When it comes to cruising, there’s a big difference between the classic Caribbean cruise and what you’ll experience in Alaska. Of course, you won’t be spending beach time in the warm sun… and you should probably pack a little differently than a few pairs of shorts and flip-flops.
In fact, packing for Alaska is challenging. While it is summer, the weather can vary dramatically. From warm, sunny days in the 70s to cool, rainy days where it doesn’t get out of the 40s, you need to be prepared for just about anything.
That’s why it’s important to pack a variety of gear — most of which you’d never pack for a “regular” cruise.
What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise
Below, we’ve rounded up a list of items that you’ll want to pack for your Alaskan cruise. Keep in mind this doesn’t include obvious things to pack like underwear and t-shirts. Instead, our list focuses on many items you may never think to bring…
Note: The links to Amazon used below are affiliate links. Should you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the sale.
If you’re headed to Alaska, you know doubt know you should bring a jacket. However, many people forget that it’s best to dress in layers. That all starts with a comfortable base layer. A base layer serves as a way to keep warm when it’s chilly, without having to wear layer after layer of bulky clothes. One pair of tops and bottoms should do just fine as they can be worn several times on your trip. Best of all, they run about $20-30 on Amazon, making it affordable to stay warm.
Even if you’ve taken a cruise before, you might be surprised to realize that your cabin door and ceiling are actually metal. Why does that matter? It means you can bring along some magnetic hooks like these and use them to hang things around the room. Whether you need space to hang outerwear or a swimsuit to dry, having these hooks adds a ton of extra space to your cabin.
The name is funny, but people who have used this stuff swear by it. We’ll be frank — cruise cabins are small and it doesn’t take much from the bathroom to smell up the whole place. Poo-Pourri isn’t an air freshener; you spray a squirt or two on top of the water in the commode and it forms a layer that keeps smells trapped. $10 on Amazon.
Go ahead and put the charger in your luggage now. Alaska is interesting because it’s one of the few places you can cruise where you don’t have to get a special international plan to call or text. That means you can often keep in touch, text, and check your email via your phone. Just be sure that you don’t forget the charger at home.
While Alaska isn’t hot, it’s still easy to get dehydrated — especially if you decide to do a strenuous excursion like hiking. It’s a good idea to keep a water bottle with you on your trip. The cruise ships don’t have bottles for you to take ashore and bottled water isn’t always available if you get off the beaten path. Pack an inexpensive bottle, and you’ll be ready to go.
There’s a lot to see on an Alaskan cruise when it comes to wildlife. From eagles to bears to whales, the area is known for a wide range of animals. From the ship you can get some great vantage points, but you’ll definitely want some binoculars to get a better view. They don’t have to be expensive, but just having a solid pair will make wildlife viewing so much better. This pair is around $30 on Amazon.
Camera & Accessories
Maybe this is obvious, but these days, we’re not so sure. So many people skip having a traditional camera and instead just use their phone. Make no doubt, phone cameras have gotten pretty good these days. However, we’d prefer to bring along a traditional camera like this one. After all, if you are going to one of the most picturesque places on Earth, it makes sense to bring a camera — not a phone.
Monopod for Camera
The Alaskan wilderness is picturesque. And while we’ve mentioned bringing a camera, you might also want to pack a monopod. This simply pod screws onto your camera to give you a firm base for shooting pictures, helping you avoid any blurry photos. After all, most people only get one chance to sail to Alaska… you don’t want to make a mistake on your pictures. Plus, this can also double as a walking stick on your adventures.
Cool and damp is common in Alaska, even during the summer. And while you should pack a jacket, it’s also a good idea to bring along a rain slicker. This jacket is light enough to wear on warmer days, but also keeps you dry while you’re out and about. Best of all, if you are a light packer, a good rain jacket can pack up fairly small and not take up a ton of space. This jacket is affordable and gets great reviews.
Sunscreen? In Alaska? Yes, indeed. Sure you may not be sitting on the deck by the pool in a swimsuit, but even being out and about during an excursion is enough to get burned. So while most of your body is likely to be covered up in warmer clothes, it’s still a good idea to pack sunscreen for exposed areas like your cheeks, ears, and neck.
If you’ve never take a cruise, you might be surprised at the lack of outlets in a cabin. Just having one is common. Now imagine trying to plug in phones, battery chargers, hair straighteners and more. Luckily, you can bring adapters to add more plugs and they are relatively cheap (read more about bringing adapters here). Just be sure to avoid those with surge protectors built in. Surge protectors aren’t allowed on ships. The adapter above costs only about $5.
No one goes on a cruise to be awakened by an alarm. However, if you are in Alaska where in the summer the sun may never set, then it can cause havoc with your internal clock. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an alarm clock in your room. First, it will help you wake up if your body clock is off, but it will also help you keep track of the time of day when you can’t rely on the natural rhythm of day and night. $24 on Amazon.
Yes, you can see the beauty of Alaska from the cruise ship, but it’s popular to take excursions into the more rugged wilderness. As you can guess, this involves a bit of hiking in most cases. Bringing sturdy footwear is a must. They will help keep your feet protected from rough terrain. Amazon has a ton of options in all price ranges.
Mosquitoes? In Alaska? While most people don’t think of mosquitoes when they think of the area, they are a fact of life in the summer. (Just Google “Alaskan mosquito” if you don’t believe us.) Bringing insect repellent isn’t just a smart idea. It’s essential. It can keep you from being eaten up by the insects when you are out and about.
Even in the summer, the area can be cool and damp. That’s why packing a dry bag is essential. These bags are designed to keep water and moisture out, while keeping your contents dry. Simply put in what you want to keep safe, roll it up, and it’s ready for anything. (We recently tested three dry bags, and one was the clear winner. You can read our review here.)
Ziplocs can be a lifesaver. Best of all, they are cheap, don’t take up any space, and have a lot of uses. If you are packing, Ziploc bags can help you keep organized — especially if you have makeup or pill bottles. While on your trip, they can keep things like a phone dry in a pinch. And back in the cabin, they can help you keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones.
Swimsuit for the Ship
Swimming in Alaska? It’s not crazy. Cruise ships will have hot tubs that you can soak in while watching the beauty of the area float past. And many ships these days also have indoor pools or solariums where you can take a dip in relative warmth, no matter the weather outside. In other words, just because you are headed for a cold area, don’t leave the swimsuit at home. (Need a new swimsuit? Check out some ideas here and here.)
In the summer season, some places in Alaska never see the sun set. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring a wide-brimmed hat. Even at these latitudes, the sun can be brutal on exposed skin. The good news is there is a wide variety available on sites like Amazon for relatively cheap. A small investment can save you from getting fried.
Staying in an interior cabin? Or are you the type of person who likes white noise to sleep (it’s a good idea on a busy ship). In that case, we suggest packing a small fan for the cabin. They don’t have to take up much space and can provide some ventilation in stuffy cabins. The noise can also drown out the volume of people making noise in the hallways or adjacent cabins. This model is only about $20 on Amazon
A little tip: You ship will usually have seasickness pills set out for passengers to take if the water gets rough. However, we would suggest bringing your own. Everyone has different tolerances for how much motion causes them to get sick. You also don’t want to be reliant on the cruise ship having seasick pills if you start to feel queasy. Bring your own (boxes are $5) and take some at the first sign of symptoms (or even before).
A dark, unfamiliar cabin on the interior of the ship… what could go wrong? Well, if you have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, there is a good chance your shins or toes will pay the price as you stumble around in the dark. A cheap night light doesn’t take up much room and can be worth its weight in gold.
Cellphone Dry Bag
Elsewhere on this list we mention the importance of a dry bag. One thing that’s also useful is one of these cell phone dry bags. They are made specifically for you phone. Just drop it in, close the clasps and you have a secure way to keep your phone dry while still being able to use it. You can read our full review of this phone bag here.
You have to remember that the sun can hit from two angles. Of course, it can come from above, but the reflection off of the water and snow can be just as bright. To cover all your bases, be sure to pack a good pair of polarized sunglasses. These will cut down on glare while also blocking out UV rays. Prices can range wildly, but the pair above are just $12 on Amazon.
At nights — especially when the ship is sailing and there’s a breeze — it can get cold on the ship. It’s a good idea to pack along a warm hat, preferably one that will cover your ears. You may not need it all the time, but you’ll be thankful that you have for those times when it’s too cold to go out with your head uncovered. This one is just $13.
While you don’t need a big bulky scarf to stay warm, it’s still a good idea to bring along a little something to keep your neck and chest warm and covered. At nights when the ship is underway can be breezy. If you’re out on the deck without a scarf, you’ll wish you had one. $10 on Amazon
It’s so small and simple, but easy to forget. With the wind and the sun, it’s easy to get chapped lips on your cruise. Bring along some lip balm — and a couple of spares — and carry them with you at all times.
No, you don’t need Artic-ready mittens. However, some lightweight gloves can come in handy on your cruise. Cool rainy days or breezy nights on the ship can turn your hands into ice cubes. A little protection via gloves like these can keep your feeling warmer while still being able to use your hands.
When you head to Alaska, you pack a lot more than just a few swimsuits and a hat. And when you are out and about, there is usually plenty to bring along with you. That’s why we suggest a lightweight collapsible backpack. Unpacked, it takes up barely any room. However, it can unfold to hold a ton of things from changes of clothes to sunscreen and more. Best of all, this particular sack is just $16 on Amazon.
Know those $2 plastic rain ponchos that come in a little pouch? They are a great item to pack for your cruise. With the weather changing constantly depending on where you are, a lightweight plastic pouch can be a lifesaver if you’re caught in a shower. Plus, it can be a good thing to help keep camera equipment or other valuables dry in a pinch.
If you want to keep your feet warm, you also need to keep them dry. Wet feet get exposed to cold air and make it tough to feel toasty. A good pair of wicking socks can help pull moisture from your feet while out hiking, keeping you feeling comfy on you excursion.
Basic Items You Should Also Pack for Alaska
Most people know that they need to pack some pants and warm clothes when they head to Alaska, so for the most part we’ve focused the list above on those items that aren’t as well-known that you might want to pack.
Need some ideas for basic items to bring as well? Use the list below as a starting point:
- Long-sleeve shirts
- Shorts (for warm days)
- Ball cap
- Walking/Hiking Shoes
- Flip-Flops (for around the ship)
- Toiletries (Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc)
- Clothes for formal night
- Travel documents (passport & boarding docs)
- Credit/Debit Cards
- Phone/Tablet Chargers
What You Won’t Need or Can’t Pack for an Alaskan Cruise
Sometimes packing for a cruise isn’t just about what to bring, but also what not to bring. On the ship there are a number of rules about what you can’t bring and there are also a number of things that you don’t need because the ship provides them already.
Yes, you can bring a hair dryer if you want to but it’s not needed. Every cabin has a built in hair dryer, similar to a hotel room. So if you’re the type that has a fancy hair dryer that you can’t live without, then you can bring it… but most people will be perfectly fine leaving it at home.
Of course, your cabin will have towels in the room but many people wonder about larger beach towels for hanging out by the pool or hot tub on their cruise. We’re happy to say that these are provided on the cruise ship as well, so no need to bring them from home. Best of all, you are free to take these towels off the ship with you onto shore (as long as you bring them back).
Yes, you can bring wine or champagne in small quantities on your Alaskan cruise, but nothing else alcoholic is allowed aboard. That means leave the liquor and beer at home; you’ll have to purchase it on the ship if you want a drink. You can buy things in port, but they will be held until the end of the cruise and returned the night before you arrive home.
Items that Could Start a Fire
We know that many people like their own coffee pot from home or want to bring a clothes iron to smooth out wrinkles or like to bring a candle or incense to make the room smell nice. As a rule of thumb, if it heats up or has a flame then you can’t bring it. There are a few exceptions like hair straighteners, curling irons, and cigarette lighters.
Frequently Asked Questions About Packing for Alaska Cruises
Do I need to pack a swimsuit?
Yes, we suggest bringing a swimsuit on our cruise. But swimming in Alaska? Remember that much of your time is actually going to be spent on the cruise ship. While there are pools, there are also hot tubs. So bring your swimsuit and you can take a dip in the hot tub or even lay out if the weather is warmer and sunny. The good thing is that swimsuits don’t take a lot of room in luggage, so even if you don’t use it, it’s not a big deal.
Can I bring a hair straightener or curling iron?
Despite the ban on items that heat up, items like hair straighteners and curling irons are allowed on the ship. That said, it’s a good idea to be extra careful using them on the ship.
How much luggage can I bring?
One of the great things about cruising is that rules around how much luggage you can bring are relaxed. There are no fees for your bags like you might find on an airline and there are no real limits on how many bags you can bring.
That said, we suggest keeping things reasonable. Remember, anything you pack you will need to get from home to the cruise port. It’s better to pack a little lighter and have an easier time handing all of your bags.
Have other suggestions of things to pack? Let us know in the comments below!