Imagine: it’s your first morning aboard the ship, and you wake up early to step out on your balcony. Your breath rises in a light mist and you wrap your hands around your coffee cup to keep them warm. The water stretches out before you, and in the distance you can see mountains rising toward the sky. You’re finally on an Alaska cruise – and you’re excited for the day ahead, knowing you have everything you need for whatever adventures you have. You’ve followed this handy Alaska cruise packing list and will be comfortable and safe whether you’re dogsledding on a glacier, hiking in a rainforest, or doing a food tour in one of Alaska’s cities.
I’ve had this exact experience, on my first Alaska cruise in 2017. I spent a week cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage with Uncruise and absolutely loved it. I’m even planning a second Alaska cruise this September to try and spot the aurora and whales on a cruise. The reason I love visiting Alaska so much is that I grew up there – and worked for several summers for one of the major cruise companies. I have the combination of a local’s hometown pride and a visitor’s desire to see it all (again).
That’s why I love writing about Alaska travel and am always trying to create new helpful resources for people planning trips to The Last Frontier. I get asked a lot about what to pack for an Alaska cruise, which is why I’ve finally put together my own Alaska cruise packing list. Here you’ll find Alaska cruise tips, packing advice, and the essentials you need to pack for an Alaska cruise.
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
Alaska Cruise Tips
Before I jump into my list of what to pack on a cruise to Alaska, I want to give a few quick pointers that both guide my list and should help you choose what else you want to pack for your Alaska cruise.
- Layer layer layer up! This is my top advice no matter what you’re planning to do in Alaska – whether that’s an Alaska cruise or an Alaska land tour. Packing good layering clothes will help you control how comfortable you are, no matter the weather.
- Pack for the season of your cruise. I’ve cruised in Alaska in the spring, and I’m planning a cruise in the fall. Alaskan weather during each month/season is dramatically different – and you should pack accordingly. This Alaska cruise packing list is a three-season one.
- Plan for the weather to change throughout the day. I cruised in Alaska with my friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle (here are her thoughts on why spring is a great time to do an Alaska cruise) and she gave me this advice. Not only should you plan and pack for the forecast during your cruise – you should pack and dress for the variety of weather you might encounter each day.
Okay, now let’s dive into my packing list for a cruise to Alaska!
Alaska Cruise Packing List
Do you see this picture on the left? Do you see what I’m wearing? It’s a poncho. That goes to show that I’ve definitely made my own mistakes in what to pack for an Alaska cruise or other Alaskan adventures. The picture on the right shows me much better prepared.
Based on my experience, I’ve pulled together this list of Alaska cruise packing essentials – these are some things you’ve undoubtedly planned to pack, but might also include some you wouldn’t think to. Like my other packing lists including those for visiting Alaska and visiting Alaska in the winter, I’m giving you only the essentials. You already know to pack clothes, toiletries, and other stuff like that – here instead is my local’s advice on the essentials of what to pack for an Alaska cruise.
1. Your Camera
If you don’t pack anything else for your Alaska cruise, you need to be sure to include a great camera. You want to capture all the amazing views, awe-inspiring wildlife encounters, and other unforgettable experiences – and this is a great option.
The Sony A6000 is a good mid-range option that is more than capable of capturing every memory you want to remember from your Alaska cruise.
2. A Warm Hat
Alaska has broadly good weather during the summer, but a hat is small and easy to pack – and you won’t regret bringing one when you’re standing on a glacier or out on a cold morning whale watching from the decks of the ship.
This hat is cozy and funny with a big bauble – but it also does the job.
While the weather changes every five minutes in Alaska, there is one predominant theme to Alaskan summer weather: the midnight sun!
You probably won’t see the sun at midnight on your Alaska cruise (you’ll be too far south) but you will notice that the sun is up many hours each day and sunglasses will help cut down on squinting while you enjoy the Alaskan scenery.
4. An Eye Mask
Since the sun is up for so many hours each day during Alaska’s summer months, most people forget that they not only need sunglasses for daytime light reduction but also an eye mask for nighttime light reduction.
I recommend the Renew Eye Mask from Encircled. It will help you get a great night’s sleep with no light to keep you awake.
5. A Lightweight Down Jacket
For the next few items on this list, I’m suggesting you bring a lot of jackets – that’s because layering is the best way to stay warm on chilly Alaska mornings and evenings.
For your base jacket layer, I recommend the UNIQLO Ultra Light down jacket. It’s one of my favorite jackets at home and on the road, and will do a fab job keeping you warm.
6. A Layering, Wind-Cutting Jacket
Alaska isn’t a necessarily windy place, but you’ll probably encounter some especially when your cruise ship is on the move. Or you might encounter cold winds coming off the face of glaciers on various excursions. On all those days, you’ll want a lightweight but high-performance jacket that will cut down on the wind.
To that end, a powerful layering jacket like the Apex Bionic 2 form The North Face is a perfect solution. It also layers well with the other jackets on this list; like I say, layering is my mantra when creating this list of what to pack for a cruise to Alaska!
7. A Rain Trench
I’m going to burst your bubble, but summer is a different beast in Alaska. Rain is incredibly common especially along the cruise routes in Southeast Alaska – and you’re going to want a raincoat that goes way beyond the basics. (Definitely don’t be like me and end up in a poncho!)
I love this rain trench from Ex Officio (even though it’s only available from Amazon now) because it covers your hips and bum to keep you more dry and for longer.
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here
8. Good Walking Shoes with Traction
On my last summer working in Alaska, I was a broke-a** college student but splurged on a pair of Soloman trail running shoes and put some serious mileage on them hiking and walking around that year.
These trail running shoes are perfect because they offer real support and traction – whether you’re stepping onto a dog sled or dingy.
Mr. V’s Pick for Men: Here
9. A Day Pack
A day pack is an easy one to forget! After all, most travelers bring a purse or small personal bag while traveling to start your Alaska; most of those bags won’t really work for a day of adventures on one of your cruise excursions.
I love this Cotopaxi Luzon 18L daypack – and have two of them that I use on pretty much every trip. It packs down small and lightweight when empty, but has more than enough volume to handle all the gear you need for a day off the boat.
10. A Reusable Water Bottle
It’s increasingly important to understand that travel has a huge environmental footprint – and cruises are among the least environmentally-friendly ways to travel. To help mitigate that, cut down on single use plastics and water used for dish washing by bringing your own water bottle.
You can use a reusable water bottle like this one while on the ship and out on excursions to stay hydrated during all your Alaskan adventures.
Other Alaska Cruise Packing Tips
Before you grab your bag and head out the door, here are some final tips on what to pack for a cruise to Alaska:
- Your Alaska cruise packing list should vary based on the season you’re cruising. The weather in Alaska varies a lot between spring, summer, and autumn – the three seasons you can do an Alaska cruise. Be sure to check the forecast before your trip so you pack enough layers, and adjust what you need to stay comfortable and dry.
- If you’re struggling to choose excursions in each port, check out my Alaska’s Best Cruise Excursions eBook – it won’t take any space in your bag! It’s 100 pages and ranked-order lists of the best excursions in all the major Alaska cruise ports and terminals. Grab your copy for $9.99.
- Bring an extra guidebook if you need one. Lonely Planet is my favorite guidebook company (disclaimer: I write for them, so I also know they really use locals and experts for their guidebooks!), and they have a whole guidebook for Cruise Ports Alaska – it’s also available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. If you’ve never used a guidebook before, check out my helpful post on how to use guidebooks!
Have any other questions about what to pack for an Alaska cruise? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!
My eBook, Alaska’s Best Cruise Excursions, will help you wade through all the excursions in each port to make the best choice for each stop on your Alaska cruise itinerary.
Get your copy for just $9.99!