America’s largest state serves a feast of outdoor adventure – full-on wilderness and wildlife, forest and rivers, glaciers and mountains – and plenty of long, sunlight-filled days to enjoy it. Cruise season here is relatively short, just May to September, with June through August being the most popular months to visit, thanks to the 50- to 70-degree weather.
And while the shoulder months maintain smaller crowds and fewer mosquitos, when you take a luxury cruise to Alaska depends on what kind of wildlife you want to witness first-hand.
May is the driest month, so there will be less rainfall to mar an afternoon hike. The trees are not in bloom yet, so it’s easier to see moose, Dall sheep, and mountain goats as they move down the hills to where the grass is greener. Note that the snow doesn’t really begin to melt until June if you’re a hiker.
June is bad for bugs, but good for breathtakingly large herds of caribou. And of course, June 21 is the longest day of the year, delivering almost 24 hours of sun.
July and August bring brown bears fishing along the rivers, moose feeding on the lake shores, and bald eagles taking to the skies. You may see seals (with their pups!) and dolphins from your ship, along with beluga and orca whales. Hundreds of humpback whales, too, feed in the summer waters of Frederick Sound.
Humpback, grey, bowhead and beluga whales are all migrating come September, as are the caribou, heading off to their favored winter pastures. This month is also the time for spawning salmon and for sparring and mating moose, goats, caribou, and muskox.
Being prepared for all kinds of weather can make your Alaskan cruise a trip of a lifetime. And here’s a final tip: To avoid the bigger crowds, opt for mid-week embarkation.
Best Time to Book a Cruise
The best time to make a cruise booking is from six months to a year in advance of the sailing. And as a general rule of thumb, booking early is your best bet.
The best cruise ship rates are those that are offered when fares are first released for sale. Booking right out of the gate also allows you to snap up the top-tier cabins or the most preferred routes and dates before they sell out. Know that there will definitely be sales to take advantage of by holding back, but biding your time is a bit of a gamble. You may not be comfortable waiting until the last minute and you may not get exactly what you want.
If you’re looking to cruise on popular dates such as during school holiday breaks, peak religious periods, or annual festivals, book extra early. With luxury cruises and new ships, the earlier the better, because the prices will increase as the ship fills up.