Alaska Cruise

I Took An Alaska Cruise And These Were The 6 Mistakes First-Timers Were Making

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Are you planning an Alaska cruise this year?

Cruises to Alaska are extremely popular right now, and 2024 is expected to be a record-breaking cruising season according to Cruise Industry News.

Alaska is a unique and beautiful destination that is well-suited for exploration via cruise.

Alaska CruiseAlaska Cruise

This is because it’s difficult or impossible to travel between many destinations in Alaska except by boat or by air. It’s a huge state (larger than California, Texas, and Montana combined) so a cruise is a great way to visit multiple destinations in a limited amount of time.

I took my second Alaska cruise last May, and these are the common mistakes I saw many travelers make. Be sure to avoid these mistakes to make sure you have a great Alaska cruise experience!

Choosing The Wrong Cruise

Holland America ship cruising in AlaskaHolland America ship cruising in Alaska

One common mistake that many people make is not considering the itinerary, dates, or cruise line for their Alaska cruise.

The Alaska cruise season runs from late April through early October, but July and August are the warmest and sunniest months for visiting Alaska.

If you want to see lots of wildlife like whales and bears, the best time to go is June through August. If you want to go salmon fishing, that window of time is also your best bet.

When it comes to itinerary, you’ll need to decide if you want to cruise the Inside Passage (usually a week-long cruise starting and ending in the same port) or see more on a Gulf of Alaska cruise (which usually starts or ends in Anchorage.)

As for cruise lines, I went with Holland America, which I really enjoyed — it’s more of an adult crowd (although still family-friendly) and focuses a lot more on the culture, history, and nature of Alaska.

Holland America along with Princess Cruises are considered the two best cruise lines for Alaska cruises.

Packing Poorly

Female tourist in AlaskaFemale tourist in Alaska

Obviously, an Alaska cruise is nothing like a Caribbean cruise — you’re going to a destination that gets COLD, even during the summer months.

While summer is certainly the warmest time to visit Alaska, it can still be very chilly.

The key to a successful Alaska cruise is packing lots of layers. I often started the day wearing a base layer, a light jacket or sweater, and then my heavier winter coat. As it got warmer, I was able to shed a layer as needed.

One thing you should not forget? Lots of rain gear! I saw so many people who weren’t prepared for the frequent rain in Alaska.

Be sure to pack an umbrella, a rain poncho (this was a lifesaver!), moisture-wicking wool socks, and water-resistant boots or sneakers for your Alaska cruise.

You can also leave most of the formalwear at home. While your cruise might have one or two dressy nights for dinner, Alaska cruises tend to be a lot more casual overall.

Booking Same-Day Flights

Alaska Airlines PlaneAlaska Airlines Plane

A HUGE mistake that first-time cruisers make is booking a same-day flight for arrival day.

You might see that your cruise doesn’t officially depart until late afternoon and think that you can get away with arriving on a flight early in the morning and then heading straight to the cruise port. Wrong!

If your flight is delayed or canceled for any reason, you’ll miss your whole cruise. It’s not worth the risk. Arrive in your departure port city at least a day early.

For Alaska cruises, this will most likely be Seattle or Vancouver.

You can book your departure flight for the same day because you will most likely have to be off the ship early in the morning on departure day. But for arrival day, don’t even think about it!

Not Booking A Balcony Cabin

Woman on Alaska CruiseWoman on Alaska Cruise

The temptation to save money and book an interior cabin or an exterior cabin with only a window might be strong, but I highly recommend booking a balcony cabin for your Alaska cruise if you can.

I normally don’t mind just having a window-view cabin on cruises, but I was extremely glad to have a balcony on my Alaska cruise.

This is because a LOT of what you do is scenic sailing. It’s not like your typical cruise where the only view for miles on end is the ocean.

On an Alaska cruise, there will be many times when you’re cruising past jaw-dropping scenery, like in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Yes, you can watch this from the public upper decks of the cruise ship, but it gets really crowded since everyone has the same idea.

It’s so much nicer to have your own balcony where you can relax on lounge chairs and watch the scenery glide by in comfort and privacy.

Waiting To Book Shore Excursions

four humpback whales all coming out of the water in alaskafour humpback whales all coming out of the water in alaska

One big mistake that many Alaska cruisers (including myself) make is waiting too long to book shore excursions.

I booked my Alaska cruise pretty last minute (about one month in advance) and most of the shore excursions through my cruise line were already sold out.

While there are some cruise destinations where you can wait to book your shore excursions, Alaska is not one of them. There’s limited inventory and many of the most popular excursions sell out in advance.

This goes for excursions offered by your cruise line and third-party shore excursion operators. So don’t wait to book excursions!

Overlooking DIY Excursions

Mendenhall GlacierMendenhall Glacier

Okay, now that I’ve talked about the importance of pre-booking your shore excursions, let’s talk about another option — DIY excursions.

Many cruisers don’t realize that it’s possible to visit many places independently in Alaska, saving you a lot of money compared to booking through your cruise line.

For example, in Ketchikan, I knew I wanted to visit Totem Bight State Historical Park. A guided tour booked through my cruise line would have cost $60 per person, but to visit it independently, it was a simple 25-minute bus ride on the local bus for $2 per person and $5 per person for the entry fee.

Similarly, I paid $45 per person for the Glacier Express bus in Juneau to visit Mendenhall Glacier, which included a round-trip bus ride from the cruise port and the glacier entry fee — a big savings compared to the $80 excursion through my cruise line.

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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