If you’ve been on a cruise before, you may think you have mastered packing. We thought so! But packing for an Alaskan cruise is entirely different than packing for a Caribbean cruise. From toiletries to clothing and everything in between, we’ll help you understand what you need to pack to help eliminate pre-cruise stress. Even seasoned cruisers might find a few additional items that you may never have thought to bring.
You might not need everything on the list, and you might even add some more items that we didn’t include. Our packing list will help you figure out the essential items you need to bring and help reduce the extra luggage fees if you are traveling by air.
Don’t forget to download our Ultimate Alaska Cruise Packing List at the end of this article.
Alaska Cruise Packing List
Before figuring out what to pack, you need to know what you will be doing on your incredible Alaskan adventure. What shore excursions are you planning to do? Will you be spending time in your departure port before the cruise? And, which month will you be sailing?
Answering these questions will help you understand what you will need throughout your cruise.
Alaska Cruise Basics
Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations globally, but it is also a seasonal destination. The Alaskan cruise season generally runs from late April to September. There are variations in temperature, precipitation, and wildlife during the cruise season.
The Alaska weather, prices, and wildlife are all factors you should consider when determining the best time of year to take an Alaskan cruise. If you are looking for average temperatures, lower rainfall, long daylight hours, and the highest possibility to see wildlife, the “best” time of year to take an Alaskan cruise is in July. Keep in mind that July is also the busiest time of year for the Alaskan cruise season, and you will have to contend with larger crowds and higher cruise prices.
With the fluctuations in weather throughout the Alaskan cruising season, the time of year will dictate some of your packing lists. The excursions you choose and the number of days you spend in your departure and arrival ports should also factor into your packing.
The most important tip is to pack layers of clothing and rain gear. Both are essential for an enjoyable Alaskan cruise.
Packing the Right Clothing for an Alaska Cruise
When you are packing for Alaska, remember LAYERS!! Since the weather in Alaska can fluctuate throughout the day, it is essential that your clothing has many layers that can be added for warmth or easily removed when the temperature rises.
Alaska is also one of the rainiest and windiest cruise destinations, so you will want to pack a lightweight wind and rain jacket. In addition, you might book an Alaskan shore excursion that is adventurous or action-oriented. For this reason, you will need to pack specific activewear to match the tours you book, such as kayaking through the fjords, hiking through the mountains, and ziplining through the forest.
Short and Long-Sleeved Shirts
For shirts, you will want to pack a combination of short sleeve and long sleeve, and perhaps a thermal or moisture-wicking shirt for your shore excursions.
You’ll want to bring a couple of t-shirts to wear as a base layer under sweaters, to the gym, or at your departure port – assuming it’s Seattle or Vancouver.
If it is a chilly or rainy day, you might be better off wearing a long sleeve shirt under your sweater or jacket, especially as you travel further north and the weather gets colder. In May or September, those traveling at the beginning or end of the cruise season will want to pack a few extra long-sleeved shirts rather than short sleeves, as the weather will be a bit cooler.
For rainy or chilly days my shirt of choice is this mock turtleneck top. The mock turtleneck is great for protecting my neck without needing to pack a scarf.
Lightweight Jackets and Sweaters
The temperature on an Alaskan cruise can vary between a warm 70 to a cold 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why we recommend bringing a lightweight insulated jacket. The light jacket will keep you warm on the cold days of your trip but won’t be so warm that you are sweating during the warm days. If you can find a lightweight jacket that is also waterproof, it is an absolute must-have for your packing list.
And, you definitely won’t want to leave home without bringing a couple of warm sweaters. Even in July and August, when the weather is warmer, you will still find that the nights can get very chilly. A sweater or fleece jacket is great to keep comfy while sipping a warm beverage from your coffee mug while on the lookout for wildlife.
Waterproof Rain Jacket or Windbreaker
The weather in Alaska can change very rapidly. One moment it is sunny and the next it is raining, then sunny once more. You don’t want to get caught unprepared during a rain shower, so make sure you pack a waterproof jacket or windbreaker and take it with you on shore excursions – even if the skies are clear.
Many waterproof jackets and windbreakers can be rolled up and stored in your purse or bag, which is great for days where you are in port.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a scarf. It may seem like an unnecessary addition to your packing list when you are packing your suitcase, but it will come in handy on those cool, windy days.
You probably won’t need a heavy wool scarf, but a lightweight one like this is perfect for keeping your neck and chest warm on windy days.
Hats and Gloves
A warm hat and gloves are by far the most packable items you must include on your Alaska cruise packing list. Warm beanies and caps will keep your head and ears warm on cold days if the temperature dips below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you don’t have one you want to bring, do what I do, and purchase one on the ship. This way, you can keep your head warm and get a souvenir at the same time. Best of all, you don’t need to worry about your hat being waterproof. Your jacket will have a waterproof hood that you can pop on when it rains.
As for gloves, I recommend buying a pair of touch gloves that will let you use your phone and take photos, without exposing your hands to the cold.
Socks and Tights
Don’t overlook your sock selection. Spending the day in port or enjoying the view from the deck of the ship can quickly become a nightmare if your feet get cold. For days on the ship, we recommend a pair of wool socks to keep your feet warm when you are enjoying the view and looking for whales. If you’ve never worn wool socks before, you might expect them to be itchy – they’re not! I was totally surprised just how comfortable they are.
If you plan on taking outdoor excursions, moisture-wicking socks are well worth the purchase. They’ll help keep your feet dry while you explore the Last Frontier.
Waterproof Shoes and Boots
A pair of waterproof footwear is an absolute must when you get off of the ship. If you are planning an adventurous excursion, pack a pair of hiking boots with a thick tread to take with you as you hike through the wilderness or participate in another outdoor adventure.
Even if you are just spending the day shopping in the port, you will still want to wear comfortable walking shoes that are also waterproof. As we’ve mentioned, it rains a lot in Alaska, and the ports don’t all have paved walkways. Do yourself a favor and bring a pair of waterproof shoes or rubber boots so your feet stay warm and dry.
And don’t forget about the formal night! Pack a pair of elegant shoes that work with your outfit.
This is one that is often overlooked. Since you will be spending a lot of time outdoors, either on deck or in one of the incredible ports, you will want to pack at least one pair of water-resistant pants in your suitcase.
If you are traveling during July or August you might want to bring a pair of convertible pants that easily convert into shorts. You’ll be thankful you did when the chilly mornings become a toasty afternoon. Temperature fluctuations are very common.
Although you can usually visit the outdoor pools on your Alaska cruise ship, that’s not why we recommend bringing your swimwear. Many cruises have indoor pools which are kept warm even on the coldest Alaska days. But more importantly, there’s nothing like a trip to the hot tub after a long day exploring Alaska.
Even if you don’t think you will use it, we recommend bringing a bathing suit, just in case.
Depending on the length of your cruise, and the cruise line you sail with, some nights, you may need to adhere to a dress code. On most nights, the dress code for the main dining rooms will be casual or business casual. Some cruises will have one or more optional formal nights where guests have the opportunity to dress up and enjoy a formal dining atmosphere.
If you want to participate in the formal nights, don’t forget to pack your formal wear.
Non-Clothing Essentials to Add to Your Packing List
Now that you know what to pack from your closet, it’s time to talk about the other items you don’t want to leave off your Alaska cruise packing list.
In addition to cell phone chargers, battery packs, and a reusable water bottle, some items it pays to bring are a good quality camera, binoculars, and insect repellant. The items on this list will help you fully experience Alaska’s incredible scenery and wildlife.
Small Folding Umbrella
If your cruise itinerary has a stop in Seattle or Vancouver, there is a good chance you will be passing through the inside passage. The inside passage is a network of passages that weave through the islands along the Pacific Northwest coast of the North American Fjordland.
What many people don’t know is that the Inside Passage and Southeast Alaska is home to the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, which is part of the largest temperate rain forest in the world. While the temperature in this part of Alaska stays fairly moderate throughout the year, rainfall days are in excess of 230 days per year. In addition, Whittier and Ketchican, two popular cruise ports in Alaska, are two of the rainiest cities in the United States.
It goes without saying that a small rain umbrella can be your best friend.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to pick up a decent pair of binoculars. A small pair that can easily fit into a corner of your suitcase will really enhance your chances of seeing wildlife.
A regular backpack is too bulky to carry around all day. A light day pack such as this is perfect for keeping your valuables safe and dry while you adventure in Alaska.
Today’s smartphones are good enough for most travelers. But, if you really want to capture the gorgeous landscapes and incredible wildlife you will want to bring a good quality camera on your trip to Alaska. Although not a guarantee, you might be able to see humpback whales, seals, otters, bears, and bald eagles from the deck of the ship. If you want to capture the moment you’ll be thankful you brought a camera.
If you are bringing along a good-quality camera, don’t overlook the lens. If you can afford it, it pays to invest in a variety of lenses to capture all kinds of moments. From close-up images of wildlife to wide shots of Alaska’s coastlines, it pays to bring many different lenses.
If you can’t afford multiple lenses or don’t want to lug them around all day, an alternative is to pack an 18mm-300mm lens that can be used throughout the duration of your cruise. If that is too cumbersome, you can find a lens with a lower range such as an 18mm-55mm lens or a 100mm-300mm lens.
Sunglasses are an important item for every vacation. If you’re doing any active excursions it’s a good idea to attach a sunglass strap so you don’t lose them.
If you are very serious about capturing the perfect shot, a tripod can help you capture crisp images of wildlife and landscapes.
With all our talk of rain and cold weather, you might not think you will need sunscreen on your Alaskan cruise. But keep in mind that you’ll be participating in many outdoor activities, or standing on the deck or in port for extended periods of time. Even if you are covered up, sunscreen helps protect your face and neck while you’re taking in all that Alaska has to offer.
It doesn’t mean you are safe from mosquito bites because it is cold. The Alaskan outdoors is quite wet, and although I’ve gone on many Alaskan cruises without getting bit, I’ve also met plenty of passengers who weren’t so lucky.
Cell Phone Chargers
One of the most critical and often forgotten items is your cell phone charger. Here is your friendly reminder to include it on your Alaska cruise packing list.
Speaking of chargers, it is always a great idea to have a portable charger on hand. You might not think you will be using your cell phone much when you are in port, but all those photos and videos will quickly drain your battery life. A portable charger is a great item to keep on hand so you don’t miss that once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
Cruise cabins on a cruise ship get very dark at night, especially if you’ve booked an interior cabin. And turning on the bathroom light in the middle of the night is sure to jolt you awake and make it hard to fall back asleep. A small nightlight takes up little space in your suitcase, and it’s an absolute must on my packing list.
When you adventure on a shore excursion, hydration is vital. Bring along a reusable water bottle so you won’t get dehydrated while hiking, zip-lining, or exploring.
Tip: Bring a cheap water bottle just in case it gets lost