Alaska cruises certainly aren't anything like a day at the beach. So when it comes to packing, what ends up in your luggage likely won't resemble the bikinis and Hawaiian shirts you'd choose for a tropical getaway. We were curious about what our members thought were the most essential items to pack for the unpredictable weather conditions and rugged terrain found on an Alaska cruise.
In a poll on the Cruise Critic Message Boards, we asked members -- many who've already experienced a sailing in the scenic state -- to vote for the most important things to remember to take for a cruise to Alaska. The results are in, and we've compiled a list of the top 10 things you can't leave home without.
Take light jackets, fleece clothing, a warm hat and gloves for layering in Alaska's unpredictable weather, which can be hot and sunny or cold and wet in the same week (or the same day!). Cruise Critic member spirlene says, "Since weather varies even if you get the best, bring all possible options from short sleeves and shorts to long sleeves and [pants]. The coldest we were was on the ship looking at the glacier for hours. That's where I wore the earmuffs and hood for wind."
While many members suggest taking binoculars with you on your Alaska cruise, the quality of them is the key. Cruise Critic member cantw8togo says, "Take the strongest binoculars that you have. You will see so much more of the wildlife that is farther away." A great zoom lens on your DSLR camera is also handy for wildlife-spotting (if you don't feel like sharing the binoculars).
Alaska gets a lot of rain in the spring and summer months. Things like umbrellas, ponchos, raincoats with hoods and extra socks are advisable in case you get caught in a downpour. Member sue450 advises using a "waterproof rain jacket with a hood and a fleece jacket that zips up with a high collar (then you don't need a scarf or any turtle neck shirts). Wait to buy these in Ketchikan. They have excellent quality jackets for much less than I paid at home, and they have nice, simple Alaska logos on them. There are tons of stores right off the dock." Just leave room in your suitcase to bring these purchases home.
You'll need a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes to tread upon Alaska's mountainous terrain, which can be muddy or even snowy during cruise season. Member sue450 recommends bringing "a pair of waterproof hiking shoes (they look like tennis shoes but the Gore-Tex makes them absolutely waterproof). I wore these A LOT."
Alaskans joke that their state bird is the mosquito. Cruise Critic member Fl_Star says, "You must remember to bring insect repellent in the pump bottle ... The mosquitoes are huge." If you do plan to pack bug spray, rather than purchase it in port, be sure to pack it in your checked luggage -- larger bottles of liquids in carry-ons will get confiscated -- and keep it in a tightly sealed plastic bag so it doesn't spill all over your clothing.
Don't let the chilly temperatures fool you -- the sun's UV rays are strong in Alaska. Cruise Critic member UT-Volsfan says, "Definitely don't forget the sunscreen if you are going on a tour to one of the glaciers. The sun off of the ice can be very intense. On our first Alaska cruise, a couple came to the dinner table beside ours and had very red faces. They had not used sunscreen and had gotten cooked."
Whether you plan to snap iPhone photos or rent a zoom lens for your DSLR, make sure to bring your photo gear for all of the beautiful scenery you'll encounter in Alaska. Kyriecat says, "A good zoom lens or high-pixel camera so you can crop and enlarge pictures is a must have," especially for great wildlife shots. Bring plenty of memory cards and a hard drive to back up your priceless photos. If you prefer the cellphone camera route, consider lens attachments for your phone or a portable or solar-powered charger so your battery doesn't die on you right when that moose decides to show up. And don't forget to delete previously saved photos off your phone to open up more memory for your new pics.
You wouldn't want to miss wildlife sightings or be the last off the ship in port, so it's important to rise and shine early on port days. Scenic cruising days often start early as well. If you don't like wake-up calls, take an alarm clock with you (most cabins don't include one) or set an alarm on your phone -- after all it's the early bird that gets the worm!
The waters along the Pacific Coast and across the Gulf of Alaska can be particularly choppy, so if you get seasick, be prepared with a remedy. Member DTEN11 says, "I get really seasick, but it was only rough one day and then pretty mild, so Bonine (motion sickness tablets) worked fine and did not make me drowsy at all. I wore the wrist bands (Sea-Bands) all the time as I have had good luck with them in the past." Munch on green apples and ginger candy as another natural way to calm queasy tummies.
Many of our members suggested taking a backpack that folds up and can be stored in your pocket until you need to use it (to store extra clothing layers that are peeled off or souvenirs bought in port). The sacks are very lightweight and have a drawstring to keep your belongings safely tucked away.
Updated November 21, 2019