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Updated June 29, 2021.
Whether your Alaska cruise is on a small ship adventure cruise like Alaskan Dream Cruises or on a cruise ship like Holland America’s Eurodam, here’s what to pack for an Alaska cruise. At the end of the article you’ll find my printable Alaska cruise packing checklist.
What to Pack for An Alaska Cruise
When figuring what to pack, it’s all about knowing what you will do on your incredible cruise in Alaska. Will you spend time pre- or post-cruise in Alaska or Seattle? What sort of shore excursions do you plan to do? And of course, the month you choose to cruise Alaska can be significant.
My point is, most likely you’ll need to pack cruise clothes and land clothes. And hopefully fit it all into one suitcase. Plus a carry-on for electronics, toiletries, documents and meds. It only took me two cruises to Alaska to figure out what I should have packed…or left at home.
I’ve cruised Alaska up and down the Inside Passage at least a dozen times plus four cross-Gulf voyages. My cruises to Alaska happened in every month of the cruise season. How to pack for an Alaska cruise in still-chilly May or in mid-July all follow my basic packing guidelines.
I hope my Alaska cruise packing tips help you to be prepared for one of the most incredible cruise and land experiences of a life time.
Your Alaska Cruise Itinerary
Inside Passage: The overwhelming majority of ships to Alaska for seven-night round-trip cruises depart from either Seattle or Vancouver, Canada. A one-week Alaska cruise spend two days northbound and the same back plus three or four Alaska cruise ports, all in the Inside Passage.
On any seven-night Inside Passage cruise on a typical cruise ship, you don’t have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Alaska before or after your cruise.
On the other hand, choose a small ship adventure cruise and your ship will probably embark and disembark in either Juneau or Sitka. In this case, you can easily spend a couple of days on land before or after your cruise.
Cross-Gulf: These cruises can also be seven nights with departures from Vancouver and Seattle or Seward and Whittier, Alaska. A cross-Gulf cruise will give you the time to spend 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 in 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, I also include how and what to pack.
Basically, you can still pack the same but 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. But there’s more to know.
Whether a cross-Gulf cruise with a few days in Denali, Fairbanks or Anchorage or an Inside Passage cruise, it’s all here in my Alaska packing list. 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
Let’s begin with the basics. What goes in your suitcase and why.
Bring the Right Clothing for Alaska
It’s really important to remember that it is can be very chilly out on deck, especially at night. Then there’s the cold wind off the water and glacier visits. Brrr.
Even though your cruise ship will still have two formal nights, unless you’re on a luxury cruise, typical “formal” isn’t over the top on an Alaska cruise. Think dressy-casual.
Both men and women should pack at one or two comfortable (not torn) denim 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 long-enough tunic. They can also get you through a workout in the gym or walks around the deck. And they’re easy to wash in the sink.
One pair of shorts is sufficient in case of a few warm 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. Just sayin’.
On formal nights in the main dining room or an upscale specialty restaurant, men can pair dark pants with a sport coat, shirt and and maybe a tie. A guy could even get away with wearing a nice pull-over sweater and maybe a collar peeking out over the neckline. Alaska cruises really are relaxed when it comes to dress-up nights.
You’d be surprised how many people choose to eat at the Lido buffet on an Alaska cruise. Note: If that’s your preference, be prepared for a queue until you get the timing for when the buffet is the least crowded.
Bring a swimsuit and cover-up, though you can use your bathrobe from your stateroom if there is one. 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 at all. Then again, if you’re a spa person, bring one anyway. Sandals or flip-flops are always good to pack for the pool and don’t take up much space.
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 on your stroll around the deck.
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 buy a $10 pashmina if your dress is sleeveless. You can roll it up, it doubles as an outdoor scarf 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. Who doesn’t go all the way to Alaska and not buy a T-shirt!
If it’s a chilly, damp or drizzly 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 at all) 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. They’ll keep you warm if you choose one of the helicopter tours to a glacier.
Example of What I Wear on a Shore Excursion
Here’s what I might wear on a shore excursion, especially to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Up close at Mendenhall Glacier is not only icy-chilly but there’s also spray off the water.
First, I layer a silk or silk-like top underneath a crew neck or turtleneck sweater or sweatshirt (not too heavy). Then…
Over the lightweight sweater or sweatshirt, I’ll either wear a thin, loose-fitting waterproof rain jacket or my usual down, water repellent puffy jacket with hood, depending on if it’s a sunny or rainy day.
Then I either wear or bring along a sleeveless puffy vest with a zipper. This is almost a must-have item to pack. It comes with a little carrying bag to squish the vest into for travel.
Puffy vests are 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.
Make sure that it has outside zip pockets and maybe an inside pocket or two. You can put your room card in the zippered pocket and not worry about it falling out when you sit down for breakfast, too.
These are great for a multitude of reasons. You can wear them over anything and at any time. Get 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 for my Alaska cruises. Actually, I bought two of them. The neckline isn’t stifling and has plenty of room for a mock or turtleneck top underneath without feeling constricted.
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 so they stay home. Even putting them into plastic bags and squishing out the excess air, I won’t bring them with me.
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. When 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 and then if the weather suddenly gets warm, 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 to 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 or in Alaska and have a souvenir at the same time.
Don’t worry if your hat is 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.
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 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 sheer stockings/tights for dress-up 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. First, 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! I love love love these – they’re like wearing comfy slippers. Plus, they’re waterproof leather.
Also pack one pair of sneakers or super-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-calf 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 mint green with salmon.
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. Save time and buy your boots before you leave home.
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.
Outerwear for Alaska’s unpredictable weather
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. As soon as I returned to Florida, I ordered these waterproof rain pants for my next Alaska cruise.
Rainproof lined windbreaker with hood
This is the best and least expensive of my Alaska-wear. I have this waterproof rain jacket. It’s basic, loose-fitting with room to layer underneath.
Not really lined, it sits just below my hip and has a hood, a waist with a draw-cord and a protected zipper. I can wear my silk undershirt plus a medium-weight sweater underneath. And…still bend my elbows. But on my next cruise to Alaska, I’ll have those 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.
Miscellaneous Stuff to Pack for Alaska
Small Folding Umbrella
Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage is in a rainforest, did 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 pack those 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 when you pack or into a little corner of your suitcase.
I travel with Nikon’s small, folding waterproof binoculars. It fits in your hand, weighs less than a pound and under $100.
For me for Alaska, a regular backpack to haul 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, usually a required service call when there’s not a pandemic.
Or if you or your companion become ill…you might 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.
Plus, if your Alaska cruise begins or ends in Vancouver, you’re going to need a passport for Vancouver.
Always bring a few days’ extra pills and keep with you in your handbag or carry-on. Do not pack any medications in your checked luggage.
Electronics to Pack for 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 pack the manual, too.
I’ve been using my trusty Nikon 5600 for three years and I’m really happy with the results. The 5600 came with two kit lenses, 18-55 and 70-300mm.
I used the 70-300mm lens to capture the Northern Lights. Here are 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 with the zoom already attached, whenever someone yells, “whale/eagle/bear at 2:00 o’clock!”
When you are out and about on a shore excursion, toss a zip-lock plastic bag that can fit the camera into your day pack. You never know when you’ll get caught in the rain.
So that you aren’t lugging a case full of lens, you could just bring 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 always travel with my Gorilla Pod for tabletop use. Then a lightweight Manfrotto travel tripod to set up on deck or even on a nature walk shore excursion. Be sure to buy a smartphone adapter, too.
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, the LaCie 4TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive. I like it because, like the name says, it’s rugged. I also bought a travel case for it. Plus, the travel case has convenient slots for your memory cards.
My go-to favorite portable charger is this one by Anker. It has two charging ports and comes with a little mesh carry-bag.
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 coffee cup and then transfer it to yours.
Not my favorite item. For the entire six-weeks I spent in Alaska last August and September, I didn’t get one mosquito bite. I was warned that they’re nicknamed the state bird, but I guess was lucky.
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. Dengue fever, you know.
A must. And if you’re doing any really active excursions, think about attaching a sunglass strap so you don’t lose them. START!!
Always bring three or four zip-lock freezer bags. I bring two of the large size so, as I mentioned, 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 during the night. 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 to pack for an Alaska cruise. I hope my Alaska packing tips are helpful!
Have a wonderful time! If I’ve missed something, please leave a note in the comments below.
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the USA and Europe on land and sea. Always looking for new vistas, local food and wine. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to savor and travel the world without flying.