I went to Alaska on the Disney Wonder in late August 2015. I had a blast, and cannot wait to get back to our 49th state, Alaska! I’ll be going to Alaska on the Norwegian Bliss in September, and I’m so excited to sail on the Bliss again, and to see Glacier Bay for my first time! Going to Alaska was definitely a “Bucket List” vacation for me, and I believe cruising is the best way to experience the wonders of Alaska both from land & sea. You’ll be able to spend blissful days sailing through fjords and have incredible views of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers & icebergs surrounding you. Here are a few tips that I learned during my first Alaskan cruise, and hopefully they will help make your Alaskan cruise everything you dream it will be!
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #1: BOOK EARLY
One of my top tips for cruising is to book early. This is especially true for Alaska. This isn’t the time to look for a last minute cruise fare if Alaska is a dream vacation. That’s because things like the best shore excursions, accommodations (stateroom location & views are important!), & dining times (unless you are sailing Norwegian Cruise Line, which offers Freestyle Dining) tend to fill up fast and far in advance. In particular, veranda/balcony staterooms tend to book up first on Alaska cruises and you don’t want to miss out on the chance of staying in a cabin with a balcony in an ideal location on the ship.
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #2: BOOK A STATEROOM WITH A VERANDA OR BALCONY (or upgrade to a suite)
And, that brings us to Tip #2…book a stateroom with a balcony, if your budget allows. Sailing an inside stateroom or one with an ocean view is better than not sailing to Alaska, but if possible, book that balcony! Veranda staterooms are desirable on Alaska cruises due to their accessibility to the great outdoors and all of those incredible views of America’s Last Frontier. The more time you can spend outside on an Alaska cruise the better — you’ll have more chances to see wildlife and all of the incredible scenery that passes by while cruising. Sitting on your balcony and enjoying the setting sun while you marvel at Alaska’s scenic Inside Passage with towering mountains is truly a once-in-a-lifetime activity.
In addition, you can just roll out of bed and onto your balcony while cruising Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm Fjord or to the Hubbard Glacier (depending on your itinerary). And, bonus, no matter which side of the ship you’re on, you’ll get a full view since once you’re at the destination, the captain will turn the ship in a full rotation so both sides can get a photo-worthy view of the icy glacier!
This is the only picture of a whale that I was able to capture during my Alaska Cruise on the Disney Wonder. I had an ocean-view room, and by the time I got up to the deck, I didn’t see any other whales. I spoke to other cruisers on the ship, and they told me of all of the whales & orca they had seen while on their balcony.
As for what side of the ship to book your cabin, it really depends what you’re most interested in seeing. Most people think the side closest to the shoreline of the mainland is ideal since, for example, if you’re cruising north on a one-way Alaska sailing, and are on the starboard side, you’ll be facing east for the entire journey up and can see the shoreline. However, the port side on such an itinerary also has its advantages as it has gorgeous coastal views going through the Inside Passage and you’ll also have a perfect spot to sit to watch the sun setting in the west. If you’re doing a roundtrip cruise out of Alaska, the side really doesn’t matter too much since you’ll be facing one way on the way up and the other on the way down — so check the itinerary to see what side you would prefer depending on the number of days you’re heading north versus south.
If it’s in your budget, a suite or a concierge stateroom is an amazing way to cruise to Alaska. Suites on most ships have a veranda, some of which are quite large and even have a hot tub. In addition, you’ll have extra space inside since many of the suite categories have a bedroom that is its own separate room from the living space.
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #3: ATTEND THE PORT OF CALL INFORMATION SEMINARS
There is so much to see, do, and learn about in Alaska. A lot of cruise lines sail Alaska with a naturalist on board. Throughout the cruise these naturalists often conduct informational seminars in the onboard theater, during which you can go and learn about the nature and wildlife of Alaska. Don’t miss these, as they offer up details that you would never think about. It makes your cruise that much more special.
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #4: PACK LAYERS & BINOCULARS
Alaska cruise tips when it comes to packing are pretty straightforward: pack layers and make sure some of those layers are warm and waterproof.
Wool-base layers, down vests, and waterproof jackets that easily fold up are all ideal for staying warmer, but the Alaska sun can heat things up in the afternoon so having a t-shirt on underneath and a well-fitting day bag to stow extra layers in will help you to have a comfortable and fun day in port.
For scenic cruising or for days in port when you’re hiking or going on an animal watching excursion, it’s wise to have a pair of binoculars packed with you. Plan on keeping them with you most of the time whether on the ship or on land because you never know when you’ll see a whale or bald eagle and want a closer look!
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #5: WAKE UP EARLY
Get yourself to be an early bird on an Alaska cruise and you might see more of Alaska’s beautiful birds! (And bears…and whales…and so much more.) The earlier you wake up, the more time you’ll have to explore.
Some ports of call get in quite early and you’ll be able to get off the ship shortly after arriving. In addition, if you opt for an early shore excursion you still may have time to explore the town after your excursion before you have to head back to the ship.
Even if you’re up early and you’re not in port yet, you’ll get to walk around the ship and head to the observation lounge or sky deck when it’s peaceful and quiet so you can soak in the sounds and sights of nature without many other people milling about. However, on certain mornings on Alaska cruises, those areas of the ship are going to be crowded at the first light of day; on scenic cruising days, such as when you’re sailing through Glacier Bay, or the Tracy Arm Fjord, the ship will enter bright and early, so prime spots in public viewing areas get nabbed early – like before 6am early. So set that alarm clock! (Or get that aforementioned veranda stateroom so you don’t have to worry about getting a front row seat.)
Hard to see, unless you know what you are looking for in the above picture…look closely, and see salmon swimming in a stream near the Mendenhall Glacier.
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #6: TIME YOUR ITINERARY FOR EARLY OR LATE IN THE SEASON (IF AT ALL POSSIBLE)
The Alaska cruise season runs from late April to September, with high season typically June through August. However, the best time to go is rather subjective.
June, July and August are the warmest months (with highs ranging from the 60s to 70s in most of the state), but July and August, especially, can be rainy. The further into the summer you are, the better your chances of seeing wildlife on the various expeditions; these months are also the best bets if you want to have a variety of fish to reel in on a shore excursion.
May and September offer cheaper cruise fares and fewer crowds; May is one of the driest sailing season months in the Inside Passage region, but you may find snow on the ground — great for scenic photos, less ideal for hiking.
September offers the best possibility for cruisers to catch the Northern Lights, as well as great end-of-season shopping deals for souvenir-hunters. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, moose, goats, caribou and muskoxen mate in early autumn, often in open areas, and antlered male moose and caribou might be seen sparring. Bears can be seen near berry patches and streams with salmon. Gray, bowhead and beluga whales migrate along the west coast.
ALASKA CRUISE TIP #6 & #7:
Don’t forget your external battery pack.
Pack a very good, compact camera.
You’ll want both of these, as you will take many more pictures than you think you will. I posted a lot of pictures onto social media, and a few times, my phone was almost out of power after (or during!) some of the excursions that I took. I used my phone’s camera and my camera to take pictures. On excursions, you may be walking through uneven terrain, or wet grass (or mud); you will want a camera that’s easy to carry.
Put These Alaska Cruise Tips to Use
Now that you’re ready to book your vacation and start putting these Alaska cruise tips into action, give me a call or shoot me an email and let’s browse all of the exciting Alaska sailings and cruisetour itineraries you can do, and we can book the one that’s the best fit for you. If you would like to sail this year, I’ve got a FANTASTIC deal for the itinerary I’m sailing this September 2019 on the Norwegian Bliss….message me for more details! (I’ve got extra free amenities for you on this particular sailing!) firstname.lastname@example.org