When is the Best Time to Cruise to Alaska? The Month Matters!

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Person with binoculars looking for Alaska wildlife on a cruise
potting wildlife in Alaska is a fun activity for teens and grandparents on an Uncruise in Alaska. Photo credit: Jamie Bartosch

When is the best time to cruise to Alaska? When you can see wildlife, fjords, glaciers and — if you get very, very lucky — the magical Northern Lights. 

If you’re considering an Alaskan cruise, you’ll have your choice of cruise lines, itineraries and shore excursions. Most cruise ships with Alaska itineraries sail to Southeast Alaska from late May to September. Some smaller ships get an earlier start in April.

The month you sail makes a difference.

“Alaska’s cruise season is relatively short, compared with other regions across the globe. Cruises really only sail from late-April to October. If you’re looking for prime nature viewing, you’ll want to book between June and August,” says Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic.

That’s when temperatures are warmest, wildlife is plentiful and tours are bustling. But with all of those perks, it’s also considered high season – so fares and crowds will be at their highest.

McDaniel says if you’re looking to save some money, sailing in May or September could be a great option. May is also the driest month of the season, so tours are less likely to be affected by bad weather.”

Planning an Alaskan Cruise

Cost and cruise itineraries will determine when is the best time to cruise to Alaska. But no matter which month you choose to sail, visiting Alaska is a thrilling cruise destination.

My family and I are veteran cruisers and our Alaska cruise stands out for many reasons. On our inside passage cruise in July aboard Princess Cruises we docked at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. The itinerary included Glacier Bay National Park (my favorite part of the cruise) and concluded in Victoria, British Columbia.

The wildlife sightings were incredible! We saw bald eagles in Juneau, and humpback whales (even orcas) and sea lions from our ship. One of the most exciting things was the glacier calving in Glacier Bay National Park. We heard a loud crack that sounded like a shotgun and then saw a wall of ice slide into the bay, creating a huge splash. It was a National Geographic moment!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Be prepared with cold weather essentials, such as fleece gloves for adults and kids, fleece jackets and knit beanies.

Whale watching is a cruise activity enjoyed during the May to September Alaska cruise window.
Whale watching is a top excursion in an Alaskan cruise. Photo credit: Richard Sidey for Silversea Cruises

1. Alaska Cruises in April

During the early season you can expect discounted pricing and fewer crowds. Beginning in March and April, humpback whales migrate from Mexico and Hawaii to Alaska’s Inside Passage. It’s also the season when brown bears and other wildlife emerge from winter cocoons.

During this shoulder season, small-ship cruise lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise Adventures begin sailing to Alaska. The advantage to sailing on small ships is there are fewer passengers. Best of all, “small ships sail into pristine little nooks, letting you experience the state’s nature and wildlife without crowds,” says Jamie Bartosch.

Some larger ships, like Norwegian Bliss out of Seattle, set sail for Alaska toward the end of the month.

Why Alaska cruises in April are best:

  • Discounted pricing
  • Fewer crowds
  • Kids ages 8 and older can sail on a small ship that offers intimate nature experiences

    Uncruise skiff during prime Alaska cruise season
    Watch for black bears, moose, bald eagles and more while riding an Uncruise skiff in Alaska. Photo by Jamie Bartosch.

2. Alaska Cruises in May

May is a good month for cruise deals and to enjoy the sights with fewer crowds before the Alaska cruise season gets fully underway. The larger cruise lines like Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line make their way into the ports.

As the driest month, May means warmer weather. Have your cameras ready for brown bears, moose with their calves and humpback whales. Towards the end of the month, shops and restaurants begin operating on peak-season hours.

Why Alaska cruises in May are best:

  • May is the driest month in Alaska
  • Larger cruise lines begin sailing to Alaska, offering more options
The summer months are best for shore excursions in Alaska
Tall boots are needed to go bushwhacking on an Uncruise in Alaska. Photo by Jamie Bartosch

3. Alaska Cruises in June

The cruise season is officially in full swing this time of year. And with the midnight sun, you’ll have many hours of daylight. It’s a great time to take advantage of exciting shore excursions.

Most cruise ships like Disney Cruise Line offer numerous excursions. See glaciers, take city tours, and experience dog sledding and riding in a seaplane among many other excursions. Seward (near Anchorage) offers a scenic location to explore the rugged Alaskan landscape before or after your cruise. It’s also the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Read More: What to Bring on a Cruise

Why Alaska cruises in June are best:

  • School is out for the summer
  • Summer solstice means more hours of daylight and festivals
  • Many shore excursions
Princess cruise line ranger with kids on a prime season Alaska cruise
Onboard rangers share fun facts with kids in Glacier Bay National Park. Photo credit: Princess Cruises.

4. Alaska Cruises in July and August

Because July and August are spawning season for salmon, we had hoped to see brown bears near rivers and streams on our Princess Cruise. But try as we might, we did not spot any bears on our early July cruise. However, we did see bald eagles in Juneau, and seabirds and sea lions in Glacier Bay National Park.

With the nice weather, we booked a hiking and float tour in Skagway. We hiked along the Chilkoot Trail Hike, and then rafted on the Tiaya River. Our ship always had a prime docking spot in all the cruise ports on our itinerary.

Why Alaska cruises in July and August are best:

  • An abundance of shore excursions available
  • Comfortable average temperatures, even in the 80s at times
  • Lively port towns
  • Seasons change in late August. See fall foliage

Read More: How to Pick the Best Time of Year for Your Cruise

Ketchikan Harbor Alaska during the summer cruise season
Ketchikan is one of the most scenic ports in Alaska. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

5. Alaska Cruises in September

Most kids are back in school by September, which is shoulder season for an Alaska cruise. Cruise lines such as Celebrity drop their rates for September sailings. This month has many perks. You’ll enjoy fewer crowds and even fall foliage. And it’s still a good time for wildlife viewing. This time of year is also mating season for caribou, deer and moose.

In addition, late September is the best time to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) on clear nights. For the best chance to see this incredible light show, consider booking an Alaska cruise tour with an optional Evening Aurora Pursuit excursion in Fairbanks.

Why Alaska cruises in September are best:

  • One of the best times to see wildlife in Alaska is mid- to late September.
  • Late September is also the best time to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) on clear nights
  • Shoulder season means discounted prices

Read More: 14 Best Vacation Ideas for Families with Kids Under 10

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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