Packing for an Alaska cruise is so different from packing for most other cruises, no matter which month you’ve chosen to cruise. Here’s what to pack for a cruise to Alaska any time of year.
Alaska is one of my very favorite places to cruise. I know that packing for an Alaska cruise can present some challenges—especially if your cruise is very early or very late in the season.
Many people think that Alaska is always cold, but the temperature and weather in the state can really vary.
Whether you’re wondering what to pack for your cruise in Alaska at the beginning of the season in April, the height of summer, or at the tail end of the season in late September, here’s everything you’ll need to be comfortable and prepared for your Alaskan adventure.
As a bonus, at the end of this post I’ll give you a printable packing list for your Alaska cruise, absolutely free!
Things to think about before packing for your cruise to Alaska
When you’re going on an Alaska cruise, there are a few things you’ll need to think about before you start packing your bags.
1. What kind of cruise are you taking?
Most first-time Alaska cruisers choose a traditional cruise line, like Holland America or Princess, both of which are well-known for their Alaska cruises.
But adventure-seekers and people who’ve already done a traditional Alaska cruise often go back and try an expedition cruise to get closer to nature on their vacation.
Taking an expedition cruise in Alaska is very different than sailing on a mainstream or luxury cruise line. Most expedition cruise lines will send you a list of recommended items, so check your email for their specific recommendations.
Alaska cruise pro tip: Read your expedition cruise literature carefully to avoid overpacking—they’ll often provide items for passengers to use, like waterproof boots, binoculars, or even parkas.
Expedition cruisers will want to pack more performance or active clothing—you’ll have an outdoor adventure to experience each day. Traditional cruisers can pack more basic outfits, depending on the types of shore excursions you’re planning.
2. What’s the weather forecast?
Checking the weather forecast before you pack is essential for any cruise, but especially when cruising to Alaska! In general, springtime is dry and cool, autumn is rainy and cool, but summer weather (when most people cruise in Alaska) can change from day to day.
So check the forecast and pack layers that work together to give yourself options. If you need to buy a few pieces once you’re in Alaska, the port cities all have plenty of downtown shops where you can pick up a warm jacket (or some shorts if it’s warmer than you expected).
But be prepared for sticker shock! Prices on just about everything in Alaska are significantly higher than in the lower 48 states or in Canada.
3. What kind of shore excursions do you have planned?
Your plans in port really dictate how you pack for your Alaska cruise. You’ll need different gear for hiking vs. shopping in the ports or taking a coach to do some easy sightseeing.
If you find you only have jeans, tennis shoes, and a sweatshirt to wear the morning of your day-long hiking trip in the rainy season, you’re going to have a miserable, soggy day.
But if your idea of the best shore excursion involves comfy coach tours, taking pictures of snow-capped peaks from afar, and enjoying some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have, casual layers are just fine.
Take a second look at your shore excursion itinerary before you start filling your suitcase, and pack to what you’ll actually do—not just what your pre-conceived notion of “what to wear in Alaska” looks like.
4. Are you doing a cruisetour or spending time in the area before or after your cruise?
Many Alaska cruisers choose to book a cruisetour through the cruise line, where you’ll have several days or a week on land in Alaska. Historically, this was only possible with one-way Alaska cruises that started in the US and ended in Canada (or vice-versa). But with the temporary lifting of PVSA restrictions due to COVID and Canadian laws, more cruisers now have the option to extend their Alaska cruise vacations.
Others choose to spend a week or ten days in Alaska before or after the cruise on their own. If you’ve already made this part of your plan, congrats! You’re going to have an amazing time. If not, consider adding at least a few land-based days to your vacation if you can.
But extra time might mean extra gear, especially if you’re saving your most active Alaskan adventures for your time on land. Which brings us to:
5. Can you do laundry during your cruise?
The ability to wash some of your clothes during your cruise doesn’t impact what items you pack—but it does impact how many of certain items you’ll need. For example, you might plan to wear a base layer and wool hiking socks every day, but it might not make sense to buy (and pack) seven full sets of hiking socks and base layers for your seven-day cruise!
Thankfully, some cruise ships do have self-service laundry rooms, and most at least offer wash-and-fold laundry service for a fee. Some small ships have no laundry facilities at all (except your bathroom sink, of course!)
If your goal is to pack light and not over-buy for your Alaska cruise, check with your cruise line to find out what options your ship has to wash those items you’d rather not pack too many multiples of. Or find out about laundry options in or near your hotel if you’re doing a cruisetour.
You might also like: How to Pack Light for a Cruise: 9 Essential Tips
What to pack for any Alaska cruise: the basics
Of course, there are many basics you should pack for any cruise—or any vacation for that matter.
I’m not going to waste your time telling you that you need to pack underwear, a toothbrush, or any of the absolute basics. I’m sure you know that already! (I do include all of those things in my free packing list PDF you can get at the end of this post, just so you can check those essentials off your list.)
For my Alaska cruise basics, I’m including just the items you might not realize you’ll need for an Alaska cruise at any time of year.
Let’s assume your Alaska cruise is a typical seven-day voyage. If you’re doing a longer trip you can always add on a few pieces, or just do a load of laundry or two.
You’ll want to be able to put together at least eight outfits (with layers) from the clothing pieces you pack. If you’re packing light, remember that you can re-wear some items. Aim for colors and patterns that coordinate so you can mix and match.
A backpack is a must for any cruise to Alaska. You’ll want your hands free for taking photos of all the amazing scenery and wildlife when you’re out on shore excursions!
Alaska is very casual, so don’t worry about packing cute purses to match your outfits—a sturdy backpack is much more practical as a day bag.
Plus you can use it as your personal item on the plane, as well as for your embarkation day carry on bag.
I always take my 30L backpack when I cruise in Alaska, and it’s the perfect size.
No matter what time of year you cruise to Alaska, you should bring a lightweight, waterproof rain jacket with a hood. I don’t think you need a bulky parka, even if you cruise in Alaska at the coldest time of the season!
A light but fully waterproof jacket can do double-duty as a windbreaker and as a top layer over a fleece and a base layer. Don’t pack more than you need.
Be sure to choose a size that lets you wear several layers underneath. When in doubt, size up.
Each member of my family owns our own version of this Eddie Bauer packable rain jacket and it’s perfect for any Alaska cruise.
Alaska cruise pro tip: Look for a lightweight rain jacket (with a hood!) that’s both waterproof and seam-sealed. Water-resistant isn’t the same as waterproof, and this detail can make or break your day if it rains.
When you’re out on the water it can get chilly on deck, even when it’s warm on land! You’ll thank yourself for packing a pair of lightweight gloves with touchscreen capability. You’ll avoid cold, chapped hands while taking pics or holding up your binoculars to spot a fluking whale off in the distance.
A pair of sturdy, rubber-soled walking shoes is a must, both for walking around the ship’s slippery outdoor decks and for shore excursions.
Take along a pair that’s already broken in, so you’ll know they’ll be comfortable for long days exploring in port.
Depending on the activities you’ve planned, you could pack tennis shoes, hiking boots, or slip-on walking shoes.
At least two pairs of jeans or other long pants
If you’re usually a tropical vacation kind of cruiser, you might not consider jeans to be cruisewear. But on an Alaska cruise, the versatility of jeans makes them one of the top staple items to pack.
Choosing darker denim means you can get more wears out of them before they need to be washed, and you can always wear them to dinner with a cute top or collared shirt.
One pair of hiking pants or all-weather pants
Although jeans are versatile, once they get wet they take a long time to dry. That’s why I like to also pack at least one pair of quick-dry hiking pants for any active Alaska cruise. You can skip these if you’re not planning to hike.
Yoga pants, thick leggings, or fleece pants
Pack a pair of warm, comfy pants as a cozier alternative to jeans for lounging around the ship. I like to pack a pair of cozy fleece bottoms in a dark color that can do double-duty as sleepwear.
Or pack a pair of your fave yoga pants or thick leggings.
A few performance tees—short or long-sleeve depending on the season—are great as layering pieces or on their own. I prefer the quick-dry type instead of 100% cotton for travel.
They wick moisture well when you work up a sweat, and you can easily wash them in the sink and let them drip-dry, no ironing needed.
4 or 5 Casual tops or shirts
You’ll want to pack several casual tops or shirts to wear around the ship and during your less-active shore excursions. Choose the appropriate sleeve length and fabric based on the time of year you’ll be cruising.
Sweater, cardigan, or wrap
For chilly evenings on deck (and in the air-conditioned dining room) it’s a great idea to pack at least one sweater, cardigan, or wrap.
I like to pick one in a color that coordinates with several outfits as well as with my formal attire.
A zip-up polar fleece jacket makes an excellent layering piece for your Alaska cruise. I usually pack two because I tend to wear one every day!
Swimsuit and cover up
Depending on the time of year, you might think it’s too cold to swim in your cruise ship’s pools—especially if they’re not covered. But pack a swimsuit and cover-up just in case! Even if the temps are chilly, a soak in the hot tub is the perfect way to relax after a day of adventuring.
You may also like: 20+ Cute Swim Coverups for Cruises & Beach Travel
More Alaska cruise essentials:
- lightweight binoculars
Alaska cruise pro tip: Many expedition cruise lines have a fun tradition—the Polar Plunge! Adventurous passengers can jump into the icy water together for a brisk swim. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit!
What to pack for an Alaska cruise in the summer
The summer months in Alaska (June through August) are often very comfortable—average temps in Juneau in the southeast generally range from about 63°F (17°C) during the day and about 50°F (10°C) at night.
But recent heatwaves have seen skyrocketing temperatures in many parts of Alaska. If your cruise weather forecast looks to be a hot one, then pack accordingly—but remember that nighttime temperatures out on the water can be significantly cooler.
Here’s what you’ll want to pack for an Alaska cruise in the summer:
During the summer in Alaska, the mosquitos can be vicious. People sometimes jokingly refer to them as Alaska’s state bird!
So it’s a smart idea to pack some insect repellent. You can choose a version with DEET, but I prefer using a formulation with Picaridin.
I first learned about Picaridin several years ago from our travel doctor. I was helping my daughter prepare for a month-long summertime study abroad/volunteer program in Belize, where she’d be spending lots of time in the jungle (aka prime mosquito territory).
Our travel doc recommended Sawyer insect repellent with Picaridin, and we’ve used it ever since. I love how it’s not super-stinky, comes in a non-aerosol pump bottle, and won’t damage plastics (like your synthetic activewear).
If it’s too warm for jeans, you might be tempted to throw on a pair of shorts. But those pesky mosquitoes love exposed skin! Instead, pack a few pairs of lightweight pants. You could pick a full-length pair, a cropped or capri style, or choose a convertible style you can roll up and button.
What to pack for an Alaska cruise in the rainy season
The rainy part of the cruise season in Alaska runs from August through September. Don’t be surprised if you get at least some rain every day!
You’ll need to pack more waterproof gear if you’re cruising during this time of year, in addition to the basics I mentioned earlier.
Here’s what to add to your list when cruising to Alaska in August or September:
Hands-down, the number-one most useful item that we packed for our Alaska cruise in the rainy season was our waterproof pants. They kept us dry and comfy no matter how hard it was raining!
Before my first Alaska cruise in the rainy season, someone had mentioned to me that they preferred wearing wellie boots on their shore excursions, with the addition of a supportive insole. I’m so glad I took their advice!
I wore my wellies for just about everything on that trip—long hikes out to glaciers, whale-spotting on zodiac boats, and shopping in town. My feet stayed warm, dry, and comfortable!
Even if you have a good waterproof raincoat with a hood, it’s a good idea to also pack a travel umbrella when you cruise to Alaska in the rainy season.
I like to pack a windproof version that’s compact enough to fit in one of my backpack’s side pockets. They don’t take up much room, and can save the day when you get caught in a downpour in port.
Although I already mentioned packing a pair of lightweight touchscreen gloves, when you cruise to Alaska in the rainy season, you’ll also want a pair of warmer, waterproof gloves.
Even at the end of the Alaska cruise season in September, the temperature won’t be super-cold. But your hands will get cold if your gloves can’t keep them dry! I like these fleecy lightweight gloves—they’re warm and waterproof, but not as bulky as heavy winter gloves.
Many performance backpacks designed for hiking already come with a waterproof backpack cover (it’s often tucked away in a zipper pocket).
But if your backpack doesn’t have one, adding an inexpensive rain cover to your Alaska cruise packing list will let you keep all your gear safe and dry during your outdoor adventures.
What to pack for an Alaska cruise in the colder months
The Alaska cruise season runs from early May to late September, so if you’re cruising at the very beginning or very end of the season, it can get chilly in Alaska—especially out on the water. Average temperatures in May and September in the Southeast are in the 40s-50s F (6-12°C).
Here are some essentials to pack for an Alaska cruise in colder weather.
Puffer jacket (or vest)
On chilly days you’ll love that you packed a puffer jacket or vest! Remember it’ll keep you warm as long as it stays dry, so layer it up under your waterproof jacket on wet days.
To save space in your luggage, consider using a vacuum compression bag to shrink that lofty puffer into a tiny package.
You won’t need a thick winter hat, even at the very beginning or end of Alaska’s cruise season. I always just pack a lightweight, breathable beanie that dries quickly.
I’ve found that not only does it keep my head warm and stop my hair from becoming a tangled mess, but it serves another important purpose, especially when it’s raining. If I don’t feel like using an umbrella, my beanie stops the rain from dripping off my hood and into my eyes.
I love this Smartwool merino beanie, and I recommend it (unless of course you have a wool allergy). It’s so soft and light, and not at all itchy.
A base layer is key to staying warm, especially on your shore excursions in Alaska. Choose a top and bottom made from synthetic material for the best moisture-wicking.
Merino or silk are good choices, too. Just stay away from cotton or cotton-blend long johns—cotton tends to hold moisture and doesn’t help keep you warm if you work up a sweat.
Be sure your base layer fits close to the skin. Baggy long underwear won’t keep you as warm!
If you plan to do any hiking or other active outdoor adventures, warm hiking socks that keep your feet dry are super-important.
For a seven-day Alaska cruise in colder weather, plan to pack at least three pairs of warm hiking socks. I like to wash mine in the sink and hang them on the clothesline in the shower. They’re usually dry and ready to wear again in a day or two.
I personally love SmartWool hiking socks, and I own several pairs in various weights. I love that there’s no bulky seam at the toe! I’ve also had good luck with Expelit socks, which are a good quality hiking sock at a lower price point. I sometimes find them at TJ Maxx for about $10 a pair (buy them if you see them!!)
In the cooler months, you’ll want something to keep your neck warm. You could pack a scarf, but a fleece gaiter is much less bulky (and won’t come undone when you’re hiking or on a whale watch).
I’ve been wearing these Turtle Fur neck gaiters since the early ’80s (my family still calls them “turtles”) for skiing, hiking, and any cold-weather activities. I love how you can pull it up to cover your face when it’s windy, and it fits easily in a pocket if you get too warm.
What to pack for formal night on an Alaska cruise
Many mainstream cruise lines have two formal nights during their seven-day Alaska cruises. Small-ship cruises, like UnCruise Adventures, won’t have any formal nights.
But unlike cruising in other parts of the world, people don’t dress up quite as fancy on formal nights in Alaska. You don’t need to pack your tux or evening gowns—think more “dressy-casual”.
You can absolutely wear a dress or suit, or even just a pair of nice pants or a skirt with a dressy top or collared shirt. Jackets and ties for men are optional on many cruise lines.
If you’re planning to dress up, make sure to pack a pair of shoes that coordinates with both of your formal night outfits.
Read more: What to Wear on Formal Night on a Cruise
Or you could skip formal nights altogether. Many Alaska cruisers instead choose to have dinner at the buffet or a quick-service venue on those evenings. You don’t need to dress up at all if you go that route, but the buffet tends to be extra-busy on formal nights!
Electronic essentials for your Alaska cruise
Camera and accessories
Even if you usually just use your phone to take vacation pics, you might want to make room in your carry on for a DSLR camera. If you do, I highly recommend also packing a telephoto lens.
Cruise ships don’t get close enough to wildlife to take good photos from on deck without a decent long-focus lens. Unless you want all the whales and dolphins to just look like tiny specks in your photos!
Amateur photographers will want to pack:
- DSLR camera
- Telephoto lens
- Lens hood (to block the sun’s glare)
- Battery charger
- Extra camera battery
- Extra SD cards
If you love documenting your cruise adventures, a GoPro is an excellent addition to your camera bag. It comes in handy on shore excursions when you’re out on the water kayaking or spotting whales from the side of a skiff.
They’re waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about damaging your regular camera or smartphone if there’s a chance of it getting wet. Best of all, GoPro cameras can take both video and still shots for your Alaska cruise.
Cruise ship staterooms are notorious for not having enough power outlets. This can pose a problem when everyone in the room has multiple electronic devices to charge each day!
Savvy cruisers always pack a power strip—just be sure to choose one without surge protection. Cruise ships’ electrical systems aren’t grounded, and surge-protected power strips could cause a fire.
Cruise pro tip: If you don’t want to pack a power strip (or you forget), most stateroom TVs have a USB port in the back that you can use to charge a device. Often you’ll need to keep the TV on to charge, but it works in a pinch!
Especially if you plan on using your phone to take lots of pictures, a portable charger or power bank is a necessity on an Alaska cruise.
US cruisers often forget that their phone plan works in Alaska’s port cities (and occasionally out on the water when you’re close to a cell tower). So you might burn through your phone’s battery much faster than you would in a foreign location where you typically stay in airplane mode.
More resources for your Alaska cruise
- Best Things to Do in Sitka Alaska on a Cruise
- UnCruise Alaska Review – Northern Passages and Glacier Bay
- What to Pack in Your Cruise Carry On Bag
- How to Have the Best Embarkation Day on a Cruise
Free packing list for your Alaska cruise
Ready to start packing for your Alaska cruise?
My free Alaska cruise packing list is complete with everything you’ll need for your cruise: what you should put in your carry on bag, essential personal care items, and of course everything I’ve detailed in this article.
There’s even room to customize your packing list with any other favorites you’d like to pack for your Alaska cruise.
Just pop your first name and email in the form below and I’ll send my printable PDF Alaska cruise packing list right over!
Are you planning a cruise to Alaska? Or have you already taken one? Which essentials do you pack for an Alaska cruise? Let me know in the comments below!
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