Cruising season in Alaska tends to run for just five months, from May to September, although some cruise lines might offer itineraries from late April to early October. In this time, the experiences you’ll have on your Alaska cruise can be greatly varied, so it’s important to consider what you want to see and do, when deciding when to cruise. To help you decipher the different opportunities, take a look at our month by month guide.
Best time of year for an Alaska cruise
You'll be pleased to know that Alaska cruises are available year round, meaning you can choose the itinerary and the time of year that best suits what you want to see. With changing seasons comes changing scenery and wildlife, so read below and see what time of the year will be best for you:
- Spring- at this time of year, trees begin to bloom, rivers fill with fish as their banks rise and new-born wildlife emerge into the open, so if you'd like to see Alaska in blossom without the crowds, this is the perfect season for an Alaska cruise.
- Summer- this is peak season in terms of nature and wildlife watching, as the new-borns start to roam further and the landscapes fill with colour. The considerably warmer weather means that more places are accessible on your trip, and a near-guarantee that seasonal attractions will be running. Whale watching is best during the warmer summer months too, as humpback whales migrate from the Southern Pacific and bring with them marauding families of orcas. However, it's important to bear in mind that at this time of year Alaska cruise fares may be higher and crowds bigger.
- Autumn- once summer ends, the stream of tourists shrink to a trickle as the salmon migrate to their breeding grounds. With this, however, comes great value for money for your Alaska cruise.
- Winter- if you're looking for front-row seats to the Northern Lights, an Alaska cruise in winter is the best option for you. The famed Aurora Borealis is mostly seen from September to April, with the peak season through the coldest months. It’s best to look out for this ethereal phenomenon on clear, moonless nights, around midnight from an inland location as far north as you can get.
An early time in the season, May is when you’re likely to get some great deals on cruises to Alaska. That being said, it’s still important to book as early as possible, as Alaska is becoming ever more popular as a cruise destination. Notorious for rainfall, those who want to avoid the wet weather as much as possible would do well to visit in May, as the average is just a 25% chance of rain. The temperature generally ranges from 3.5 – 12°C, and there are around 17 hours of daylight. The cold temperature means that the trees are not yet in bloom, making it easier to spot birds and other wildlife living in the trees.
June tends to be a slightly more expensive time to cruise in Alaska, however this month is still before the peak of the season, meaning crowds and families are still fairly minimal. Daylight hours are now at around 19, however on June 21st – the summer solstice – you can expect almost a full 24 hours! This is a fantastic and fascinating experience that everyone should have at least once. This month sees an increase of rainfall, and also in temperature; lows of around 8°C, and highs of 16.5°C. This warmth unfortunately means mosquitoes, so be sure to pack some insect repellent at this time of year. June can offer the chance to spot baby moose, as this is their birthing season.
Right in the middle of the season, July is certainly the busiest month to visit Alaska, and tends to be the most expensive as well. Temperatures range between 10 and 18.5°C, and rainfall remains high. Visitors will experience around 19 hours of daylight, and will have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife. July sees an influx of salmon, which also means a higher chance of seeing bears and various birdlife. It tends to be now that many sea lions are born in Alaskan waters, so be prepared with your camera on the top deck of your ship. Like most areas of North America, Independence Day is celebrated in Alaska with great gusto – the fireworks display in Anchorage is a particular highlight.
Those who aren’t fazed by wet weather should consider cruising in August, when there is over 50% chance of rain each day. Temperatures are between 9 and 17°C, and daylight hours return to around 17. Not yet considered the end of the season, visitors remain in great quantity, and prices are still quite high. It’s a great time of year for seeing salmon, bears, and impressive bald eagles. The Alaska State Fair is also held in August, in a pretty town called Palmer, around one hour north of Anchorage. Stock full of fun fair rides, live music, food, and other entertainment, this is truly a fun day out for all the family.
The final month of the season, September is certainly much less busy, and it tends to be quite a bit cheaper for cruising. While there is still over 50% chance of rain, temperatures will decrease to between 5 and 12.5°C, and daylight hours are down to around 14. Visitors at this time of year tend to have more luck when it comes to sighting the Northern Lights if you’re heading towards the north. September is also mating season for moose, goats, caribou and musk ox, giving you a higher chance of seeing these creatures.
No matter when you decide to cruise to Alaska, you can rest assured that your chances of seeing some stunning wildlife – as well as scenery – are high. Cruise ships tend to stay close to the shore, meaning that you will be able to see all kinds of flora and fauna from the ship, with minimal effort. All that remains for you to do is keep your camera nearby! If you want to find out more about what you can do during your time in Alaska, be sure to check out our guide to the top Alaska shore excursions.
See all our amazing Alaska cruise deals here!