Why an Alaska Cruise Is So Unique—and How to Plan for It
Summer is the perfect time to cruise Alaska, a land of mountains, fishing villages and glaciers. The break from below-freezing temperatures to warmer weather allows our passengers to enjoy the outdoors and come face-to-face with the splendor of Alaska. As our passengers prepare for an epic cruise, they often find themselves wondering about the kind of weather to expect and what to pack for an Alaska cruise.
Every passenger to Alaska is in for a treat. “I'm thinking about the first time I went to Alaska, and the scenery is breathtaking,” says Kelly Martin, Inspiration’s Operations Project Coordinator. “The mountains covered in trees, snow on the peaks and seeing bald eagles were memories I will never forget.”
With those experiences in mind, we asked a few other Alaska cruise staff veterans to share with us their expert planning and packing tips for a cruise to the 49th state.
Alaska’s weather is notoriously hard to predict; a summer cruise to Alaska can be filled with sunshine and 80-degree days, or mist and temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. Sometimes both occur in the same day! Despite these fluctuations, it’s possible to have some idea of what’s in store before you leave home. Two or three days before you depart, check the weather for each of the ports on your itinerary.
“Bring a water-resistant outer jacket,” says Charlie Spencer, Inspiration’s Event Development Executive Director, who’s been cruising with us for 20-plus years. “Dress in layers so you can enjoy the crisp mornings, and as the day progresses, simply lose a layer or two to keep up with the change in temperature. Many days you will start in long pants, a sweater and jacket, and by the end of the day you may be in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops!”
While the weather can change quickly, daytime summer temperatures tend to be around the 50s and 60s. The overall climate is damp; in fact, Ketchikan is one of the rainiest cities in the United States! Misty conditions make 60-degree temperatures feel much cooler. Kelly Martin suggests packing a heavier jacket and gloves if the weather is predicted to veer toward cold or wet conditions. You might also consider warm, waterproof shoes or boots.
In fact, if you are cold-natured, consider packing warm layers for when you’re inside the ship. “I recommend packing a light jacket or sweater because the ship can get cold in some of the venues,” Martin says. “Scarves are also nice to bring. They do not take up much luggage space but help to bundle up.”
The Umbrella Debate
Should you bring an umbrella on an Alaska Christian cruise? Yes and no. “Always remember to bring an umbrella when you leave the ship,” Spencer reminds travelers. Even on a sunny morning, the weather can change while you’re in port—and you don’t want to be caught in a rainstorm without protection.
But another expert advises passengers not to take up vital luggage space by packing an umbrella. Why? Because if you need one, they are easy to find. “If you absolutely have to have [an umbrella], you can purchase them inexpensively in any of the ports,” says Dick Baranco, an Inspiration Travel Coordinator with over 30 decades in the cruising industry. “Instead, pack a $2 rain poncho or slicker, which can keep you dry and takes little room in your travel bag.”
What to Expect in Port?
You’ll experience nonstop scenery as your ship glides through the Inside Passage, and your time off the ship is one of the best ways to experience everything Alaska has to offer. With that in mind, we also asked our experts what experiences were at the top of their lists on an Alaska cruise. Here are their answers for the most common ports.
When prebooking excursions, you can’t go wrong with the Taku Lodge Glacier Flightseeing & Salmon Bake. “If you can only do one excursion and you want to experience something uniquely Alaska, this is the trip for you,” says Charlie Spencer. You’ll fly in a pontoon aircraft a few hundred feet from the surface of North America’s largest ice field, getting a close, personal look at spectacular glaciers. “If that isn’t enough for you, you’ll also land on the Taku River in front of a historic lodge, partaking in what has to be the best, freshest baked salmon on the planet.”
One of the best places to eat in Juneau is Twisted Fish Company, located right across the street from the pier. “It has great seafood with huge portions,” says Client Relations Director Michael Stewart. “We typically split the fish and chips and get the hot crab and artichoke dip. Also, for those with a sweet tooth, check out Alaskan Fudge Co. It’s more than just fudge.”
Stewart proclaims Sitka to be his favorite stop on any Alaska cruise. Located in a rainforest, the Totem Trail is a great way to learn about the rich history of Sitka’s native Tlingit and Haida peoples. Afterward, visit the nearby Alaska Raptor Center, which cares for around 200 injured bald eagles and other birds of prey every year. “You can walk to both from the ship,” Stewart says.
He also has recommendations if you get hungry. “On the trail to the totem pole park you’ll pass by a science center on the right. Look for a garage-type place.” Called Ludvig’s Bistro, this rustic stop serves some of the best chowder in Alaska. “It’s nothing fancy, but a great place for lunch.”
In this charming fishing village—known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”—you’ll find totem poles, colorful shops and the historic Creek Street boardwalk. But Stewart says to keep your eyes on the water, especially along the creek. “Take the boardwalk at the end of the main street. Sometimes you can see salmon in the creek,” he says. They swarm there in the thousands various times of the year.
Along the way, you’ll find a funicular (a rail-car tram) that takes you to a hilltop with an amazing view of the waterfront. Warm up in the coffee shop at the top and explore a collection of unique totem poles. Instead of taking the funicular back down, Stewart says, “There’s a beautiful walk back down called the Married Man’s trail.” This mini-trail includes a staircase that takes you directly to the Creek Street boardwalk. For a prime photo moment, don’t miss the Salmon Ladder along the way, where you can watch salmon attempting to jump upstream over a waterfall!
If the salmon make you hungry for, well, salmon, head to Salmon Etc. “It’s a small place on the right side of the street just past the ‘Welcome to Ketchikan’ sign. It’s a great place to buy smoked salmon,” Stewart says.“Tell them Inspiration Cruises & Tours sent you their way!”
Any Other Tips?
Dick Baranco advises passengers to keep their eyes open throughout their cruise so they don’t miss anything. “Each time you look, the scene changes from one spectacular vista to another. If you were to immediately go to the other side of the ship, you’d see a different but equally impressive sight,” he says. “During the cruise the venues change from massively enchanting forests to unbelievable glaciers and waterfalls. All the while you anticipate seeing incredible sea life that often appears!”
Do these tips make you want to experience the beauty (and food) of Alaska? Look through our upcoming cruises to this majestic place. We’ve got plenty on the schedule and more already scheduled for summer 2020.