Alaska is often considered the last American frontier due to its pristine and seemingly endless natural landscapes. This is just part of why Alaskan cruises are skyrocketing in popularity.
Seeing Alaska’s breathtaking wilderness from the comfort of a cruise ship is a true bucket list item for many people. That said, deciding when to embark on your adventure can significantly impact the overall experience.
Not only do you have to contend with Alaska’s notoriously harsh climate, but there are also budget considerations and knowing when you will have the best chances of encountering the magnificent Alaska wildlife that calls “The Land of the Midnight Sun” home.
To help you plan your perfect trip, we will explain which months are the best for Alaskan cruises. We’ll also discuss factors you may not have considered, such as visibility of the Northern Lights, financial costs, and more. And especially as Alaska is so different compared to your typical warmer cruise destination.
So, let’s get started!
In This Article:
The Best Time to Cruise Alaska
The best time to book an Alaskan cruise is the months between April and September. If you think this is a long stretch to be deemed “the best” time to book a cruise in Alaska, you are not wrong, but there is a reason for this. This is also when you’ll be able to find most of the cruise itineraries.
Weather, wildlife visibility, cruise prices, and so much more can vary from month to month in Alaska, so you have to measure up your priorities when booking your cruise, including popular ports such as Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Sitka.
Each month within the April to September stretch offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages. To help you choose which is the best month for you, we’ve created this month-by-month guide to the Alaskan cruise season.
Month-by-Month Guide for Alaskan Cruises
As mentioned, recommending one specific month that will act as the best time to cruise Alaska can be a little bit difficult. This is because the best Alaska cruise month is somewhat subjective.
While some people prefer the reduced crowds and whale-watching opportunities of midsummer, others might value the warmer weather and greater options for excursions you get in the late summer months.
Cruise Passengers Enjoy the Views of Alaska (Photo Credit: Gene R Samit)
On top of that, some of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife species tend to be at their most active and visible when the weather cools off towards the end of summer. While this can be incredibly enticing for nature lovers, it can be off-putting for those who do not enjoy the cooler temperatures.
To help you decide which time is best, we will break down the two most popular times to cruise Alaska. In doing so, we’ll be able to provide all the advantages and disadvantages so you can decide which is the best time for you!
Cruising Alaska Between Late Spring and Mid-Summer (Late April – Mid-July)
The stretch between late April and late July is often considered to be Alaska’s second most popular time of the year for cruises. The popularity of this period is also why many people consider it the best time of the year to book an Alaskan cruise.
To help you decide if it’s the right time for your trip, here are some advantages and disadvantages of cruising during the late spring to mid-summer stretch.
Cruise Visitors in Skagway, Alaska (Photo Credit: EWY Media)
Between May and July, Alaska fully thaws from the deep winter freeze. This is when bears have emerged from hibernation and tend to be fairly active. If you hope to spot a grizzly, you might just have your opportunity if you cruise Alaska during this period, along with viewing moose and even a chance to see more calves or cubs running around.
It’s also an excellent time for wildlife viewing if you want to see Alaska’s more iconic marine life, like humpback whales, orcas, and various species of seals. You’ll be able to choose from a huge number of shore excursions from the cruise lines, including cruisetours from Princess Cruises and Holland America Line at Denali National Park.
This period also seems to have longer daylight hours than earlier stretches. This means you have more time to stroll the deck of your ship and look out onto Alaska’s stunning landscapes and glaciers.
For those hoping to participate in some of the many excursion options you can enjoy in Alaska, like fly fishing and whale watching, longer daylight hours mean you have more time during the day to do so.
While it may seem counterintuitive that a popular time to travel would mean that cruise fares are lower, the reason is that there are more ships operating at this time. With more options to choose from, you can typically find a good deal if you are booking for the period that stretches between May and June.
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Photo Credit: Mary Swift / Shutterstock)
Unpredictable Weather and Cooler Daytime Temperatures
While late spring and early summer might offer pleasant weather in the lower American states, Alaska’s far north latitude means that temperatures are still cooler. If you choose to cruise Alaska during this time, bring water-resistant clothing and plenty of warm layers.
In addition to cooler temperatures, there is a higher tendency for rain during the late spring.
Cruising Alaska Between Mid-Summer to Early Fall (Late July to Late September)
These months are also incredibly popular times for Alaskan cruises, which is why there is some debate over which period is the best between the two. Given the warmer temperatures of July and August, many people who want to avoid the cold will choose to book during these months.
It’s also popular that there could be fewer crowds during September, as the summer break has ended. To help you determine if this is the right time for your trip, here are the main benefits and drawbacks:
Fishing Boat and Cruise Ship in Seward, Alaska (Photo Credit: Vineyard Perspective / Shutterstock)
Comfortable Daytime Temperatures
One of the main advantages of cruising Alaska during the later summer months is the milder temperatures and more predictable weather. During these peak months of the Alaskan summer, daytime temperatures range between 50 and 60 °F, with some days reaching as high as 90 °F.
For Alaska, these temperatures are about as good as it gets! On top of that, you can anticipate significantly less rain and fog, which helps with comfort and visibility.
Peak Wildlife Activity
If you’re hoping to spot some famous Alaska wildlife, you have the highest chances in late summer and early fall. Toward the end of summer and early fall, bears are highly active as they prepare for winter hibernation.
The fall salmon run also attracts bears and other predatory species to the rivers and shorelines, making viewing them from a cruise ship deck much easier. Humpback whales, orcas, seals, and other marine species are also more active during these months.
Extended Daylight Hours
Not only is the weather better, you get more hours in the day in the late summer. While daylight hours begin declining in September, they’re near their peak in mid-summer. On top of that, during the late summer and early fall, you will have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights in all of their glory.
More Excursion Options
With more daylight and improved weather, your options for excursions also increase. This can help enrich the overall experience of your Alaskan adventure and give you more of an opportunity to see what it would be like living in the United States’ most inhospitable state.
Cruise Ships in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo Credit: Alexandre.ROSA)
July and August can be extremely busy months for the Alaska cruise industry. With the warmer weather, it is not unusual to see an increase in the number of people looking to enjoy Alaska’s untamed wilderness.
If you are looking for uncrowded observation decks and a quieter experience, you may want to avoid this peak season or try September, when things tend to wind down.
One of the major drawbacks of spending time in Alaska during the late summer is the significant increase in mosquito activity. Mosquitos, along with other biting insects, tend to be at their peak during these late summer months.
While they tend to be less of an issue while you are on a cruise ship on the water, they can be a menace on shore. This can negatively impact your outdoor excursion experience.
So, Which Is the Best Time to Cruise Alaska?
Now that we have taken an in-depth look at the advantages and disadvantages of the two most popular times to cruise Alaska, you can make an informed decision based on your preferences and priorities for the popular annual Alaska cruise season for cruise passengers.
Read Also: Top Alaskan Cruises for Families
If you want to avoid the cooler temperatures and potential for rain, you may want to choose the late summer to early fall. With that in mind, recognize that you may have to contend with larger crowds and the dreaded Alaskan mosquito swarms.
Princess Cruises in Alaska (Photo Credit: dvlcom)
The truth is that both of these stretches can allow for an exciting and memorable experience. You must remember that Alaska is a rugged landscape that poses countless challenges for human life, so these cruises will never be as tranquil as a tropical cruise.
Embrace the wild side of Alaska and choose the time period that makes the most sense for you. No matter which option you choose, there is no shortage of things to do in this wild and unique state!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Which cruise lines operate in Alaska?
Multiple major cruise lines offer sailings in Alaska, but mainly during the Spring and Summer months. Princess Cruises is one of the main operators, with seven ships sailing the northern region. Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises also offer sailings.
What are nighttime temperatures like in Alaska during the summer?
Even when the daytime temperatures are well above freezing, nighttime temperatures can dip below 32 °F, even in the summer. This is why you must pack for all weather conditions if you plan an Alaska cruise.
When is the best time to see whales in Alaska?
While gray whales are active in Alaskan waters during the early spring, most species, including belugas, orcas, humpback whales, and blue whales, peak between May and September. This partially explains why this stretch is much busier than other times of year for tourism in Alaska.