What to pack when cruising to Alaska

Sure to be the adventure of a lifetime, your Alaska cruise will be even more enjoyable and smooth sailing if you know how and what to pack when cruising to Alaska. Unlike cruises to more traditional and warm destinations, an Alaska cruise means less time at the beach and more time exploring glaciers and wildlife. Packing accordingly will ensure that you will be warm, cozy, and comfortable every step of the way. This article will give you pointers about what to bring and how to pack in order to make the most of your Alaska cruise adventure.

A first factor to consider is what season you are cruising in and what the weather will be like. The Alaska cruise season runs from April through September. July and August are the warmest months, and the weather becomes rainier later in the summer. The shoulder months of April and September are notably cooler, but whenever you go, the weather can be unpredictable so it is a good idea to be prepared for anything.

In general, summer temperatures range from 55 to 70 degrees; evenings can be cold and windy, while sunny days can make it feel much hotter than it actually is. If you are going on a cruise later in the season, you will want to be well stocked with wet-weather gear. At any time during cruise season, temperatures can fluctuate from the 40s to the 70s, so be sure to pack a variety of clothing.

How much to bring?

How much to pack depends on the length of the cruise, how many excursions you will take, and the types of activities you have planned. If you are planning on a lot of outdoor excursions like hiking, kayaking, dog sledding, or biking, you should be sure to bring suitable clothing and footwear. Unlike other vacations, it might be hard to buy things you need once you’re there, so be sure to plan ahead and take everything you need for the entire trip.

In order to save space, try to bring items that have multiple functions. For example, a black cardigan can be worn with jeans on a cool evening or over a formal dress for a classier event or fine dining. Zip off pants that change into shorts and ballet slippers that can be worn casually or for more formal occasions are also great items to pack. Do find out in advance what the cruise provides. If shampoo, conditioner, body wash, sunscreen, and/or a bathrobe are provided, you might not need to bring your own.

What should I pack for Alaska cruise?

Before you decide what to pack, you will need to decide what to pack it in. If you have a large lightweight suitcase, that is definitely the way to go. It will allow you to fit everything you need without going over the weight limit. Be sure that you have some extra space for souvenirs. If you don’t already have a suitcase, consider getting one that isn’t black so it will be easy to find.

In addition to your suitcase, a lightweight carry-on bag and/or a lightweight tote or backpack are handy for carrying items such as medications, electronics, chargers, and extra clothing in case your luggage gets delayed or misplaced. These are also good to have for excursions and prove to be convenient for the last night of cruises on which suitcases are collected for passengers and brought to the airport.

Look for carry-on bags that have a strap to attach them to your large suitcase and with compartments to keep you organized. Day packs should be collapsible, well-made, durable, thin, and weatherproof. A backpack or tote that folds into a small pouch won’t take up much room in your luggage, but holds a lot when it is unfolded.

What outerwear to pack for Alaska cruises

As mentioned earlier, the weather in Alaska is unpredictable, so you will need to pack a wide variety of clothing. Proper outerwear is essential for an Alaska cruise as it can get cold even in the summer months. A lightweight, warm coat that folds into a pouch is a great option because it won’t take up much space but will keep you warm when you need it.

A disposable poncho, a light slicker, or a plastic poncho that comes in a little pouch won’t take up too much space and is great to have along for those rainy days. Waterproof shoes or boots are also useful for rainy days. Be sure that they are warm, comfortable, and versatile so they can be used for a variety of occasions.

Warm smart phone compatible gloves that are easy to wear and store and a warm winter cap for cool nights and glacier chilled winds will help to keep you from getting too cold. A lightweight scarf that doesn’t take up a lot of room can help to keep your neck warm and also makes a good accessory.

If you are cruising during the rainy season and plan to spend significant amounts of time outside, consider bringing rain boots, waterproof pants, a rain jacket, and an umbrella. A baseball cap is great to have along because it will protect you from both the rain and the sun.

What clothing to pack

The best way to approach your attire for Alaska is to dress in layers. Start with a warm and comfortable base layer such as long underwear, and bring along an assortment of sweaters, tunics, cardigans, lightweight short sleeve shirts, and fleece. Top it all off with an all-weather jacket or waterproof shell. If you dress in layers, you can pull them off easily as needed.

For footwear, be sure to bring close-toed, comfortable walking shoes with good support or lightweight hiking boots. If you don’t have room for rain boots, you can waterproof your shoes before you leave. Bring a second pair of shoes in case your shoes get wet.

If you like to work out, bring your workout clothes. Many cruise ships have workout facilities with classes, treadmills, machines, and spas. For summertime cruises, you will want to have shorts and short sleeve shirts for hot and sunny days. Whatever the season, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit. Many cruise ships have swimming pools and hot tubs so you will be glad to have it along.

Vests, long sleeve shirts, wool socks, wicking socks to help keep your feet warm and toast and pull moisture from your feet are great to have if you are planning on hiking or climbing excursions or dog sledding adventures.

Cruises are casual affairs for the most part, so you should be fine if you bring a mostly casual wardrobe of jeans, lounge clothes, pants or slacks, a few flannel or button down shirts, tennis shoes, and slip on shoes. If you plan to attend formal dinner nights, you will need to bring along something a bit more dressy. Women might want to pack a wrinkle free little black dress and a small purse and jewelry while men might bring along a tie and jacket.

Other clothing items to put on your list are the basics like pajamas and underwear, of course. If you run out of clothes or want to pack more lightly, many cruise ships have laundry facilities so you should be able to wash and reuse your clothing if needed.

Electronic devices

Alaska cruises are full of activities to keep you busy, so hopefully you won’t be spending too much time with electronic devices. However, it is useful to have them along to keep in touch, to record memories of your trip, and to read electronic books during downtime.

Electronic devices to put on your packing list include your smart phone and phone charger for keeping in touch, taking photos, or listening to music, a kindle or an eReader, and headphones. Other electronics to consider bringing along are your tablet and/or laptop and a high quality camera that is separate from your phone to get the very best photos of Alaska’s beautiful scenery.

If you bring a camera, you might also bring a small tripod or mono-pod. These screw onto your camera and serve as a firm base so you won’t end up with blurry photos. A selfie stick will help you take selfies of you and your friends or family.

To keep your electronics charged, don’t forget to pack all of your chargers, a portable power pack, a cord organizer, and an extra multi outlet adapter with USB ports to plug in phones, battery chargers, hair appliances, etc. Most cruise ships don’t allow surge protectors so leave those behind.

For whale watching, train excursions, and to see glaciers and wildlife up close, a good pair of binoculars is highly recommended. Choose binoculars that are water and shockproof, have high magnification, and good clarity. With Alaska’s wide ranging wildlife and extraordinary scenery, you will want to have them with you at all times so you don’t miss anything.

A few other electronic items you might want to bring include a portable alarm clock to help you wake up because your internal clock might be thrown off by the long days, a nightlight to help you find your way around the cabin at night, a headlamp and/or flashlight for excursions, and a small fan to provide ventilation, keep you cool, and drown out noise to help you sleep and relax. Earplugs are also helpful for this purpose.

Other things to pack

In addition to clothing and electronics, there are several other essential and recommended items to include on your packing list. Your ID papers should be brought along any time you travel. On an Alaska cruise, you will need a passport if you are crossing the U.S. – Canadian border. If you are planning to fish, you will also want to apply for and obtain a fishing license in advance of your trip.

Dry bags can easily fit in your luggage and come in handy to keep your things dry while on the water. You can get special dry bags for your phone and camera. Ziploc bags are also useful for keeping things dry and organized, and for storing soiled clothing.

For protecting yourself from the sun glaring off of the water and ice, be sure to bring a pair of polarized sunglasses, a brimmed sun hat, and sunscreen. To keep hydrated on warm, sunny days, bring a travel water bottle. It is easy to become dehydrated on excursions, and you might not always be able to find water bottles for sale. Using a reusable water bottle is also a great way to help protect the environment and travel sustainably. Insect repellent is a must, especially in June and July, the height of mosquito season.

Although the cruise ship will probably have a supply of some first aid items, bandages, pain medications, and seasickness medicine, it is wise to bring your own just in case. Be sure to take seasickness medicine at the first sign of symptoms to keep them at bay. And be sure to bring a full supply of any prescription medications you might need.

Most cruise ship cabins are small, so keeping organized can save you time and space. For this purpose, consider bringing packing cubes, a hanging organizer, and magnetic clips and hooks that can be used to hang things from the metal walls and doors of your cabin.

Final thoughts

Deciding how much and what to pack when cruising to Alaska can seem overwhelming at first, but if you plan ahead and do your research, it should not be too difficult. When in doubt, remember that bringing a few extra things is okay, even if you don’t end up using them. As long as your suitcase is large enough and doesn’t exceed the weight limit, you won’t regret bringing a bit more than you need. On the other hand, if you find yourself without enough warm clothing, outerwear, footwear, rain gear, or other essential items, you might regret not paying more attention to packing for your cruise. Whatever you end up packing, your Alaska cruise will be an incredible and unforgettable experience.