What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise

What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise

Packing for a trip to Alaska can be a challenge: its northern reaches and varied geography means traveling through several microclimates. From mild to extreme, the temperatures will fluctuate.  Summer is the best time to visit though, which is why most cruises are scheduled June through September: the odds of spotting wildlife are high, salmon are swimming upstream, hiking trails are free from snow, and the weather is as good at it gets.  For some cruising basics, check out my previous articles: Journey through Alaska’s inside Passage and Fish & Feast in Ketchikan.

Alaska Cruise
Alaskan cruises sail through the inside passage – the coastal route that weaves through the thousands of islands, coves, and bays that dot the Pacific Coast of this northernmost state. Cruises will either travel southbound (Anchorage to Vancouver, Canada) or northbound (Vancouver to Anchorage) or roundtrip from Seattle, Washington (this itinerary may include more days at sea and less ports depending on the length of the trip).
Alaska Cruise. Vancouver
Alaska CruiseMost cruise ship excursions bring you up close to the great outdoors, so you can soak up all that majestic scenery and catch a glimpse of all the wildlife that draws travelers to the 49th state. How you choose to interact with nature is up to you: walking tours; hiking; canoe and kayak trips; helicopter and float plane excursions; fishing or boating are all options. But, don’t be afraid to try something outside your normal comfort zone, since the point of this vacation is to get out there and experience the wide-open spaces.  Check the excursions for details on activity level. Many outfitters provide you with additional garments or waterproof outerwear to protect you from the elements so don’t think you need to buy hardcore adventure gear to enjoy the “high activity level” choices. Dressing properly for excursions is key to comfort: wear layers that can be peeled off as the mercury goes up or added on as temps drop off.
Alaska Cruise
Start with a short sleeve shirt or tank top, a long sleeve wicking layer, add a hoodie or fleece (on colder days a padded or PrimaLoft-type vest will come in handy), with a thin waterproof hooded shell on top.Alaska Cruise

Besides standard sneakers, waterproof hiking shoes (with Gortex) will keep the moisture at bay. Hiking boots are not necessary unless you plan on scaling great heights. Skip the UGG’s which will get soggy, or rain boats which don’t offer much support. Throw in a pair of flip flops for the hot tub or spa, and a pair of dressier shoes for the dinners onboard.

Jeans, leggings, and comfortable, water wicking hiking pants (Prana is my go-to brand), are all versatile and low maintenance. Pack a pair of shorts — as you travel south to Vancouver, temps will rise, and you just might be able to lounge on the pool deck. Plus, a post- or pre-cruise stay in warmer locales in Seattle (click here to read my destination article) or Vancouver (click here to read my destination article) might include an overnight at a hotel with an outdoor pool.

For cooler days and for afternoons spent up on deck gazing at the glorious glaciers, pack a wool beanie, glove liners, and scarf — it can get windy up there. Light weight wool or breathable wool blend socks will keep feet warm and dry (Smartwool is my favorite).Alaska Cruise

If you can, bring a real camera, not just a cell phone – the vistas are just too large! Bring binoculars – they are great for kids who may not be looking through a camera’s zoom lens. Pack a power strip for your cabin to provide extra places to plug in. A back pack or tote is essential for holding layers, water bottle, snacks, cell phone chargers and backup batteries.

Sundry items:
Sunscreen, bug repellant, and motion sickness pills for small craft excursions are all a must. Sunglasses and brimmed hat will be put into use during summertime since Anchorage can have over 19 hours of daylight!

Evening cruise wear:
Smart casual wear is acceptable at night — what you would wear to go out for a nice dinner at home (no ripped jeans or jean shorts). You will not be as dressed up as you are on a Caribbean cruise, and typical lightweight summer garments are not well-suited to this itinerary (think “shoulder season” or “transitional clothing” instead).  Throw in a bathing suit for the hot tub and spa, and some comfy workout clothing or stylish athleisure, which works well on those days at sea. (Athleta has great choices).

For more travel tips, check out my recent articles: A Few of my Favorite Travel Things, Twelve Packing Tips Every Travel Should Know, and Smart Traveler Tips.

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Journey Through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Although it is rarely represented properly on a U.S. map, Alaska looms large over North America – it’s actually twice the size of Texas. For the traveler, this means you could spend months exploring “The Last Frontier”—mountain climbing in Denali National Park, biking in Fairbanks, fishing for Sockeye, and exploring Juneau, the state capital. With a coastline longer than all other states combined, many people choose to cruise Alaska on their first visit in order to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time.

Home to Mt. McKinley (North America’s highest peak), massive fjords, glaciers the size of Rhode Island, the northernmost rain forest, and the treacherous Chilkoot Trail, Alaska combines geography, earth science, and history lessons all rolled up in one unique vacation. An Alaskan cruise usually means a trip through the Inside Passage—the coastal route that weaves through the thousands of islands, coves, and bays that dot the Pacific Coast.

We chose a one-week cruise with Regent in order to minimize days at sea and also to make time for both a pre- and a post-trip. And, a smaller ship allowed for more stops and excursions. Before flying to Anchorage and embarking on our cruise in Seward, we spent several days in Seattle, which I covered in previous posts, “Seattle Top Spots” and “Four Days in Seattle.”

Seward, Alaska

Our cruise began in Seward, a busy fishing port on the Gulf of Alaska’s coast

At the conclusion of our cruise, we spent a few days in Vancouver (the subject of my “Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis” post). Many cruise lines follow this same route, from Northwest to Southeast and in reverse. Other ships embark from Seattle and can last 10 to 14 days. To take advantage of the most outdoor activities, the best time to cruise Alaska is summertime, when days are longest and temperatures are warmest. But, definitely pack lots of layers, a waterproof jacket, boots, hats and gloves, because the weather can change rapidly.

Regent Cruise

To reach Hubbard Glacier, we sailed through Yakutat Bay

Our days were exciting and included a JetCat Sitka wildlife tour, a scenic helicopter tour, a hike through Juneau’s rain forest and a walk to Mendenhall Glacier, and a trip back in time at the Skagway Gold Rush Museum. Our ship offered a wide range of active excursions: kayaking, biking, and dog sled adventures. In the summer, the fog can roll in quickly, so excursions can be cancelled at a moment’s notice, so backup plans are necessary.

Early one morning, we gathered on deck to watch as the ship approached one of the highlights of the cruise—Hubbard Glacier. This “river of ice” measures 76 miles long and 7 miles wide and it is the state’s most active glacier. It is very common to see sheets of ice separate themselves from the glacier, and crash into the sea with a loud crack that can be heard for miles. These pieces, christened icebergs, filled the bay and we watched in awe as these icy-blue splendors floated past the ship.

Disenchantment Bay

Pristine Disenchantment Bay

Hubbard Glacier

From a distance, Hubbard Glacier’s size is deceiving –it’s actually more than 30 stories high!

The one-week cruise made stops in several ports: Seward, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan (covered in my post “Fish & Feast”). The scenery and wildlife viewing in between ports was equally magnificent and kept us up on deck with camera and binoculars in hand as we scanned the horizon for humpback whales and porpoises.

Although this was a long journey, we look back on our visit to the 49th state grateful for our eye-opening experiences and reassured that the wilderness does still exist. And, even though Alaska is so large and so far away, upon our return, we felt a little bit closer to it.

Alaska iceberg

Although they got a bad rap in “Titanic,” icebergs are quite beautiful


Tongass National Forest, the heart of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest

Mendenhall Glacier

Easily accessible, Mendenhall Glacier is located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau

Skagway, Alaska

In Skagway we took off on a helicopter tour

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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Fish and Feast in Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish and Feast in Ketchikan, Alaska


Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

I have to say that I really knew nothing about fishing until my kids literally got hooked on this timeless pastime. Personally, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a fluke and a flounder, a jig and a rig, or a line and a leader. But, my kids have become avid fishermen, trolling the waters in and around Long Island for the past four years.  Like most things in life, it takes a child to open your mind to new experiences, and they have thus inspired my husband and I to include fishing excursions on several family vacations.

Our recent summer cruise to Alaska, on Regent Seven Seas Navigator, included a stop in Ketchikan, the state’s southeastern-most city. With my sons’ passion in mind, we signed up for the excursion “Guided Fishing in the Wilderness.”  I really didn’t know what to expect.  This wasn’t sunny Mexico or Miami – we were right in the heart of Alaska’s rainforest!  Before we left the safety of our cruise ship, I diligently dressed warmly and in layers, as instructed, and tried to visualize exactly what a “skiff” was and whether it would cause seasickness. But, from the moment we were introduced to Baranof Fishing Excursions, I was immediately put at ease.

We were escorted to their marina offices where the professional staff checked us in and helped us purchase our fishing licenses. Included in our charter were complete waterproof outfits designed to protect against wind and possible rain.  As we navigated our way into industrial strength rubber boots, pants, coats, and life vests, I couldn’t help but think of the “Gordon’s Fisherman.”

Our family of four was then introduced to our captain/guide who led us to our skiff – a small open boat, about 16 feet long. The trip out to the fishing spot took about 40 minutes, and on the way we marveled at the pristine Alaskan wilderness, spotting several bald eagles.  At the fishing site, our guide handed out the rods and tackle.  My kids immediately dropped their lines and began jigging, while my husband and I waited for instructions. Over the course of a few hours, at several different sites, the repeated shouts of “fish on!” had me scrambling for my camera to catch the joy on my kids’ faces.   They proudly hooked one dogfish, one halibut, and two rockfish.

With our fish in the hull, our captain brought us to Baranof’s wilderness camp for an outdoor culinary adventure.  Our catch of the day was expertly filleted and became the entrée in our gourmet campsite meal.  We sat on benches arranged around roaring fires surrounded by centuries-old cedars and spruce trees.  We chatted with other fishing families as we sipped hot coffee and hot chocolate, while an expert chef skillfully prepared our catch in his rustic, outdoor kitchen.  He transformed our fish into a mouth-watering, saffron-infused, bouillabaisse stew accompanied by fresh sourdough bread, garlic aioli, and for dessert, warm rhubarb blueberry bread pudding.  It was “Gourmet Magazine” meets “The Discovery Channel.”  There is nothing like the taste of fish freshly caught and prepared and served al fresco.

After lunch, the kids explored the shoreline and the tidal pools, and then we boarded our skiff and headed back to the marina with my son, Jack, happily at the tiller.  As we shed our fishing gear on the pier and sadly said our goodbyes to our guide, I thought back to that ancient fishing proverb, and realized that, although my fishing skills may not be sufficient to last me a lifetime, my memories certainly will.

Ketchikan Fishing

An expert fisherman, Jack boards the skiff and is ready to go

Fishing in Ketchikan

Harris’s first catch of the day, a fifteen-pound halibut

Fishing in Ketchikan

Jack follows-up with a Pacific Rockfish

Fishing in Ketchikan

Harris arrives at the campsite with his catch of the day

Fishing in Ketchikan

A successful day at sea

Fishing in Ketchikan

The chef prepares a gourmet meal in the wilderness campsite kitchen

Fishing in Ketchikan

A delicious halibut and rockfish Bouillabaisse

Fishing in Ketchikan

Exploring the tidal pools at the campsite

Fishing in Ketchikan

Jack at the tiller for the ride back to the marina

Check out my video below of our fishing and feasting adventure in action!

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.