How to plan an Alaska Cruise

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You might be thinking about your next vacation and wondering how to plan an Alaska Cruise. Alaska is such a bucket list destination and the perfect vacation for a family, multigenerational trip, couples, and adventurous honeymooners. But there are so many factors to consider when planning an Alaska cruise, so keep reading for some preliminary information to help you get started planning your Alaskan adventure.

Harmony Skillman, Cruise Travel Agent in Glacier Bay Alaska on the HAL Koningsdam

How to Plan an Alaska Cruise

You should always trust your cruise vacation planning to a professional travel agent like myself. I don’t charge any fees, and I know all the cruise lines and all of the Alaska itineraries. This is a big trip, with alot of moving parts, often more expensive than your typical yearly vacation. For many guests, an Alaska Cruise is a one and done type trip – so no need to go it alone!

But to get started, your first step when planning your Alaska cruise is to figure out your travel dates, and how many nights do you want to travel for. You will also have to decide if you want to do an Alaska cruise only vacation or a cruise and land vacation.

Harmony Skillman, Cruise Travel Agent in Juneau Alaska

For a cruise, if you do not have a US passport, you will be limited to sailing out of Seattle, which offers round-trip seven night itineraries to and from Alaska.

If you do have a valid passport, you can sell out of Vancouver Canada, which will allow you to do one way itineraries and as well as round-trip Alaska cruises.

Lastly, you do need to consider your budget when planning an Alaska cruise. You have to budget for the cruise, airfare to the port, pre or post cruise hotel nights, and the excursions which, as you can imagine are quite expensive in Alaska.

Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas - cruise to Alaska
“This image is an artistic rendering of Ovation of the Seas. Features vary by ship.”

When to book your Alaska Cruise

It is always best to book your Alaska cruise at least 12 months in advance. Usually in the spring, the itineraries for the following summer are released.

You might not be able to add flights or hotel nights that far in advance, but you want to secure your cruise well in advance. That way you can look in the best space and rates and get a jump start on planning excursions.

Of course, the last few summers, I have had lucky guests snag last minute cabins on Alaska Cruises – so its never too late!

Harmony Skillman, Cruise Travel Agent in Juneau Alaska

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What Cruise Lines Sail to Alaska

All of the major cruise lines sale to Alaska. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Princess are the main ones. Disney Cruise Line also sails to Alaska, on the Disney Wonder, which is perfect if you are cruising with little kids.

You can also find Alaska cruise sailings on luxury cruise lines like Regent, Seaborn, and Cunard.


Deadliest Catch Excursion in Ketchikan Alaska

When is the Best Time to Sail to Alaska

I always say the best time to do whatever is when you have the time to travel, but if your travel dates are flexible, here are some considerations regarding when is the best time to sail to Alaska.

Harmony Skillman, Cruise Travel Agent in Skagway Alaska

Alaska Cruises start up for the season in early May, and wind down in late September, maybe into early October. July and August are the peak travel times (since that is also when families are taking summer vacations), so you will see the highest prices, most crowds and for these months, best to book your Alaska Cruise well in advance.

In summer, the weather will be warmest, and you will have many hours of daylight.

Early in the season, May and into June will still have cold temps (I sailed May 18th and Alaska temps were solidly in the 30’s) but you will get to see those iconic snow capped mountains. I could not imagine heading to Alaska without seeing snow!

As you move into fall, the foliage is amazing, and some will argue the best time of year to go.

Crowds in May and September will be lower, less families, and you can snag some better pricing on your Alaska cruise.


The Best Alaska Cruise Itineraries

You might be wondering what is the best route to take on an Alaska cruise? There are a few options. Alaska cruises are offered as a round-trip or one way sailing. The round-trip itineraries leave and return to either Seattle or Vancouver. And they visit ports in the South Eastern part of Alaska.

If you sell out of Seattle, you will also have a port stop in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada to ensure a stop in a foreign port.

Sample Alaska Cruise Itinerary

The other Alaska Cruise option is to look at a one-way sailing. Those sail either northbound or southbound. These are ideal for guests who have a longer amount of time to travel and want to add a land extension at the beginning or end of their cruise.

Ideally, you should do the Alaska land portion first and take a southbound cruise. That way you will do the more rigorous part of the trip before getting on your ship and having a more relaxing experience. But whatever itinerary work best for your travel dates, interest, and budget is going to be the best Alaska itinerary for you.

If you are interested in a land tour in addition to your Alaska cruise, the cruise lines do offer the land extensions as a cruise tour so that you pay one price and it’s one package. Or when working with a travel professional like myself I can put together a custom Alaska land itinerary.


Which Cruise Lines Visit Glacier Bay

Worth noting that only a few cruise lines have permits for Glacier Bay. On my recent Alaska cruise on the HAL Koningsdam, we did have a day of cruising Glacier Bay, and it really was amazing.

Of course always subject to change, but as of this writing, Princess Cruise Line, Holland America Cruise Line and some NCL ships have permits for Glacier Bay.

Harmony Skillman, Cruise Travel Agent in Glacier Bay Alaska


Only two ships a day can visit Glacier Bay. Visiting Glacier Bay means you will slowly sail up close to the glaciers for viewing and photos. You do not get off the ship. On our recent cruise, a park ranger did come on board to provide an audio guide to what we were seeing.

If you can make an itinerary with Glacier Bay work, you won’t be disappointed!


Other Alaska Cruise Planning Tips

Be sure to budget for excursions. The best excursions are, of course the most expensive. Browse your ALASKA EXCURSIONS here.

Be sure to book your excursions well in advance. Even up to a year in advance.

On an Alaska cruise there is a lot of downtime so be sure to look at your cruise newsletter or app to find on board offerings. On my recent Holland America Alaska Cruise on the Koningsdam, we did the thermal suite at the spa, which was a nice way to pass the time. We also did a Mixology class, and a bar crawl one night.


Orange Night on the Holland America Koningsdam


I would not stress about what side of the ship your cabin is on or what type of cabin you have. Even if you have an interior cabin, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the common areas looking out. Also, you get the best views by being up on the higher decks where you don’t have a window obstructing your photos.

If you are doing a round trip itinerary, you are going to be sailing both ways seeing the same glaciers and mountains on both sides of the ship. If you sail into Glacier Bay, the ship will do 180° turn and you will have the same views no matter what side of the ship you’re on.

Packing the right gear is important. When you book your Alaska cruise with me, I do send a complete Alaska cruise packing list and addition to general cruise packing tips and Cruise Line specific things that you will need.

How to plan an Alaska Cruise

Alaska is an amazing destination. There is so much to see and do. It is truly an incredible trip. If you are looking to book your Alaska cruise be sure to reach out. I do not charge any fees for cruise planning, and I give great service. I help you with every aspect of your trip and if you are looking to travel with a group, you could be eligible for some extra discounts and perks.

Have you sailed to Alaska? Tell me about it in the comments.

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