Figuring out what to pack for an Alaska cruise can present some challenges because of the potential range of weather issues and activities. One thing that many first-time Alaska cruisers don’t realize is that Alaska probably isn’t quite as cold as you think it is, at least not during the summer cruise season. It may be colder than summer where you’re from – but it’s not the icy tundra – unless you are actually traipsing across a glacier. It is very green and very mild. But, it can also get very wet.
So, we’ve combined our knowledge about packing for a family cruise with kids and knowledge of Alaska cruise packing to generate this practical packing list for families of what to pack for an Alaska cruise. This post focuses specifically on creating the ideal Alaska cruise packing list, so be sure to check out our more general post (and checklist) on what to pack for a cruise. (Also, if you haven’t booked yet, be sure to check out our post on the best Alaskan cruises for families.)
What To Pack For An Alaska Cruise: Background Considerations
You have two main considerations when deciding what to pack for an Alaskan cruise: the weather and your activities.
Alaska Cruise Season Weather
Alaska is huge, but it’s not actually all that hard to figure out what the weather will be like. The Alaska cruise season generally runs from May through September. And, if you are sailing a mainstream (non-expedition) cruise, your itinerary will be largely confined to the Southeastern part of the state. If you are tacking on a side trip or land tour, then you may also venture into the central interior of the state. So, generally speaking, what to pack for an Alaska cruise in June won’t be all that different from what to pack for an Alaska cruise in July or August.
Focusing on the Inside Passage, and places like Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. The average daily temperature runs in the low to mid-60s with high/low ranges of 51 to 64. Keep in mind that lower temperatures tend to occur as or after the sun goes down. But, the Alaska summer months bring an extraordinary number of daylight hours. Typically in the range of 16 to 18 hours.
And then an additional consideration is rain. Here, you’ll find a wider range of average rainfall among the different ports. So, for instance, on average, Skagway will see about 1 to 2 inches per month during the summer season. Juneau will see 3 to 5 inches. And, Ketchikan will see 7 to 11 inches.
Physical Activity Levels
You should also give consideration to your expected activity levels. You will have a wide range of Alaska cruise excursions from which to choose. If you plan to engage in physically vigorous activities, then you should plan for extra layers and and possibly an additional pair of shoes – e.g., for hiking.
What To Pack For An Alaska Cruise: Key Clothing Items
The primary principle to keep in mind when selecting clothes to pack for an Alaska cruise is that you’ll want to dress in layers. You will likely encounter big temperature swings throughout some days and across different ports. As well as different levels of rain or dampness. The best way for everyone to stay comfortable will be staying prepared to add or shed layers as the need arises. And keep in mind that you can lighten your packing load by planning to do laundry on your cruise.
(1) Thermal Long Underwear
Long underwear can go a long way to transforming your regular wardrobe into a cooler/ cold weather wardrobe.
(2) Water Resistant All-Weather Shoes
You have a high likelihood of encountering wet conditions at some point during your journey. So many lists of what to pack for an Alaskan cruise will have some type of boot in addition to regular shoes. Problem is that boots are heavy and take up lots of space in your luggage. And, for a whole family, that could be an entire suitcase worth of boots.
If you know that you’re going to be doing hardcore hiking. Then by all means pack those boots or your other hiking foot gear. But, if your schedule will have less rugged tourist walking, then consider some all-purpose, all weather walking shoes.
(3) Light/Medium Jacket
You will need some warmth providing outerwear. Something that’s windproof and insulated with a hood. You don’t, however, necessarily need any type of heavy, bulky full-fledge Chicago-style winter coat. And, you absolutely do not need an expensive winter parka (unless you are looking for an excuse to get one). So think of the type of serviceable jacket you’d find at places like Land’s End, Eddie Bauer or REI.
(4) Polarized sunglasses
The key thing to know about polarized sunglasses for an Alaska cruise is that they substantially cut the reflecting glare from water and snow. This allows you to see colors much more clearly. And, they can also reduce eye strain.
(5) Warm Socks
Pack some socks that will keep your feet nice and warm. And, if you’re doing a lot of walking, a little bit of cushion would be nice too. Depending on the weather and your activities, they may get wet, muddy, etc. so bring multiple extra pairs so you can easily change them throughout the day.
Keeping your hands warm can be one of the best ways to make the best use of your body heat to stay comfortable. So, be sure to pack some gloves.
(7) Rain Ponchos
Alaska during the summer can be quite wet at times. But, when you’re considering what to pack for an Alaskan cruise to account for that you have to consider both the luggage space available and the likely functional utility of the items you pack.
So, for instance, you could pack an umbrella. But, in some places it may get quite windy (Ketchikan) and you may find yourself constantly fighting to keep your umbrella from turning inside out. So, is it worth the luggage space or might it be better to skip the frustration.
Likewise, you could pack several other full service rain gear items like a slickers, ponchos, rain boots, etc., but those take up lots of extra luggage space. Or, you could pack something like disposable rain ponchos. These are very light, fit easily into any bag and are easily transportable. The tradeoff is that they won’t keep you quite as warm, dry and comfy as a full size rain slicker.
A family set of disposable ponchos makes it easier to plan for rain on any given day without having to always cart around bulky full size rain coats in your day bag. (Note: If you get some that are individually package, it’s easy and convenient to toss them in a suitcase or backpack “just in case” and then store them when you get home if they weren’t needed.)
What To Pack For An Alaska Cruise: Family Essentials & Accessories
These items will help you and your family enjoy your Alaska cruise vacation by increasing your health & safety, or increasing your comfort levels on and off the ship. This list also includes items to help you enjoy and remember your experiences.
(8) Insect repellant
When it is warm outside, you will find lots of large, hungry mosquitos. So pack your favorite form of insect repellent. Peak mosquito season arrives June and July.
Don’t be misled by whatever views you might have about Alaska weather. The sun’s rays can be quite powerful. And, you may be exposed to them for many more hours than you are used to. Everyone should wear sunscreen.
(10) Family Day Bag
Although different family members may have personal items that they cart around themselves, you should try to have one primary bag that houses all of your family essentials for your activities that day. And, this also provides storage for any clothing layers that need to be shed or added throughout the day. Something like a lightweight and/or foldable backpack or a large family travel tote bag.
You will benefit from having one primary consolidated bag because you can easily make sure that you have all the key items that you need for the day in one place. And this cuts down on inadvertently leaving key items behind.
(11) Cross-Body Bag
You will want a cross-body bag that can hold your small personal items that you need to take with you off ship. Items that would primarily be used by the owner, and ones that you wouldn’t want to get lost in the bottom of a big bag. So, things like your wallet, key cards, government ID, credit cards and money.
The beauty of a cross-body bag is two-fold. First, it allows you to roam around hands free. Second, it potentially increases the security of key items.
(12) A Watch
You absolutely want to keep track of time when you are off ship. And, ideally you will have an analog watch that’s synchronized with the ship’s time. These days, most electronic devices like cell phones will automatically reset to local time. But cruise ships don’t always change their times when sailing into local ports. When it comes time for the ship to sail away, the only time it will recognize is ship time.
The time zone issue probably raises less concerns in Alaska. But, you should take care to be mindful of the time. Because the state has so many extra daylight hours during the summer, it’s really easy to lose track of time. It may seem like it’s still really close to noon, when actually your ship may soon be departing.
(13) Water Bottle/Thermos
Take a multipurpose insulated beverage bottle that’s good for cold and warm drinks. This will be convenient on and off the ship for a wide range of activities. You’ll always be able to carry around some hot coffee, refreshing tea, or hydrating beverage of your choice.
(14) First Aid Kit
Wherever you might be in the world, accidents can happen. Hopefully, they will be small ones. But, whether it’s tripping across an uneven sidewalk, or stumbling along a hiking trail, you want to be able to tend to scrapes quickly without having to traipse back to the ship or track down a drug store. So pack a small travel first aid kit that you can slip into any bag.
(15) Travel Sleep Mask
It’s called the land of the midnight sun for a reason. Your cabin will have curtains that should block out most, if not all, of the outside light. But, if you require absolute darkness for sound sleeping, bring a sleep mask as backup.
So, what about binoculars? It’s definitely worth having a set for on and off ship viewing of the spectacular wildlife. Even if you know that you will be in a cruise cabin that or cruise ship that will have a loaner pair, consider bringing your own anyway. When you are traveling with a group of people, it’s better to not have to tussle over one set. an affordable pair so that everyone isn’t tussling over the same set.
It is also likely that you will be able to purchase binoculars on board. But those will almost certainly be more expensive than something you could reasonably purchase before you sail. If you are primarily purchasing for use on one sailing and don’t think you will get much additional use, then take a look at this affordable and very favorably reviewed set on Amazon.
This is also a great choice if you want an inexpensive set for your kids.
(Be sure to check out our top 2023 recommendations for the best binoculars for Alaska cruises!)
Any ultimate Alaska cruise packing list would be woefully deficient if it failed to include a camera. So, here’s the reminder. You will definitely want to bring a camera! Either the one included in your cell phone (if it takes quality photos) or a stand-alone camera.
(18) Power Bank
It’s always a good idea to have a backup source of power for your cell phones and/or tablets during port calls. This is particularly true if you plan to use your cell phone to take pictures or shoot video.
(19) Outlet Expander
If your family is packing more than 2 or 3 items that require electricity, you’ll really want to pack an outlet expander. Find out why we think an outlet expander should be a must have cruise accessory.
What to Pack For An Alaska Cruise: Other Items To Consider
You can also pack a few things that will make your cruise cabin more comfortable. For more on this, check out our post on how to make cruise ship rooms cozy.
Get a handy cheat sheet for what to pack for an Alaska cruise! Download your printable packing list for an Alaskan cruise here.
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