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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Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

After a week-long Alaskan cruise, which included journeys on a plane, bus, skiff, helicopter, and JetCat boat, it was gratifying to reach dry land in Vancouver and finally explore on foot. As our ship, Regent Navigator, docked, the breezy promenade and massive sail-like rooftop structures of Canada Place came into view. This relatively young, international city with a distinct Asian flair has a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe. Filled with a delightful mix of traditional and modern architecture, Vancouver is surrounded by water on three sides and ringed by lovely, sandy beaches. British Columbia’s “west coast wonder”offers visitors the perfect mix of history, culture and outdoor pursuits all wrapped up in a pleasing, temperate climate.


Canada Place and its sail-like rooftop structures, echo the country’s nautical roots

A quick taxi ride brought us from the terminal to The Fairmont Pacific Rim, home base for our three-day visit. The hotel is sophisticated, but casual, and its soaring lobby offers cozy seating areas where we relaxed and enjoyed a drink. Our family of four met up with our guide and embarked on a three-hour private walking tour with a lovely young woman from Tour Guys. A graduate student with a wealth of knowledge, she engaged the boys with stories of the city’s roots. We spotted the ubiquitous floatplanes hovering in and out of the harbor, and stopped to admire the majestic Olympic Cauldron, lit during the 2010 Winter Games. We wound our way through the distinctive neighborhoods, Gastown and Chinatown, where we jumped into a taxi and continued our tour on Granville Island, the city’s creative center. After saying goodbye to our guide, we wandered around Granville, enjoying the galleries, a seafood lunch, and dessert at the Public Market.

Granville Island

Granville Island Public Market offers an endless mix of edibles

During our three days, we visited the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park, and enjoyed the diverse cuisine and the views from the outdoor restaurants that dot the perimeter of the peninsula-shaped downtown area. Our last morning, we picked up boxed lunches from the Fairmont’s  Italian-inspired lobby café, Giovane, and then joined a fishing excursion at Coal Harbor marina. At the end of our long, but satisfying days, we relaxed at the Fairmont’s outdoor pool, and daydreamed about our next trip to Vancouver.

If you have only a few days to explore Vancouver, here are my recommendations:

Tour Guys: A great company that gives you a local’s perspective. They offer small group and private tours (as well a free public tours) that cover all the popular areas while getting into the “nooks and crannies regular sightseeing tours don’t go.”

Chinatown: North America’s third largest Chinatown — visit the summertime weekend night market and the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park.

Gastown: The starting point of modern-day Vancouver, its handsome brick and stone buildings house the best bars, restaurants and unique independent shops. Stop for a photo-op by the statue of “Gassy” Jack Deighton and the famous Steam Clock on Water Street.

Stanley Park: One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, it’s surrounded on three sides by stunning ocean views. Stroll or bike along the 8.8 km seawall, making stops along the way for a picnic lunch at one of the sandy beaches. Bikes can be rented at Spokes, near the park’s entrance.

Granville Island: A favorite urban hangout featuring plenty of waterfront shops and galleries, and an indoor Public Market with rows and rows of delicacies.

Vancouver Aquarium: Located in Stanley Park, my kids were mesmerized by the stunning iridescent, jellyfish displays, Beluga whales, and adorable sea otters and penguins.


Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium, home to 9,000 critters including these enchanting jellyfish

A sampling of our favorite restaurants:

Simply Thai: Located in hip Yaletown, Vancouver’s “little SOHO,” it offers authentic Thai in a warm and inviting setting. My kids devoured the delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings stuffed with minced chicken.

Coast: Fresh British Columbia seafood at its best, in a dramatic, high-ceilinged setting. The extremely professional and knowledgeable staff guided us through the menu, which also features a unique sushi selection.

The Sandbar: The perfect spot for lunch on Granville Island, with dramatic views of False Creek from its outdoor dining area.

Teahouse in Stanley Park: Set on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it features Pacific Northwest cuisine. Try to get a seat outside on the lovely patio.

Bella Gelateria: All natural, award-winning gelato, ice cream and sorbet — worth the wait in the line that forms outside its door. Located right around the corner from the Fairmont Pacific Rim, so of course we went … EVERY night.


Smoked-salmon flatbread at the Teahouse in Stanley Park

Simply Thai Vancouver

Delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings at Simply Thai


A stunning view of downtown Vancouver and False Creek from the Sandbar restaurant on Granville Island

Stanley Park

Our walk around Stanley Park started with a view of Coal Harbor

Stanley Park

Gorgeous views from the grounds of Tea House restaurant in Stanley Park

Bella Gelateria

One of many visits to Gella Gelateria for the freshest and creamiest gelato


Vancouver’s proverbial picture-postcard views don’t disappoint

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.