Extreme weather is almost a given when you cruise to Alaska. The United States' most northerly state is mountainous, remote and an oasis of unspoilt nature. Some will think of little more than the cold weather and snow when you mention Alaska but in reality, the Last Frontier is teeming with life in every season - and even sees its fair share of sunshine! But you’ll need to make sure that you’re suitably packed for every eventuality, as Alaska’s weather is capable of changing in an instant. To really make the most of exploring this wild state, follow our guide on preparing for your cruise to Alaska:
Popular ports of call
During your cruise to Alaska, you’ll be able to take part in a number of activities while also being able to explore local towns and cities. One of the most popular stops in Anchorage. There aren’t many places available on any cruise holiday where you can start your morning admiring a resident bear before walking along a glacier and stopping by a remote city to enjoy a bit to eat. Jack from Visit Anchorage offered us advice on what to pack for Anchorage, “The key to comfort when travelling in Alaska is always the same - layers!
“A thin base, topped with a sweater or polar fleece and a light, waterproof coat will help you stay comfy and you can add or subtract layers as things warm-up or cool down. This is Anchorage, so you can find yourself on a sun-soaked deck and then at the face of a glacier the next! You might also want a pair of sunglasses. People tend to leave those at home, only to realise that the sun stays in the sky for up to 2022 hours a day in the summer, making things much brighter than anticipated.”
Other popular ports of call include Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway where the weather can differ slightly. Packing as Jack mentions means you’ll be prepared for every eventuality, though.
Weather in Alaska
The best advice for anyone preparing for an Alaskan cruise would be to pack for every possibility. It might rain, there could be snow, it may even be warm! And the chances are, you’re probably going to need sunglasses and suncream. In the UK, we’re more familiar with the four seasons; spring, summer, autumn and winter but in Alaska, there is winter, June, July and August. During these three months, you may experience a few warm, sunny days (though it can be comfortable from May to September).
That said, you should pack for every type of weather imaginable. Ensure that you have at least one warm, waterproof jacket as well as comfortable layers and waterproof trousers. During the ‘summer,’ temperatures can be as high as 18°C. It does all depend on the region and the time of year that you’re visiting, however. And with a cruise that allows you to explore so much of the state, it’s advisable to pack something for every condition.
Hiking in Alaska
With grand waterways and picturesque port towns, you can comfortably explore much of Alaska from your cruise ship. But there’s still lots to discover on land. Dense woodlands, snow-capped mountains, glaciers and the clearest blue lakes make up much of the Alaskan countryside and to reach them, simply lace up your hiking boots.
You’ll struggle to find anywhere on earth with air as clean and crisp as that found in Alaska. Walking through a wooded area or beautiful meadows unlocks a world that feels so far away from modern life. Perfect silence is only broken by the bird song or a running river, while each corner presents more and more photo-worthy vistas.
“If you’re planning to hike at any of the ports during your Alaskan cruise, don’t forget that South East Alaska gets lots of rain,” Janette from J’s Everyday Fashion told us. “Some things you may want to pack for hiking include a waterproof jacket and shoes (boots or sneakers), plastic bags for electronics, a backpack, a water bottle (bring your own and fill it up on the ship), pre-packaged snacks that bears can’t smell (like granola bars) and, of course, your camera!”
Wildlife in Alaska
Alaska is the perfect cruise destination for wildlife lovers. You don’t even need to disembark your ship to witness some of the area’s most impressive wildlife. On deck, you might be fortunate enough to see whales in the water or eagles flying overhead. On shore, you’ll find bears, moose and elk.
To really appreciate it all, you need to be sure that you pack the right kit. “For Alaska cruises, one essential part of your gear needs to be a good pair of binoculars,” explains James from Man Tripping. “This will allow you to see bears, whales and birds from the ship as well as on your excursions. However, while there’s a desire to go out and get the best pair for long-distance viewing possible, you need to take into consideration that even in calm waters of the Inside Passage, the ship will still bounce around. Because of this, high magnification optics may make it difficult to view objects on shore. You’ll also want to take into consideration portability and make sure that the pair you select is weather or waterproof and that they float.” With James’ advice, you won’t miss a single wildlife encounter!
How to pack for your cruise to Alaska
Alaska can be unpredictable and the weather can change in an instant. Although you might be safe and sound on your ship, you could also be hiking or visiting a town and need to be suitably prepared.
Much of your packing list depends on what you plan to do during your cruise. The best choice of footwear would be something that offers good support and has plenty of tread. You’re going to want trainers with good grip that are comfortable enough to wear throughout the day. More adventurous travellers will want to bring a pair of sturdy walking boots. You’ll be able to find many that are both waterproof and lightweight. Couple them with some sock warmers.
You can plan your daily outfit around the forecast but as we have said, the weather can change unexpectedly. If you plan an excursion, bring a backpack with you where you can stash an extra jumper or some waterproofs in case of rain. Start out with a comfortable layer like a t-shirt or even a thermal shirt, which should be lightweight. Cover this with something warm like a hoodie, sweatshirt or jumper that will trap your body heat. On top, you should be wearing waterproofs or an all-weather jacket. These will help to keep you warm and dry should the weather take a turn.
Alongside your layers and footwear, you might want to top up with some accessories. This could be a woolly hat to preserve body heat, thick socks or gloves. To echo Jack from Visit Anchorage’s point, don’t forget a pair of sunglasses. On your cruise, you could spend extended periods looking out across the water in search of whales or at the snow and ice of a glacier. Opt for glasses that are polarised so they can block out the glare and allow you to really savour the scenery.