Planning an Alaska cruise but not sure what to wear? I spent a lot of time researching packing for an Alaska cruise prior to our trip and paid special attention to other cruisers attire while onboard and in port. I probably looked like a crazy stalker, staring at people and making notes on my phone 🙂
Weather in Alaska can change drastically during the day and even hour by the hour. Our driver from Anchorage to Seward told us that in Alaska you can wait 10 minutes or drive 10 miles and the weather will change – and not necessarily for the better. We definitely discovered this on our trip. One minute it was sunny, and we were wearing short sleeves while the next the wind started to blow, and we added layers and pulled our hoods up.
The month you travel will also affect your packing, to a degree. The Alaska cruise season is May-September. If traveling during the first or last month, expect cooler temperatures. August will be nice and warm, but it is what’s considered the start of the rainy season. We traveled the first week of June. The weather was lovely with only a little rain. We were told the week prior was cold and rainy while the week before that saw snow!
The key to dressing in Alaska is layers. I’ll start our Alaska cruise packing list discussing what to wear at port/on excursions. You’ll also want to consider your plans for pre and post cruise as this can affect your outdoor clothing as well. You may need to pack a little differently for land tours. For example, Fairbanks can get hotter than you’d expect in the summer, so you’ll want those tanks and shorts.
The days weather and your plans while at port will determine your attire, but this article can serve as a guide as you get your suitcase packed and ready to go.
Where to purchase your gear? We mostly shopped on Amazon and at REI (our local outdoor store) for this trip.
What to Wear on Port Days-
Again, this will depend on your plans for the day, but let’s start from the bottom up:
Shoes – Tennis shoes/sneakers/trainers or whatever you call them are a must for exploring port cities. You’ll want comfortable walking shoes, with a good grip. Hiking boots are another recommended footwear. These are great for hiking (obviously) and when it rains. We wore our water-resistant hiking boots on hiking days and days it was raining or expected to rain. No wet feet for us!
Locals typically wore tennis shoes, hiking shoes or the popular Alaskan XTRATUF Boots. If you want XTRATUF’s you can grab a pair when you arrive in Alaska as a useful souvenir. We didn’t buy a pair, but you’ll look like a true Alaskan walking around.
Pants – You will likely be wearing pants for most of your trip. Jeans were everywhere and our go to for most days on and off the ship. Hiking pants are great, not only for hiking, but on rainy days as well. Jeans take forever to dry and don’t feel great waterlogged and heavy walking around the town. Another good option for hiking or wandering on wet days is rain pants. We didn’t purchase these for the trip, but I did see others wearing them.
Some travelers had on leggings or workout gear depending on their itinerary. I did pack workout pants but didn’t wear them off the ship.
I love my prAna hiking pants, K prefers Kuhl while Lucy likes her REI brand.
Long johns – If visiting early or late in the season, you may want a pair of long johns to wear under your clothes. This is especially true if you’ll be taking one of the helicopter and glacier trekking tours or even if you’ll be on a whale watching or fishing charter.
Shorts – If traveling during peak summer season, you may want a pair of shorts. You’ll likely be okay with a single pair.
Base layer – Bring some base layer options to wear depending on the weather and your activities. Short and long sleeves are good options. You may even want a tank if it’s warm and you’ll be hiking on a sunny day. K and Derrick tended to wear t-shirts while Lucy and I decided each day which base layer to wear.
Top layer – Sweater, sweatshirt, vest and flannels are great to be able to pull off and on easily. We all wore a variety of these during our trip. Avoid sweaters that are too bulky as they will take up too much room in your suitcase and you likely won’t need something that thick. When choosing a vest, the puffer type that can squeeze down and be stuffed in a small baggie are perfect and won’t hog space in your luggage.
Light, breathable rain jacket – You don’t want to leave home without your rain jacket. You never know when the skies may open, and it provides additional insulation against chilly winds. Make sure to try the rain jacket on with layers before your trip, so you have plenty of room to move around while exploring.
Derrick and the kids had more traditional rain jackets and were happy with these. I brought this Patagonia jacket. It was a slightly heavier, but I loved the underarm zippers for when it got too warm.
Undergarments – Depending on what you need – panties or boxers, a couple of bras and sports bras.
Hat or ear covers– We utilized our beanies (knit hats) a few times during the trip on chilly, raining mornings and while watching the glaciers from the ship. We also had them on our glacier hike as it can get windy.
Gloves – Depending on when you travel, you may need to warm your hands. If we did not have a balcony room, we would have likely needed these while on deck viewing the glaciers. You may want to consider purchasing a pair of device-enabled gloves, so you don’t have to keep pulling them on and off to use your phone.
Scarves – You may need scarves in May and September. We did not use them in June; however, it was pretty cold outside as we viewed the glacier from the ship. A cute scarf can change up your outfit and add some extra warmth, so they can be worth packing if you have space.
Sunglasses – Don’t forget your sunglasses. The glare from snow covered mountains and glaciers can be blinding.
What to Wear on an Alaska Cruise Ship –
Generally, the attire on the Alaskan cruise is more casual than other cruises. There will likely be a formal night on your cruise, but most people don’t get as dressed up as on Caribbean and other destination cruises. Now, you may be wondering what to wear for formal night on an Alaskan cruise? We saw very few cocktail dresses and suits on our Alaska cruise. No one was glammed up in an evening gown or tux. Women tended to dress similarly to when eating in the formal dining room, focusing more on cute and comfortable than flash and sparkles. Formal night did usually mean more women wearing skirts and dresses with men wearing a button up shirt and the occasional ties.
The formal dining room attire tended to be dress slacks and tops for women and slacks with a button up for men. Some gentlemen did wear sport coats to dinner. There were also some women in summery dresses and skirts (don’t forget the stockings or tights and a wrap). However, a lot of cruisers simply wore jeans and nicer tops. Dinner at the buffet was casual which is similar to other cruises. Flats are the best type of shoe if you’re not getting too dressed up. You don’t need to worry about the rolling seas and they pack easily.
Daytime ship wear was similar to port days with more leggings, tunics and slip on shoes. Carrying a sweater or sweatshirt around the ship is always a good idea as some venues can be cold on any cruise. We did tend to need a top layer while walking on the ship’s decks.
Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit, flip flops and coverups for the pool, hot tubs or spa. The pool on the NCL Jewel was heated and a fairly popular spot to hang on sea days. It can still get chilly outside with the wind, so many quests covered up quickly to lay on the loungers.
Other Items You Should Consider Packing for Alaska Cruise –
Now I’ve shared what to wear on your Alaska cruise, let talk about other items to pack. These are some items you may not think to pack, but you’ll be happy you did!
Backpack – A backpack or daypack is great for carrying water, souvenirs and all the clothes you’ll pull off and on throughout the day.
Waterproof Backpack Cover – You may want a waterproof cover that goes over your backpack especially if you have your camera stashed away.
Camera – This is the trip when you’ll want more than just cellphone photos. Having a good zoom lens to capture eagles soaring and wildlife on the shoreline is a must. If you don’t have a newer camera, it may be time to work the purchase into your budget. Don’t forget extra batteries, SIM cards, and your charging cord!
Binoculars – Don’t leave the binoculars at home or you may find yourself purchasing some on the ship. On and off the ship you’ll be able to spot wildlife, see the incredible crevices of the glaciers and marvel at the rushing waterfalls. We brought 2 pairs of binoculars for my family of four. There were times when another pair would have been nice, but 2 pairs was usually enough.
Magnetic hooks – Bring magnetic hooks for the back of the stateroom door to hang jackets. This keeps them out of the closet and away from other clothes if wet. Make sure they are strong enough to hold a wet jacket.
Portable phone charger – These are always a good idea when traveling. In Alaska, you’ll likely be snapping so many photos and sharing them online that your phone could lose battery before the end of your port day.
Bug repellent– The mosquitoes will be looking for a feast if you’ll be venturing into the wilderness. We purchased these but didn’t need them as we traveled earlier in the season.
Hand warmers – If you’re traveling in the cooler months and get cold easily, you may want to bring hot hands. We thought we may need them on our glacier trek, but we had gorgeous sunny weather.
Sunscreen – Yep, you’ll want to apply sunscreen in Alaska.
A few other items to mention –
It’s worth mentioning these other items you don’t want to leave home without regardless of the cruise destination.
Passports – Don’t forget your passports and take a photo of it on your phone. Some ports required you to have a photo on hand, but they never checked.
Cruise documents and luggage tags – Once you complete online check-in at home, go ahead and print those cruise documents and luggage tags. You can keep the documents on your phone and scan while checking in at port, but I’m always worried I won’t have good service.
Excursion confirmations – Just like with cruise documents, you’ll want to ensure you have a copy of your excursion confirmation. This will tell you when and where to meet for your excursion. If booking through the CruiseLine, you’ll get documents in your stateroom.
USB ports – We never seem to have enough space to charge all our gadgets if we’re sharing a room with kids. It’s also a good idea to pack a surge protector. We like this travel surge protector with USB to give us an all-in-one solution.
Sea sickness bands and ginger tabs – For those prone to seasickness, come prepared so you don’t have to overpay at the ship store. Part of our trip was a little rocky. Lucy used the bands for one night.
Refillable water bottle – Great for on and off the ship especially if water isn’t included in your drink package. We purchased these lighter weight bottles for the trip as they worked well while hiking. Derrick wished we would have purchased a filter water bottle as we started to run out of water on one of our hikes. He also just wanted to drink water right from the rushing rivers.
Compact umbrella – We decided not to use one, but lots of people had them. Particularly the ones that didn’t bring a rain jacket.
Credit/Debit Cards – If traveling to Canada, you’ll want a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee and a debit card to get CAN dollars. Taxis and some markets preferred cash. They would accept US dollars, but you’ll get the short end of the exchange rate.
Cash – Gratuity for crew members is automatically added to your folio on the cruise, but it’s always appreciated if you tip extra for exceptional service. We usually tip additional to our favorite bartenders, our stateroom attendant as well as a few $1’s for room service. Keep in mind that the concierge, butler and childcare workers aren’t included in the automatic gratuities. Additional tipping is completely optional, and we always base it on our level of service.
Medical insurance cards – You probably always have these on hand anyways, but you don’t want to forget. Yep, we had to go to medical on our most recent cruise.
Travel insurance documents – Additional travel insurance is always a good idea. Ensure you keep this information with you while traveling.
Post- it’s – Want to keep in touch with other members of your family (or friends)? Post-it’s are great for leaving each other notes on where to meet and when. Since having messaging and Wi-Fi isn’t always available, we use notes to keep up with the kids. They even have magnetic post-it pads! Some people use a dry erase board on their stateroom doors, but I like things that are compact.
Freezer bags – Bring gallon and quart size. These are great for stashing items if it rains and any snacks you need.
Snacks – Food in Alaska is extremely expensive. I brought snacks for our hikes from home. Simple nuts and granola bars helped cut costs and didn’t take up a lot of room in our suitcase.
Lanyards – Many cruisers wear lanyards to hold their cruise cards. It ensures you always have it with you around the ship. Derrick and I don’t use them, but they were a must when my kids were little. As teenagers, they keep their cards in a cellphone case. These are expensive on the ship so order ahead of time.
Laundry Bag – We place a laundry bag in the stateroom closet then dump the dirty laundry in one of the suitcases under the bed when it gets full. This helps to keep the room tidy and helps with packing later.
Packing cubes – I love packing cubes for all our trips, but they especially come in handy when storing items like socks in the cubby’s. I kept all our hats and gloves in one packing cube for easy access. Just place the cube inside and you’re good to go.
Bag to carry off the ship – If you choose to leave your luggage out the night before and pick it up after disembarking, ensure you have a bag that can fit your toiletries, night clothes and medications. This is a tip for all cruises, but it bears repeating. It may be the same bag you use to carry on medications, electronics and travel documents.
Special occasion decorations – Traveling during a birthday, anniversary or holiday? You can decorate your stateroom door or even use clings on the windows and balcony door from Dollar tree. Some cruisers like to decorate their doors just for fun.
Packing for an Alaska cruise is all about layering, being comfortable and prepared for any weather. There are a ton of stores in each port selling wool clothing and cold weather gear if you didn’t pack enough warm clothing. You can get these items, hats or t-shirts as extra souvenirs to use after your adventure. The beauty of the rugged, untouched wilderness is like nothing we have ever experienced. Enjoy the landscape, food and locals without worrying about what you forgot to pack.