Columbia in Canada. Victoria or Vancouver are popular cruise ship stops. You will get two or more ports in the Panhandle of Alaska. And you may get a stop in Prince Rupert at the far north end of British Columbia. On our 7 day cruise we stopped in Sitka and Ketchikan in Alaska and in Prince Rupert.

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When planning an Alaska cruise, think about the excursions you want to do on your port days. The cruise ship will offer a variety of different kinds of tours. You may do your research ahead of time and book your own tours. In every port we stopped, there were a large number of tours available right on the dock. If you made no plans in advance, you may be able to just decide when you arrive. Or you can just plan to wander on your own!

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We booked our tours on this trip with the cruise company. Because we booked the cruise a little late, when we looked for tours to book on our own, many had little availability. Make sure to plan your excursions early. When we arrived in Ketchikan, we were the 4th cruise ship in. It was no wonder that all of the tours were already gone!

Plan Your Shore Excursions - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Plan Your Shore Excursions - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Be Prepared For Your Shore Excursions

In July it was rainy in Alaska every day we were there. Consider the weather when planning an Alaska cruise. And be prepared for the weather when you pack! We took light weight hiking boots, waterproof coats and rain ponchos with us. Umbrellas were often useless on boats and in any kind of wind. We were amazed when we saw someone walking in the rainforest in Ketchikan in suede deck shoes with no socks!

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Pick the excursions that are right for your physical abilities. Many of the tours in Alaska went by boat. We explored the outer islands in Sitka in a small boat. A ladder was used to land you on the rock beach. Anyone with a physical limitation would have been challenged to get off that boat.

Be Prepared For Excursion Conditions - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Be Prepared For Excursion Conditions - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Float plane tours are very popular in Alaska. They let you get to further distances and sometimes get you closer to the things to see. Weather is an issue. Be prepared with a backup plan if the weather grounds your plane. Also be prepared that the planes have weight limits. This may result in your group being split up or in extra weight charges. Read the details when you book.

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We found Sitka to be a great town to just walk in. We had an afternoon tour booked and spent the morning just wandering in the town. Many of the things to do were a short walk from the downtown area and did not really need an organized tour.

Be Prepared For Excursion Walking - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Be Prepared For Excursion Walking - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Planning An Alaska Cruise To Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise

On any Alaska cruise there will likely be at least two days at sea as you cruise up and then back down the west coast. You may also have a day when you are just cruising along the Alaska shore. One of our most enjoyable days was cruising along the Tracy Arm Fjord to the Sawyer Glacier. The fjord was beautiful and the blue glacier stunning. We spent most of that day watching the wonders as we floated by.

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise.jpg

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

I found the Alaska cruise to be a bit more like a river cruise. Unlike many cruises, on this trip you are often not far from shore. Find a spot to enjoy the view.

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Our cruise ship had a large lounge on the upper deck at the front of the ship. Early in the morning, people would stake out their spot and settle in for the day. Many people bundled up and pointed their lounge chair out at the view. It was one of the times that taking a balcony really paid off. We could sit and watch the great scenery go by.

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise.jpg

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

Enjoy The Scenery As You Cruise - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

There is a lot of wildlife in the waters in the summer as you cruise to Alaska. But if you are not watching, you won’t see it. Many people who spent their days inside the ship wondered why they never saw the whales or dolphins many of us saw.

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When planning an Alaska cruise, come prepared to watch the wildlife. Many people had binoculars. We had a camera with a great zoom lens. We also got lucky to have a guest lecturer on board. He helped with wildlife spotting and provided great additional information.

Set Your Wildlife Expectations Properly

We have travelled and had amazing bucket list animal encounters!  But we can’t stress enough how important it is to set the right expectations for yourself when planning an Alaska cruise. Having unrealistic expectations will ensure that you do not appreciate all you will see on your cruise.

Like most people, we went to Alaska in the summer for the whales. We have gone whale watching from Vancouver and we saw whales from Monterey. On our Alaska cruise, we saw a lot of whales spouting on the horizon. But only twice did we ever see a whale really close. A few times we saw dolphin pods swimming with the ship. On one port excursion, we got lucky to see a couple of whales. But we did not get the awesome breeching whales of our dreams!

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We took two boat excursions. The tour descriptions for both tours suggested we would see lots of sea life during the boat trip. We saw one group of sea otters floating together and one sea lion in the marina.

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The one exception was our excursion in Prince Rupert when we saw grizzly bears and more. We were so excited when we saw a number of grizzly bears from our boat. The rain did not deter us from watching the bears for hours.

You May See Bears - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You May See Bears - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You May See Bears.jpg

We did manage to see a large number of eagles on our excursions. Seeing a lone eagle was interesting. But seeing a large group of eagles descend to our boat was magical.

You May See Eagles - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You May See Eagles - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

I know that our wildlife sightings and pictures might not temper your expectations about wildlife sightings. But I will note that we booked expensive excursions that were targeted at wildlife encounters. We did not see as much wildlife as we thought we would from reading the tour descriptions. And we know from other wildlife excursions that sometimes the wildlife just doesn’t come out.

You Are Not Going To The Frozen North

Most Alaska cruises go to the southern point of Alaska. In the summer, the snow is gone from most of this southern point. Much of the land is covered in rainforest. It reminded me very much of British Columbia. You will see lots of beautiful forests. Islands are covered with trees and kelp. And it probably will be wet!

You Will See Mostly Rainforest - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You Will See Mostly Rainforest - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You Will See Mostly Rainforest.jpg

You may see mountains off in the distance. These may be snow covered. If you do the cruise along the Tracy Arm Fjord, you will see icebergs and glaciers. But these will be surrounded by bare rock or green forests.

You Will See Little Snow - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You Will See Iceburgs - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You Will See Iceburgs - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You Will See Glaciers - Planning An Alaska Cruise.jpg

You may do an excursion that takes you to a glacier and you will get to go out on the ice. But if you want to see a winter wonderland, you need to go much further north or not visit in the summer.

Some Helpful Tips For Planning An Alaska Cruise

Planning an Alaska cruise for the summer is a lot of fun. The weather is less challenging for most people. There is lots to see and do. Make sure you are prepared and plan ahead. The weather may be rainy and you need to dress to be out in the weather. There is a lot of wildlife around but you may not always see it. You will see more trees than snowbanks!

If you are planning an Alaska cruise, we hope these tips will make it the most memorable trip ever! It was a great taste test for us. The next time we visit Alaska we will head further north. We will plan to spend more time exploring the wilder side of Alaska.

Do you have other tips for planning an Alaska cruise? Any other tips for visiting Alaska?

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About TravelAtWill 748 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. Great tips guys! An Alaska cruise is a dream of mine. Your pics are amazing and I would love to see all that beautiful countryside for real. As well as the wildlife, those eagles are stunning, great shooting!

    • Sarah, Thanks! An Alaska cruise had been on our wish list for a long time. We wish we had planned to spend some time in the interior. So I guess we just need to go back. If you ever book a cruise, consider a pre or post trip to see Denali! Linda

  2. Great tips! We did a Northbound cruise/tour in late August/early September. We were told we would not see whales as it was too late in the season. We would not see Denali because it would be covered by clouds. We would not see the northern lights as it was too early. I would say do not let people try to discourage you, as we saw all of these things and so much more. One never knows what wonders they will encounter, just enjoy those that reveal themselves along the way.

    • Faith, Thanks for reading. We were not sure what to expect when we went. But your point is absolutely right. Every trip is different. And sometimes you just need to embrace what the trip brings you and not spend all the time wishing for things that you expected. I can’t wait to go back and see Denali one day! Linda

  3. It always amazes me how many people think Alaska is this white state year around. It really isn’t. Other than a few mountains, there isn’t really any snow right now even in the Arctic. I agree to many people just shop and hang out inside and then wonder why they don’t see any wildlife.

    • Jennifer, We used a short cruise as a taste test – which just gave us a tease. It just confirmed that we want to see the interior of this beautiful state. We will be back! Linda

  4. Great tips and pictures. You saw more of Alaska than I have after living there for 6 years (in the 70’s) It’s an amazing State. Loved seeing that clutch of eagles. What a rare experience. If I go by cruise it’ll be a smaller ship.

    • Elaine, We were glad to have seen so much of Alaska on our cruise. But we still want to go back to see more. Would like a really small cruise ship out of Juneau next time. Linda

  5. This looks like an incredible trip!! My mom has always talked about this, and now I can see why. The wildlife excursions alone would be worth it. Thanks so much for the tips!! And I can’t believe that was so much cheaper from Seattle than it was from Vancouver using the same airline. Airline pricing will ever fail to mystify me.

    • Patricia, It was an incredible trip. We were lucky to see so much wildlife. It is not always guaranteed. I agree with you about airline pricing being a mystery. That is why it takes so long every time we do travel planning. Hope you get to visit Alaska. Linda

  6. I’ve always wanted to see the amazing scenery and wildlife of Alaska! The bald eagles, the grizzlies — I know you say manage your expectations, but I’d be happy getting that close to a whale! Unfortunately I don’t take cruises due to their horrifyingly bad impact on the environment, so I’ll have to find another way.

    • Carrie, There are lots of ways to see the outdoors in Alaska. Smaller boats can get you out if you fly or train into Alaska. I hope you do get to experience this. Linda

  7. I love how detailed this post is, although Alaska is on my list, I still wasn’t thinking of the cruise not until I read this. You’ve given an information which helps any kind of traveler from those wanting a really good adventure or to those just wanting some chill time. I love the photos, so insanely beautiful, the scenery is giving us readers the temptation to jump over to Alaska NOW and experience the same. (oh well, if only it’s so near from where I am at, I would do the same)

  8. Very helpful tips. I have plans for a 7 day cruise there only time can tell if it will ever materialize. Float plane tour too sounds interesting. You got great scenes from the cruise. And sighting of wildlife thrilled me. Need to save up more to experience all these.

    • Indrani, An Alaska cruise is on so many people’s travel wish list. We sure wish we had done a float plane tour. Maybe if we ever go back. Hope this makes your travel planning some day. Linda

    • Kirstie, Thanks for your comments on our photos. The pics are a mix of iPhone 7s and a Canon DSLR with a good zoom lens. We were excited to have so many great things to see. Linda

  9. The scenery here is just unbelievable. The wildlife, the landscapes….every bit is just so delightful. And then you mention excursions away from the cruise. That is like the cherry on a dessert. I am game for this and you have me well prepared with your tips.

  10. These are some really great tips! I’ve been thinking of taking an Alaskan cruise for a long time but wasn’t sure of Vancouver or Seattle was a better option to begin from. However, I think Vancouver is a place I have always wanted to visit so it makes sense to spend some time there before embarking on the cruise. Thank you for letting me know that there’s a possibility of buying shore excursions on the port, I am not a fan of taking the ones offered by the cruise ship!

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