When it was time for me to pack for my first Alaska cruise, I thought I knew it all. Halfway through the cruise, I realized I didn’t.
Whether you’re going on a small ship adventure cruise like Alaskan Dream Cruises or a cruise ship like Holland America’s Eurodam, here’s what you should pack for an Alaska cruise. Plus, there’s a really complete printable packing list, too.
When figuring what to pack, it’s all about knowing what you will do on your trip. Will you spend time pre- or post-cruise on land? What will you do on shore excursions? There’s a lot to consider.
The point is, most likely you’ll need to pack cruise clothes and land clothes. And fit it all into one suitcase. Plus a carry-on for electronics, toiletries, documents and meds.
Where your Alaska cruise will go
On an Inside Passage cruise on a typical cruise ship, you don’t have a built-in opportunity to spend a couple of days to explore Alaska before or after your cruise.
Choose a small ship adventure cruise and your cruise will probably begin and end in either Juneau or Sitka. In this case, you can easily spend a couple of days on land before or after your cruise.
If you decide to take what’s called a “cross-Gulf” cruise, you’ll have the chance to spend time in Alaska’s interior before or after your cruise.
The clothes you’ll need can vary, too. Especially if you cruise early or late in the season (May or September).
My Alaska packing list covers everything you’ll need to pack for a 7-day Alaska cruise, like my Holland America Eurodam Inside Passage cruise. If your cruise is longer or you’ve chosen a cruise and tour, you can still pack the same. Plan on either sending out a load of laundry on the ship, doing a sink wash or hauling it into a town to a laundromat.
Whether a cross-Gulf cruise and a few days in Denali or an Inside Passage cruise, it’s all here. I’ve also included a list of those little items that you might otherwise forget.
Read next: 21 Best Things to do in Sitka, Alaska
What to pack for an Alaska cruise
Let’s begin with the basics. What goes in your suitcase and why.
It’s really important to remember that it is usually chilly out on deck, especially at night. Then there’s the wind off the water to remember. Brrr.
Even though your cruise ship will still have two formal nights, unless you’re on a luxury cruise, formal isn’t over the top on an Alaska cruise. Think dressy-casual.
Pack one or two pair of comfortable (not torn) jeans. I also bring a pair of nice unfaded black jeans that can double as dress pants on formal nights.
Last year, I picked up a pair of stretchy black fleece-lined yoga/leggings pull-on pants at Walgreens. They’re super comfortable and look good enough to wear around the ship with a tunic. They can also get you through a workout in the gym or walks around the deck.
One pair of shorts might be nice in case you encounter a few balmy days. Good and bad news about shorts. You’ll be comfortable on a warm day but a good target for those pesky Alaska mosquitoes. A pair of capri pants would still keep you cool and offer less real estate for mosquitoes to land.
On formal nights in the main dining room or an upscale specialty restaurant, men can pair dark pants with a sport coat, shirt and tie. A guy could even get away with wearing a nice pull-over sweater with a turtleneck top underneath (sort of the Illya Kuryakin/Man From Uncle look), too. You’d be surprised how many people choose to eat at the Lido buffet on an Alaska cruise.
Bring a swimsuit and cover-up, though you can use your bathrobe from your stateroom. If there isn’t a robe, ask your room attendant. If your ship doesn’t have a sliding glass dome over the pool, you may not need to pack a swimsuit. Then again, if you’re a spa person, bring one anyway. Sandals or flipflops are always good to pack for the pool and don’t take up much space.
Pack Dresses for an Alaska cruise?
If you’re simply more comfortable wearing a dress on formal night, by all means bring one. If so, you might want to bring a pair of stockings or tights for a bit of warmth.
Bring a couple of dressy lightweight scarves to spruce up and change up your look, especially if you’re only bringing one black dress. Or a $10 pashmina if your dress is sleeveless. You can roll it up and it won’t take up much room in the suitcase.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before about packing for Alaska: It’s all about wearing layers. Here’s where I have the most fun.
T-Shirts. Definitely bring two or three. I wear them under sweaters, to sleep in and to the gym. Multi-use items for sure. Or, if you think you’ll buy one in Alaska, only pack one from home.
If it’s a chilly or damp day, instead of a T-shirt under my sweater or sweatshirt I wear a long-sleeve silk-like top. They’re amazingly insulating. This mock turtleneck top works well (I bought one in black and one in purple, not expensive really) and thin enough so I can still bend my elbows. Same goes for silk leggings to wear under jeans. You’ll forget you’re wearing them.
Example of what I’d wear on a shore excursion
Here’s what I might wear on a shore excursion to always-chilly Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Silk or silk-like top with a mock-turtleneck. Short-sleeve loose-fitting cotton T-shirt over that. Then a crew neck or turtleneck sweater over both of those. The short sleeve T-shirt lets me bend my elbows.
Mendenhall Glacier is not only icy-chilly but there’s also spray off the lake. I’ll either wear a lightly lined waterproof rain jacket or my usual down, water repellent puffy jacket with hood.
Then there’s fleece. A soft fleece or flannel-type zipper jacket is almost a must-have item. They’re great to toss on in the morning to go to the Lido buffet or for a summer’s morning walk around the deck with a cup of coffee. You can get a pretty inexpensive one at Target or Walmart.
The only thing I recommend in a fleece jacket are zip pockets. You can put your room card in the pocket and not worry about it falling out when you sit down for breakfast. I prefer a zip front because usually a pullover sweatshirt only has an open pouch in front.
These are great for a multitude of reasons. You can wear them over anything and at any time. Buy tunic tops for Alaska with enough room in the arms so you can wear a layer or two underneath. That’s another reason why I love my tunic crew-neck tops – they’re great for layering. This is the tunic top I bought the other day. Actually, I bought two and returned the one from a different brand because it was too flimsy.
In the evening, you can dress up a dark colored tunic with a signature necklace (costume jewelry only, please) or a scarf and those nice black jeans. It’s Alaska! No need to get decked out to the nines. Unless of course you want to and your suitcase agrees.
I have two cozy turtleneck sweaters that I really love but are too bulky. Even putting them into plastic bags and squishing out the excess air, I probably won’t bring them with me this year.
Instead, I found and will bring two lighter-weight knit crew neck sweaters. They were on sale at Old Navy for $18. I’ll almost always wear the silky mock turtleneck underneath. If my neck gets cold, the rest of me freezes. Plus a scarf.
And I’m sure I’ll end up buying a flannel shirt or a knit sweater somewhere along the way. Pack less – buy more.
A warm scarf is essential. On days when a scarf would be overkill, I’ll wear a high-neck top so I can open my jacket and be comfortable. I always bring one of those $10 pashminas on every cruise. It’s the most versatile of anything I’ve packed. It’s a wrap in the evenings and a scarf outside. As a scarf, there are a bunch of ways to wear it, too.
So in addition to one or two thinner dressy scarves, bring or buy onboard a dark colored pashmina. I’ve even used it to cover my legs on a particularly cold and windy boat tour.
Accessories you should pack for an Alaska cruise
You know…those extras that are sometimes forgotten…until you absolutely need them.
Don’t leave home without at least one. The easiest and most packable is a knitted ski cap (beanie) or a floppy 100% wool beret. They can scrunch up and fit into your pocket if you get too warm. Also, for both men and women, a good ol’ baseball cap comes in handy. I usually buy this on the ship and have a souvenir at the same time.
Don’t worry if it’s not waterproof. Your jacket (see below) will have a rainproof hood to pop over it.
YES! A necessity. And…so you don’t have to constantly take them on and off to take photos with your iPhone or Android, I really suggest device-enabled gloves. I did not have them last year.
When you’re out on deck or on a tour, putting your gloves on and off to take a photo or post to social is a real pain. Easy to lose a glove, too. I just ordered these gloves to use with my iPhone. I’ve always loved Isotoners so that’s why I went for the more expensive gloves with device-touch enabled finger tips.
You’ll need socks. I bought two pairs of colorful striped Smartwool socks. I’ve never had a pair of wool socks and expected them to be totally itchy. They’re not! I love my Smartwool socks.
I also bought a 3-in-a-pack black socks, again at Walgreens. Black tights I bought at Target. I have a pair of nylons for dress-up, so I brought those, too. They are to wear with the one black dress that I always bring along. I call it my cruise uniform.
This is the toughest part of my packing dilemma. I’ve already mentioned sandals/flipflops. What about formal night? In an emergency last year, I found a great-fitting pair of 2″ suede-like black dress shoes. They’ve become a new part of my cruise uniform. They work with my black jeans or dress on formal night.
Next, you really should bring already-broken-in hiking shoes with a tread. I bought Merrells. They weren’t comfortable in the arch so back they went. Then I bought a pair of Keen hiking shoes – with Alaska Blue trim! – and they’re like wearing comfy slippers. Plus, they’re waterproof leather.
A pair of sneakers or comfortable walking shoes. If you can get by with one, pick the sneakers. Just make sure they’re broken in and have tread.
Boots for Alaska
Rubber boots. Or as they’re called up north, Alaska sneakers! Actually, they’re Xtratufs. Those brown rubber boots with the light colored trim on the edges.
I didn’t have any rubber boots when I arrived at Juneau. Only a pair of mid-shin black “fashion” boots. By the end of my trip, I was the proud owner of two pairs of XtraTufs, designed by the Salmon Sisters. Why two? I love both designs on the inside of the boots! I have the Xtratufs blue with whales and the green with salmon.
To be honest, to get these things back up to Alaska, I will have to put them into a carry-on tote bag. They’re just too cool to leave in Florida. And too expensive to buy a third pair!
If you don’t mind missing a couple of hours exploring Alaska, wait until your first port on your Alaska cruise. Head straightaway to the nearest shop where XtraTufs are sold. Google it when your ship docks. I bought one pair at Murray Pacific Hardware Store on Water Street in Ketchikan- a 15 minute walk from the dock.
Be sure to buy the Women’s Size and definitely add a liner to the boot. The salesperson will know which liner to choose. I wear a 9 1/2 shoe. My XtraTufs are a Women’s 10.
Not only will you be able to slosh through mud puddles and step through little streams and squishy bogs, you’ll get comments from the locals, who will immediately assume you’re Alaskan. Or in my case, a Laskin. Sorry. Worst pun in the world.
I take a belt. Why I don’t know. Only my jeans have belt loops.
This is a biggie. Last year my daughter, who happens to love hiking and the outdoors, joined me on one of my Alaska cruises. She brought her Gore-tex rain pants. I chuckled when I saw those baggie bottoms, not realizing how essential they’d be on a hike in the rain.
Bottom-line: She stayed warm and dry while my jeans, from the bottom of my jacket to my shoes were soaked. I just ordered these today.
Rainproof lined windbreaker with hood
Same as the above. I have one of this waterproof jackets. It’s a basic navy slicker from Amazon. Not really lined, it sits just below my hip and has a hood and waist with a draw-cord. It’s loose enough that I can wear my silk undershirt, and a medium-weight sweater underneath. And…still bend my elbows. But on my next cruise to Alaska, I’ll have the Gore-tex rain pants, too.
Down- or synthetic-filled hip-length jacket with hood
A must. I’m on my third down-filled puffy jacket. I’m just fussy and I like this one best. It has a visible hood and two inside pockets as well as two outside with zippers. It’s super light-weight jacket and has its own little carry-sack. If it’s warm when I travel, I put it into a freezer ziplock bag and squish the air out of it. It takes up even less room that way. And it sits at mid-hip length. It’s also water resistant (not waterproof) and a windbreaker.
Small folding umbrella
Southeast Alaska is a rainforest, didn’t you know that? I didn’t. It’s the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is part of the largest temperate rainforest on earth. While the temperatures in Southeast Alaska stay fairly moderate, the average amount of rainfall days is in excess of 230 days per year. A small umbrella can be your best friend.
On the other hand, rain in Alaska comes with wind. Horizontal rain is common and can quickly turn your umbrella inside out. That said, when there’s a constant drizzle, a small umbrella comes in handy. So do your waterproof rain pants and jacket.
You don’t have to spend a fortune but a decent pair of binoculars will really enhance your chances to see wildlife. Get small ones that you can stuff into a sneaker or little corner of your suitcase.
For me for Alaska, a backpack to take around on a day trip is too heavy and bulky. I bought two of these Bago daypacks…one in hot pink for the Caribbean and a black and grey one for Alaska.
Don’t leave home without:
Whether or not your Alaska cruise begins or ends in San Francisco or Seattle, you’re going to need a passport if you want to leave the ship for a tour in Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia, CA. Or if you or your companion become ill…you’ll need to fly home from Vancouver. You’ll need a passport to fly back to the USA.
Make a color copy of your passport and keep in a separate place, in case you lose the original.
If your Alaska cruise begins or ends in Vancouver, you’re going to need a passport for Vancouver.
Read More: Do you need a passport for an Alaska cruise
Always bring a few days’ extra pills and keep with you in your handbag or carry-on. Do not pack in your checked luggage.
Electronics to Pack an Alaska Cruise
Bring a camera
If you don’t have a camera or the one you have is really old, this cruise is a good time to invest in a new one. An Alaska cruise is really an unforgettable experience and you will want to preserve those precious memories. Don’t wait until the day before you leave to buy it. Allow a few weeks to play with the camera. Take photos in your house and outside and get used to different lighting conditions. Get a feel for your new camera. Be sure to bring the manual with you.
I’ve been using my trusty Nikon 5600 for a couple of years and I’m really happy with the results. It came with two kit lenses and I used the 70-300mm to capture the Northern Lights. You can see the results.
Camera battery charger and a second battery
Plus, bring along some spare regular batteries.
If you already have a camera, think about bringing a zoom lens. If you don’t have one and can afford it, buy one. Why? To capture close-up images of the glaciers, wildlife foraging along the shore and on and on. l love my iPhone and take thousands of photos on every trip. But I grab my “real” camera, whenever someone yells, “whale/eagle/bear at 2:00 o’clock!”
You’ll also want to make sure the camera is weather-sealed.
So that you aren’t lugging a case full of lens, you can go with an 18mm-300mm and use only that one for your entire trip. If that seems a bit too cumbersome for a walking around lens, you could bring two lenses: an 18mm-55mm and a 70mm-300mm. That’s what I do.
Get one that can adapt to use with your smart phone and a camera. I travel with my Gorilla Pod.
Do not scrimp on a memory card. Get a brand name like Sandisk or Lexar. I’d suggest two or three higher grade cards. I bought two Sandisk Extreme Pro – 32 GB cards. One card might be enough for most cruisers, though. Just be sure to back up your photos at least every other night.
Don’t take a chance of losing those amazing Alaska memories. Whether you travel with a laptop or external drive, get in the habit of transferring and backing-up your day’s photos before you go to bed. Make sure you bring their cables, too. I’m on my third external portable drive, by a company called Silicon Power. It’s the 2TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive. I like it because like the name says, it’s rugged. Plus, it has a convenient case with clips to attach the cable.
My go-to favorite portable charger is this one by Anker. It has two charging ports and comes with a little mesh carry-bag.
Miscellaneous Stuff to Pack for Alaska
Yes, there are a lot of these out there. I’ve become a fan of Hydro Flask. Why? Their coffee mug (with the lid on) keeps hot beverages hotter longer than Yeti, and cold beverages colder for just a little longer, too. Plus, the company is wonderful to deal with if you need a replacement or have any questions.
Why pack a mug for an Alaska cruise? I love to have my morning (or afternoon) coffee on deck, breathe in the crisp Alaska air, watch the steam rise from the mug and search the shoreline for wildlife. Coffee or tea in a cruise ship’s coffee mug just doesn’t hold the heat and doesn’t have a lid. So I pack my trusty Hydro Flask coffee mug on every cruise.
Just do everyone onboard a favor: when filling your mug at the coffee station, keep it away from the spigot. Or fill up a ship’s mug and transfer it to yours.
Not my favorite item. For the entire six-weeks I spent in Alaska last August and September, I didn’t see one mosquito. I was warned that they’re nicknamed the state bird, but I guess they were elsewhere. I was told anything with DEET is what you need. Personally, I’d rather wear long sleeves and pants than use bug spray. But I’ll pack bug spray on my next cruise to Alaska. Actually, for a Caribbean cruise nowadays, too.
A must. And if you’re doing any really active excursions, think about one of those sunglass croakies so you don’t lose them.
Always bring three or four freezer bags. I bring two of the large size so I can pop my camera into one incase of rain. There’s always a use for small sandwich-sized bags, too.
Travel alarm clock
I know my iPhone has a clock and an alarm. And I’ve come to rely on it. But recently I started to bring this small travel alarm clock with me. All it does is have an alarm and show the time. Super basic. And it has a disable switch so the alarm won’t accidentally ring if it gets bumped in your suitcase. Now I don’t have to double-check that my iPhone alarm is set every day or that I’ll hear it if the phone volume is off (yes you will).
Another product that I’m not thrilled to use, but a necessary one, especially on a glacier hike or trail walk.
I usually sleep with the stateroom bathroom light on and the door closed. Just enough light is emitted around the crack under the door. But it’s so darn bright when you walk in. So I bought this little plug-in night light, one for home and one for travel. It stays on all the time and doesn’t blind you when you walk into a dark bathroom at 4am.
There you have it. Everything you need for an Alaska cruise. Have a wonderful time! If I’ve missed something, please leave a note in the comments below.
Here’s your Cruise Maven Printable Packing List for Alaska
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Sherry is editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com. An expert on ocean and river cruises plus trains in the US and Europe, Sherry’s goal is to share her experiences to entertain, inform and inspire readers to travel the world.