Packing for my Alaska cruise was tricky. While I have experience packing for warm destination cruises and an Antarctica expedition cruise, I’m relatively new to cruising and the fact that I needed to pack appropriately for ship life as well as for outdoor adventures in Alaska made it hard to decide what to bring. After all, in my normal day-to-day travel life, I don’t usually have to factor in multiple dressy dinners and whale watching or glacier exploring. In the end, I packed well enough but there are still a few things I wish I had brought with me. So, for those wondering what to wear on an Alaskan cruise, here are my suggestions for an Alaska cruise packing list.
For a full roundup on my thoughts and tips on my Alaska cruise experience check out this post.
Alaska Cruise Packing List Essentials
We got super lucky with the weather for our Alaska cruise. There was no rain and quite a bit of sunshine. Ports reached a high of 20C which felt very warm walking around but sea days on the deck, especially for Glacier Bay, were very chilly and I actually wished I had dressed warmer. For this reason, your best bet when packing for an Alaska cruise is to think layers. That way you can add more or take off as needed. Some specific essentials I suggest include the following:
- Waterproof shoes: This is my number one my list of what to pack for an Alaska cruise since it can be wet and rainy and depending on your excursions, you might be out on whaling boats, by the water, or just in the rain. I’m a huge fan of Vessi shoes and take mine with me everywhere I go. I have two pairs, the Everyday Move and the Weekend Sneaker. I’ve worn them in the pouring rain, through puddles, and even stepped into rivers and lakes in them and my feet actually stay dry. Plus, I find them supportive and comfortable. Check them out here.
- A windbreaker/raincoat: Another essential is a windbreaker or a rain jacket. It’s a handy layer to have both onboard and on any excursions. I suggest something with a hood and make sure that it is actually waterproof, not just water resistant! My go-to rain jacket is from Colombia brand.
- UA Storm Gear Sweaters: Another piece of clothing I love and recommend for any cooler, outdoor adventure activity is the Under Armour storm series gear. I have a couple of hooded sweaters from this collection and they are cozy and water-repellant. It’s not properly waterproof like a rain jacket, but definitely helps keep you dry in damp weather and super easy to layer. Check out the storm series sweatshirts here.
- Leggings: If you are like me and love being outdoors and choosing adventure-type of activities then a pair of leggings or two are a must for your Alaska cruise. Not only are they comfortable for when you are onboard and just exploring the ship, but they are ideal for shore excursions that involve an activity such as hiking, biking, rappelling, or evening being out on boats whale watching. Most cruise ships also have a gym so they are handy to pack if you plan on using those facilities as well. My favourite leggings are from lululemon and are the Wunder Train. As someone with a smaller waist and larger thighs/hips it can be hard to find leggings that don’t slide down and this style works perfectly for my body shape.
- A hat and touch screen gloves: When people told me to bring a hat and gloves on my Alaska cruise I laughed. First of all, it’s summer and while summer in Alaska isn’t as warm as many other destinations, it’s not like it’s properly cold. At least not for me, as a Canadian. Well, guess what? As I stood at the bow of the cruise ship through Glacier Bay I really regretted not having any gloves. It was COLD with that glacier wind whipping around us and my fingers were frozen as I tried to take photos. I really wished I had brought a pair of touch-screen gloves to keep my fingers warm and still be able to use my phone and camera. I got this pair for my Antarctica trip and they work pretty well.
- Base layer: This is another thing I regret not bringing and again, would really recommend it. For the most part, I was warm in my layered sweater and windbreaker but being on the bow of that cruise ship for Glacier Bay was much colder than I had anticipated. Having a base layer thermal top underneath would have made a world of difference. Some people will suggest bringing bigger, warmer jackets but I think that’s a waste of packing space on a summer cruise when you really won’t wear it much. Base layers are thin and easy to pack so if you just wear it the once then it’s ok! If you don’t have a good base layer, check out this one.
What to Wear on an Alaska Cruise: Onboard Life
For those like me who are new to cruising and wondering what to wear onboard, I can tell you from my experience with Holland America Line that overall, things were pretty casual during the day but you will see a mix. We had people running around in athleisure and flipflops while others wore dresses and heels. That being said, everyone fit in. It was more a matter of where you were going and what you were doing.
Mealtime is when things got more specific. There were multiple places to dine onboard including the dining room as well as several paid restaurants. These places tended to be dressier than the casual dining spots by the pool or the cafeteria-style area. Again, people did show up in a mix of outfits but I was more comfortable going in trousers/jeans/sundress rather than leggings and a hoodie.
There were also two ‘dressy’ nights on board for people who wanted to eat in the dining room. On our ship, this meant cocktail attire. Women wore dress pants and pretty tops or cocktail dresses. Men wore collared shirts and dress pants. Some of the older couples did really dress up in evening wear; gowns and tuxedos which was lovely to see but definitely not required for our cruise. However, this may vary by ship so check to make sure.
Overall, dress comfortably and as you like but be respectful of your environment.
There are paid laundry facilities available on board but they can be quite pricey. Try to pack what you think you need for the week but also don’t be afraid to re-wear your outfits. I’m a big fan of capsule wardrobes that allow me to pack a few basics that I can mix and match to create multiple outfits. I find brands like encircled really good for this!
PS: Wondering about my favourite curvy-friendly clothing brands for travel? Check out this post.
Alaska Cruise Packing List: Suggested Add-Ons
On top of clothing, there are a few other add-ons that I would suggest for your Alaska Packing Cruise List.
- Binoculars: If you are really interested in seeing wildlife, then this is a great idea to bring. We saw tons of whales but they were quite far away and binoculars would have come in really handy. I was quite spoiled in Antarctica where they came much closer to the boats and we were able to be on the water in zodiacs with them so I didn’t pack any but ended up regretting it.
- A zoom lens: If you are into photography, get a decent zoom lens. Mine was 250mm and still didn’t cut it. Again, there was tons of wildlife, but it was pretty far. You don’t have to buy, there are plenty of photography shops that will rent you a lens for the duration of your trip.
- Cash (USD): Most places in port will take credit cards and everything on the ship is registered to your account which is paid to your card by the end. However, there are some situations in which cash could come in handy. If you do not have an American credit card remember that chances are you will be charged foreign exchange fees (usually 2.5%) by your credit card company. You can look to getting a no forex fee card but another easy way to avoid that is by paying in cash. Additionally, having small bills on hand is handy for tipping the staff. Our ship had daily tips automatically billed to our account but I gave extra for my steward and to room service.
- A Power Bank: Whether you are out on the ship watching for whales or on shore for an excursion chances are you will be using your phone quite a bit for photos and videos. The last thing you want is for your battery to die! So, bring a power bank and charging cord that you can store in your bag for the day. I love and recommend this one which charges my devices several times before I need to charge it again and can charge multiple devices at once.
- An adapter: Just because your ship is travelling through North America doesn’t mean the ship itself is North American which might mean it has different plugs. To avoid any unexpected surprises of being unable to charge your electronics, bring an adapter just in case. I love and recommend this universal adapter which allows me to charge several devices at once.
Final Tips for Packing for an Alaska Cruise
Packing for an Alaska cruise doesn’t have to be as stressful as you think. The tips above should help you narrow things down but keep in mind your travel style and comfort as well. One final tip would be regarding your luggage. If you are flying into the starting port and checking your bag, I highly recommend adding anairtag to your suitcase to track it. Also, pack at least a couple of outfits into a carryon just in case. I’ve had airlines lose my luggage before and it’s a nightmare. Cruises move pretty quickly so it might have a tough time catching up to you and it’s best to have a couple of options on hand worst-case scenario.
A Note on Travel Insurance in the USA
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.