Why You Should Take An Alaska Summer Vacation Cruise

Switch Up Your Summer Vacation With Cruises to Alaska

By Cynthia J. Drake | Published on August 16, 2023

Summer vacation is an ideal time for a stress-free getaway, and if you're like many travelers you probably picture long days on a beach, such as the white-sand stretches in the Caribbean. Lazy days under a palm tree with a frosty drink by your side are one thing, and teh Caribbean is an ideal cruise destination all year round. An Alaska cruise vacation is a different story, summer cruises there focusing on amazing wildlife, glaciers and lush landscapes.

Looking to try something different for your next vacation? The best time for an Alaskan cruise is late April through September, when temperatures are milder and there's tons of opportunities for mind-blowing shore excursions, such as kayaking with seals and maybe even whales and hiking in national parks, all with a comfortable cruise ship to come "home" to after each active day.

I'll guide you through what awaits you on your Alaska summer vacation, with a look at the most popular cruise port destinations and outdoor experiences you can experience in the Last Frontier.

Why You Should Consider Alaska Summer Cruises

When you picture summer vacations, you may imagine yourself lounging on a white-sand beach. I recommend shaking things up by heading north instead for your summer getaway. The U.S.'s 49th state is frequently considered one of the most prized destinations for American travelers, though it's also one of the hardest to get to. Some destinations in Alaska, such as Juneau, can only be reached by air or sea. Cruising is a comfortable way to get to Alaska, and it can also be quite economical.

When are the best times to cruise to Alaska? Alaska's cruise season generally runs from May through September — June and July are the best months to cruise Alaska. Summer is a special time in Alaska, and each month offers something different when it comes to things to do and wildlife to see.

For example, May is typically a great month for spotting gray whales, humpback whales, orcas and bears. June and July typically offer the mildest weather. The rainy season arrives in August, though you can typically find discounted cruises in August and September. My family and I cruised to Alaska one year in early September; the weather was mild and pleasant with only a few light daily rain showers. From the whale-watching excursions to witnessing the salmon spawning in Juneau, we had an amazing time enjoying the great outdoors. In my opinion, there really is no bad time to take a cruise to Alaska.

Routes will vary, but a very common Alaska cruise itinerary is on Alaska's Inside Passage and includes Seattle or Vancouver, routing up to the Ketchikan, Alaska, cruise port and the Juneau cruise port.

If you've never cruised to Alaska before, this trip is truly a spectacular experience. Not only are you treated to breathtaking views of glaciers, rugged mountain terrain, and wildlife everywhere you look, the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage remain quite calm and steady, ensuring that your journey will be a smooth one. As you arrive in Alaska, it's not uncommon to spot whales right off the cruise ship, as well as bears, eagles and other wildlife. Cruise ship staff are on hand to help point out different sightings off the main viewing decks as you sail.

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What To Do On Your Alaska Cruise

Alaska cruises tend to be "bucket list" voyages where people dream of sightseeing trips to see whales, go sea kayaking, helicopter over towering glaciers and hike through the rainforest. All of that is possible in Alaska — so make sure you make the most of your time in this beautiful place by reserving those must-do shore excursions ahead of time. If there is any cruise where you'll want to splurge on shore excursions, it's an Alaska cruise.

Depending on your itinerary, here's a sample of some adventures you'll want to consider. If you cruise into the Juneau, Alaska, cruise port, explore Mendenhall Glacier on a rainforest adventure. You'll be able to get up close and personal with this awe-inspiring blue and white glacier formation. On a guided tour, you'll learn all about the local ecosystem and how the glacier was formed. If high-flying adventure is more your speed, take a helicopter ride right over the glacier for a unique vantage point.

Juneau is a great port to schedule a whale-watching excursion, too. Though it's hard to predict with certainty that you'll spot whales, it's rare not to see one on one of these small-boat excursions. Many operators even offer refunds if you don't spot a whale on your trip, and they often include samples of local cuisine, coffee, hot chocolate and treats.
Sitka is home to a salmon hatchery at the Sitka Sound Science Center, as well as National Historical Park, home to wild bears, salmon and beautiful totem poles situated among the towering pines. Both of these sites are within an easy walk from the cruise ship pier and would be a nice relaxing day off from excursions.
The port city of Skagway offers historic vibes throughout its quaint downtown. This area is famous for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and 1898, which you can learn about at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (kids can earn junior badges here). Elsewhere in Skagway, you can take an excursion with sled dogs. Since summer is the off-season for these dogs that train for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which travels from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, you can check out the dogs in training, and you can also spend some time giving them some loving pets. While at the musher's camp, you might even have the opportunity to cuddle newborn pups — a favorite family-friendly activity.
If your cruise ship calls on Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska, you'll be visiting a local village that was formerly the sight of a historic salmon cannery. This developing port includes beautiful hiking trails that come alive in the summer, a gondola that transports tourists up a mountainside, and a ropes course. Gift shops are stocked with Alaskan-made handicrafts, artwork, and unique souvenirs.

On our recent stop in Ketchikan, Alaska, in the summer, we spent the early morning and afternoon sea kayaking with a small group. We paddled by walruses loudly breaching with their whiskers visible in the afternoon sun and saw numerous colorful sea stars. In the afternoon, we took in the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, cheering on the lumberjacks as they participated in axe throwing and log rolling competitions, watched salmon do flips out of the rushing water right in the middle of town, and shopped for local souvenirs.

Though each Alaskan port town is unique in its own way, we found the locals to be endearingly friendly and excited to show off their hometown. The air is crisp and fresh, making for invigorating walks while you're in port, and the local restaurant menus are filled with delicious preparations of fresh-caught seafood (you absolutely must try the Alaska king crab!). An Alaska summer vacation is good for the soul.

Summer is a special time in Alaska, and each month offers something different when it comes to things to do and wildlife to see.

What To Pack For Your Cruise To Alaska

You might wonder what to pack for your summer cruise to Alaska, and the answer is all about layers. Though the weather is quite comfortable in the summer, it can get quite chilly at night and many Alaska excursions are water-based, where the wind can drop the temperature drastically. When packing for cool weather, you'll want to start with long or thermal underwear. Then, layer tights or leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, and light wool socks, with a layer of regular clothing on top of that.

It's a good idea to pack a few jackets or coats needing an additional jacket or coat. Rain gear, such as a rain jacket, poncho, and umbrella, are all recommended items to pack in your day bag. You'll never know when the showers will hit, even if the day appears to be sunny as you're heading out. More so than other cruises, we found binoculars to be an invaluable item to pack for our Alaska trip. Not only will you want these while heading out for whale watching, but they are also quite useful to have onboard while you're sailing through glaciers. Be on the lookout for bears and eagles while you're cruising through Alaska's Inside Passage.

To make your next summer getaway more unique, cruise to Alaska. You can experience laid-back vibes, incredible scenery, fascinating history and family-friendly fun, making for an unforgettable summer vacation.

Written By

Cynthia J. Drake is an award-winning freelance writer in Austin, Texas, whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Wine Enthusiast, House Beautiful, Southern Living, Cruise Critic, AAA, Texas Monthly, and others. She specializes in writing about food, cruise travel, family travel, and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

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