Essential Alaska Cruise Tips

Cruise Passengers visit a tidewater glacier in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park
Cruise Passengers visit a tidewater glacier in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park

Alaskans have a joke they love to share with visitors from “the lower 48.”

“We have four seasons just like other places,” they say. “We have winter. Then we have June, July, and August.”

June, July, and August are also the height of the Alaskan cruise season—the relatively brief window of opportunity each year when thousands of people head north to see this stunning wilderness wonderland first hand. Along the way, most of them also stop at a few of the fascinating port towns that dot the state’s southeastern panhandle.

While it’s definitely a cruise experience, sailing to and about Alaska is also a very different experience from sailing the Caribbean or Mediterranean. And, to help in your planning, here are a few Alaska cruise tips we consider essential to having a great time:

  1. Check out which ports your ship will visit. Most cruises will stop at a few of Alaska’s small, picturesque port towns for brief periods so travelers can soak in some of the state’s historic past as well as shop and see the sights. Of these towns, travel writer Howard Hillman recommends four: Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway. Here is why he’s partial to them as opposed to some of the other possible stops.
  2. If you get seasick, consider your sailing options. Some of the trips start in Vancouver and end in Seward, Alaska, and some start and end in Vancouver. The advantage to starting and ending in Vancouver is that generally the entire trip is inside very calm inland waterways.  If you are prone to seasickness, this is the best option.
  3. If your cruise ends in Seward, consider adding a train ride to your trip. You can take the train to Anchorage. The ride is gorgeous, and you can spend some time in Anchorage before your departure. Or, if you’re more ambitious, you can take the train further north to see Denali National Park.
  4. Arrive at your port of departure the day before you’re set to sail. This is sound advice for all kinds of cruises, of course, but for Alaskan cruises—most of which depart from either Vancouver or Seattle—this is especially important if you are on a foreign-registered ship departing from Vancouver. Because of a law written specifically to protect U.S. cruise lines, you won’t be able to join your cruise along the way.  So, if you’re leaving from either Seattle or especially from Vancouver on a foreign-registered ship, plan to arrive early. It certainly won’t be a hardship either. Both Seattle and Vancouver are vibrant, culturally rich cities with lots of interesting things to see and do. Here are a few places to check out while you’re in Seattle or Vancouver.
  5. Comparison shop for travel insurance. While cruise lines are happy to sell you travel (or cruise) insurance to protect you against cruise cancellations or other unforeseen events, you can almost always get much better savings and coverage values if you shop around. Here is an article about how one couple saved 70% on travel insurance.
  6. Consider travel insurance with medical evacuation coverage. Yes, since Alaska is in the U.S., your regular health care coverage is in effect if you are injured or become ill. But, most health care plans don’t cover you if you have an emergency and need to be evacuated. Emergency transportation is either excluded from many medical policies or subject to high deductibles. For that, you will need travel insurance that offers this coverage. For more information on this feature, check out the Travel Insurance Buyer’s Guide.
  7. Assure that each person you’re traveling with has a set of binoculars. From calving glaciers to soaring eagles, to foraging grizzlies, there’s so much to see from onboard your ship that people sharing one set of binoculars can very easily start fighting over it. Many kinds of inexpensive, good quality binoculars are available, and, while they may not ensure family harmony for your entire trip, they will greatly increase your chances of it!
  8. Dress for cold, often rainy weather. Even in the summer, Alaska is usually cool, and it often rains or drizzles too. Dressing in layers is often a good strategy. Also, when approaching a tidewater glacier for the first time, be prepared to experience a dramatic drop in the temperature. It sometimes feels like you’re entering a walk-in freezer!
  9. Bring a waterproof camera. With the frequent rain and drizzle that’s typical in Alaska, this is a common-sense precaution that assures that the pictures you take will be safe, sound, and dry.

Do you have a couple of Alaskan cruise tips you’d like to share with us? If so, just post a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

If you want to learn more about the travel or cruise insurance subjects mentioned here—even if you’ve already purchased travel or cruise insurance from someone else—feel free to call us at 1-877-219-8169 or email us at support@tripinsurance.com. We’re always happy to help people better understand their travel insurance options so they can get the most for their money and feel confident that the coverage they have is right for them.