Alaska ranks high on the travel wish list for many people because it’s such a wild and magical place. A cruise voyage is the best way to explore many of the most remote parts of the Last Frontier, because some of this destination’s best features are the natural elements and wild creatures that are associated with the miles and miles of marine regions.
But it’s a whole new game when it comes with prepping for and fully enjoying an Alaska cruise when compared with a sailing to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. So, with the start of the Alaska cruise season fast approaching and to help you make the most of your voyage, we’ve got a quick guide to help you along the way.
Small Ship vs. Big Ship
Consider a smaller expedition-style cruise if you really want to get up close to nature and see places that the big ships can’t reach. Expedition lines can send their vessels deeper into fjords and into serene bays so you can go paddleboarding, kayaking and even snorkeling, as well as take you on educational zodiac tours. You’ll get incredibly close to glaciers and cliffs, and you might enjoy hiking and bushwhacking outings on small islands.
Also, make sure to get a cabin with a balcony. You can go without a balcony in most destinations, but you don’t want to be without one in Alaska. You’ll love being able to walk out to spot whales, dolphins, bobbing ice bergs, soaring eagles and many other natural wonders. The scenery is the highlight of the cruise, and you want to have every possible chance to enjoy it.
Your camera will be your best friend on an Alaska cruise, so you want to have at least a halfway decent piece of equipment and know how to use it a bit. Take a few photography classes or do some research on YouTube for photography basics so you can be ready to take some epic wildlife and landscape photos.
Plus, offload your pictures every night onto your laptop or an external hard drive. This way, you have your shots backed up in case something happens to your camera or your memory card gets damaged. Bring extra batteries and SD memory cards for your cameras, as well. You also might want a tripod to stabilize for any time-lapse or long-distance shots you will try.
Make sure to bring extra layers to account for the volatility in the weather in Alaska. You need layers to add or subtract as the sun comes up or retreats behind clouds. You also will warm up if you go ashore to hike or bike. You’ll need rain gear and good boots for hiking in wet conditions. Other necessary items: insect repellent, sun screen binoculars and a small day backpack to carry your stuff around during your time ashore.
Pick Your Season
The Alaska cruise season runs roughly from May to September, and you will experience varying conditions and see different things depending on when you choose to take a voyage on the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska.
May has cool temps and longer days (15 hours of daylight), meaning the weather can be rainy but typically is fairly pleasant and great for whale watching and spotting animals that are awakening from their winter slumbers. You could witness a lot of bear activity — such as feeding along the banks of rivers or in streams.
Temps warm a bit in June, and July is the hottest month (averages in the 60s). By August and September, days begin to grow shorter, colder and rainier again. The end of June and early July are wonderful times to visit Ketchikan if you are interested in watching the salmon run through town – or even tossing in a line to catch a few yourself.
The region where you cruise is vast and offers a lot to do, but the best Alaska shore excursions sell out quickly. So, it’s wise to do your research and planning and book early so you don’t miss out on something you really want to try.
Check what your cruise ship is offering on these sailings that go to Juneau, Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan, Haines and Icy Strait Point. You can also look into booking a shore excursion independently. You might get a more intimate experience among a smaller group and pay a lower price, but you need to make sure your guides get you back to the ship on time before it departs the port.
Some of the best things to experience in Alaska include whale watching boat tours, fresh-caught salmon bakes, cultural interactions with the Tlingit native people of Alaska, wilderness hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, canoe paddling on Mendenhall Lake in Juneau, bear-sighting walks, glacier treks with ice climbing, helicopter “flight-seeing”, dogsledding and city tours.
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