The weather during Alaska’s short cruising season is as varied and wild as its geography and wildlife. From chilly wind bursts and rough seas in May to tank-top temperatures in August, cruisers must be ready for just about anything when going north of the Great White North.
Your packing motto for this trip: Alaska is for layers. It may be summer but it can still get cold and wet so make sure you’re covered. You may know your wardrobe, but we know Alaska. These are your Alaska essentials:
ALASKA PACKING LIST
Gripping the cruise ship railing as you watch glaciers calve or humpbacks breach right before your eyes can turn hands into icicles. Pack a pair of insulated gloves and your hands won’t freeze like that kid’s tongue in A Christmas Story.
If it doesn’t rain during your Alaskan cruise, the sun gods favor you. Rain and heavy mist tend to drop in on Alaska cruises like unwanted houseguests. A waterproof jacket with a hood is a must, not only for when the skies open up, but also for when the evening sea breezes seduce you into strolling the ship’s deck in the lingering daylight.
Whether you intend to stay onboard or take guided hikes through the muskeg, you’ll want to have a pair of these. Cruise ship decks are often wet, and going ashore in Alaska can mean slippery ramps. No need to pack tall, bulky rubber boots—ankle boots take up less room. Waterproof hiking boots will also do just as well
No other cruise itinerary promises more wildlife viewing than Alaska. Those promises don’t come through on every cruise, but the odds are high you’ll spy humpbacks or orcas, brown bears, or even mountain goats. Waterproof 8x42 binoculars are ideal for close-up wildlife viewing on a moving cruise ship.
Yes, it may rain. It also may be sunny and in the 80s the entire cruise, so don’t forget the sunscreen. Even on cloudy days, the sun is strong at these northern Alaskan latitudes. And if you’re planning to kayak or trek glaciers, keep in mind that sea and snow will bounce those UV rays right back onto your tender skin.
If you’re woken in the wee hours by a commotion that the northern lights are on display, you won’t want to waste time getting dressed. The Aurora Borealis is fairly rare during summer, but don’t lose hope: I witnessed them on a late-August Alaskan cruise.
Those lovely late sunsets go hand-in-hand with seriously early sunrises. If you’re a light sleeper, you may want to back up the blackout curtains by packing eyeshades.