Want to see the mesmerizing rainbow-hued pulsating northern lights in all their spectacular glory? It’s definitely an item on many travel bucket lists! However, living that experience on a cruise requires some precise planning. You must time your visit to the right area to coincide with the Aurora Season and be in the right place at the right time. Keep reading for tips on finding the best time to cruise Alaska for Northern Lights.
The Best Time To Cruise Alaska For Northern Lights
Scheduling a family cruise to see the enchanting northern lights requires meticulous planning and good luck. So, let’s have a peek at the best time to cruise Alaska for Northern Lights and tips for seeing them in all their splendor.
The most opportune time to see the incredible northern lights is during the Aurora Season from August 21 until April 21. No, that’s not written backwards. The ideal conditions for catching a view of the northern lights requires dark skies — which means that the months of May, June, and July do not provide ideal viewing conditions.
The main Alaska cruise season runs from April to September — with most cruises sailing between May through August. This means that the windows for viewing the northern lights while on a cruise are relatively narrow. (Note that some cruise companies that run smaller ships will start sailing earlier in the year. For instance, in 2024, Uncruise Adventures will have Alaska cruises that start sailing in February.)
Talking about time, although the northern lights may be seen during any time of the night, they are much more prevalent from 10 pm until 2 am. So, your family might need to contend with some sleepless nights!
The Best Alaska Northern Lights Cruises
Alaskan cruise tours have several inland shore excursions to areas like Fairbanks, and the Denali National Park, including regions that predominantly have less cloudy dark skies, compared to cruises that travel through the Southeast Passage.
You can plan and travel at the best time to cruise Alaska for Northern Lights, but if you want to improve your odds of seeing this magical sky, choose reputable cruise lines specializing in Alaskan tours.
Popular Alaska cruise operators include UnCruise Adventures, Princess Cruises, and Holland America, which owns several inland lodges, trains, and buses.
Holland America also provides 9–14-day Alaska tours that include the cost of a cruise and a land-based tour to the likes of Fairbanks, including the Denali National Park.
Some cruises offer northern lights sign-up sheets. So, you don’t have to stay up watching the skies all night and hoping to see them as they will give you a wake-up call.
However, just be warned that the northern lights may only be visible for a few minutes and not much longer. So getting dressed quickly in the middle of the night is essential!
The Benefits Of Booking Alaska Northern Lights Cruises
While you could be fortunate enough to see the northern lights on your cruise ship, your chances of seeing them will significantly improve with an in-land excursion.
That’s why you improve your chances of seeing the light show if you travel on a cruise like Holland America, which is well-equipped to oversee all your land-based travel logistics.
Although the northern lights are far more visible during certain parts of the year. Some regions in Alaska have clear visibility in the evenings compared to other areas that are more prone to downpours or have more daylight during certain parts of the year.
A great rule of thumb is that the further north you venture into Alaska, the better your chances of seeing the northern lights. This is because the southeast regions have a rainforest-type climate with cloudy skies and heavy rainfall.
While you will have a far better opportunity in Alaska’s northern regions like Denali or Talkeetna, the most optimal viewing locals are closer to the Arctic. Especially Fairbanks, situated under the circular Auroral Oval, where sightings of the northern lights are far more likely.
The Golden Heart of Alaska, as Fairbanks is commonly known, is easily accessible and has great amenities, shops, and eateries. Fairbanks also has excellent northern lights viewing spots where cruise tour operators, like Holland America, have lodges.
Fairbanks locals will tell you that the spectacular light show is visible on clear, dark nights for up to four nights at a time. So, booking a cruise that includes a trip to Fairbanks will give you a greater chance of seeing the northern lights compared to the southern Alaskan regions.
How To Track The Northern Lights
Once you have booked your family cruise to see the northern lights, it might be fun to use the Explore Fairbank’s Aurora Tracker.
It provides real-time, accurate data from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute concerning the best time to view the northern lights.
The Aurora Tracker is also very helpful as it provides accurate information about expected weather conditions in the Fairbanks region.
Alternatively, you could use the My Aurora Forecast and Alerts smartphone app for more details. The Aurora Forecast app is administered by the Geophysical Institute and provides accurate updates and forecasts so you can quickly check whether you will be fortunate enough to see the northern lights on your cruise. Fingers crossed!
During the primary cruise season of April to September, your best chances of seeing the northern lights are at the beginning of the season (April) and at the tail end (August/September). So, plan ahead and book your cruise accordingly!