Alaska Cruise: How to Pick the Best Time
The best time to cruise to Alaska is a matter of personal preference. The "best time" could be different for a solo cruise traveler who dreams of photographing bears than it is for a parent who wants a family vacation in the great outdoors. The Alaska cruise season is just five months long, from May to September, although Holland America Line offers Alaska cruises in late April and early October.
Read on for information on the best time to cruise to Alaska, based on various needs and experiences.
Best Time for an Alaska Cruise with "Good" Weather
Tell a sun-worshiper that you’re taking an Alaska cruise and they’ll raise an eyebrow. Yes, it’s chilly. Yes, even in summer. On average in July, Alaska boasts high temps in the mid-60s, but occasionally climbs into the 70s and 80s. It is also misty and drizzly. However, if you prepare for Alaska’s chill and damp weather, no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll have a great time. Bring a jacket, gloves, and scarves, along with waterproof gear and sunscreen. Read how to pack for an Alaska cruise (pdf) for more info.
The most temperate weather is in July, then June and August when it’s warmer (though again, not near tropical) and drier. When it comes to May vs. September, May is slightly cooler, but gets significantly less rainfall. Temps can vary greatly depending on where you are in the state.
Best Time to Cruise Alaska for Midnight Sun
Alaska basks in gorgeous 24-hour daylight during two months of the year surrounding the summer solstice. This is when Alaska denizens get their outdoor activities in, including 2:00 am hikes, dog walks, and beach volleyball. Mid-May through mid-July are the best months to cruise to Alaska to soak in the midnight sun.
Best Time for Northern Lights
Winter, when nights are long, dark and clear is the best time to cruise to Alaska for the Northern Lights. That said, it is possible but not guaranteed to see them on an Alaska cruise. An Alaska cruise in early April, or late September, close to the fall equinox (September 21), will increase your chances. Where you are matters too and the farther north, the better.
Best Time for Glacier Calving
Ice calving is both a thunderous warning of climate change and an incredible phenomenon to behold. The best time to view artic-blue ice plunge into the sea is during the warmest months of June, July, and August at active glaciers.
Best Time for Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Spring, before school lets out is the best time to cruise to Alaska with extra elbow room, shorter lines and peaceful meals. You’ll still see amazing sights, like Dall sheep and other creatures who emerge from the mountains to graze verdant fields. Bonus: there are less mosquitoes in spring than summer.
Best time to Cruise to Alaska for Wildlife
Bald eagles soaring overhead. Alaskan brown bears scooping up salmon from a rushing waterfall. A pod of orcas spyhopping in the ocean. Nature is in full bloom during cruise season in Alaska, but what you will see depends on the time of year and location.
At all times during cruise season, you’ll meet some of Alaska’s wild residents: eagles, whales, dolphins and bears. Here are some amazing natural occurrences and the time of year to see them.
About 30,000 eagles call the Great Land home and they’re more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. There’s a good chance you’ll see eagles perched high near the shoreline, in town scavenging garbage dumps, or even feasting off a salmon run. Bald eagles hatch and rear young in April and you can see their mottled fledglings from May through June. Bring binoculars, eagles like to nest high.
Bears Feeding on Salmon
Witnessing bears catch (or try to catch) slippery salmon from a river is one of the most incredible Alaska experiences you can have. The best time to view this dramatic display is mid-July to mid-August, though you can take wildlife excursions to bear hangouts at any time during cruise season.
Don’t underestimate fish. Salmon have a fascinating, beautiful life cycle well worth viewing. When they are fully mature, millions take a harrowing upstream journey from the ocean to the rivers where they were born. The few who make it spawn and die here. Salmon runs start in early May until September with different species of salmon running at different times of year.
Fuzzy baby moose, called calves are as cute as it gets. Late May and early June is the best possible time to view a momma moose and her calf (sometimes two calves). Moose can be dangerous, especially a threatened mom. If you do see these majestic creatures hulking around, stay far back (at least 50 feet) and never disturb a lone calf, as mom is somewhere nearby.
Alaska has humpback whales, gray whales, killer whales, and a small population of belugas. Though it is species-dependent, the best time to see whales is in high summer, when feeding is plentiful. And it all depends on what species you intend to see—humpbacks are in the area year-round, while others like gray whales migrate to Alaska in summer.
The best time for an Alaska cruise? Anytime. Alaska will steal your heart during every month of cruise season, so don’t overthink it and just enjoy. Happy planning!