While Alaska cruises typically run from May to September, some start as early as April. During the pandemic, some cruise lines offered sailings from Seattle through October. So, when’s the best month for an Alaska cruise?
There’s no wrong answer here. Ultimately, it depends on your priorities; lowest prices, good weather, more chances to see glacier calving, or best opportunities to see Alaskan wildlife.
The most popular months for cruising to Alaska are mid-June through July, when the weather is warmest. However, don’t discount the other months for various reasons.
Alaska Cruises In April/May
May’s shoulder season allows cruise-goers to score great deals on early Alaskan departures. Also, ships don’t generally sail at capacity in the early weeks.
In April, cruise passengers may encounter snow in Alaska. It’s the tail end of winter, and the days are getting longer again. Even if it’s dry, expect it to be cold. Average daytime temperatures in Juneau are 48F or 9C in April and 55F or 13C in May. However, nighttime temperatures in April could be close to freezing.
Although cool, visitors can enjoy fewer days with rainfall. May is the driest month if you dislike traveling in the rainy season. Since Alaska cruise season generally starts in May, many businesses will be closed in April.
Humpback whales begin to arrive in Alaska to feed. The journey from Hawaii is long, and the whales are hungry. It’s not unusual to see whales along the inside passage with a pair of binoculars. However, sightings may be few and far between if you arrive in April or the first week of May.
In May, harbor seals give birth on the icebergs. So it’s a great reason to cruise to Tracy Arm Fjord. However, in the early weeks, ice can block passage to the end of the fjord. Seals choose to birth in fjords because the narrow passageways provide protection from hungry whales.
Since ships are just starting their season, popular Alaska cruise ports see fewer crowds in the early weeks. With fewer tourists, you’ll likely score better deals on last-minute excursions.
As Alaska thaws from the long winter, you don’t need to worry about mosquitoes when hiking in May.
Cruise-goers can enjoy fast and heavy flowing waterfalls as the snow packs melt. Don’t miss Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier Park. Also, there are multiple waterfall sightings in Glacier Bay, Endicott Arm, and Tracy Arm.
Itineraries that include Tracy Arm may switch to Endicott Arm if ice prevents the cruise ship from entering the fjord.
Coastal towns visited by cruise ships typically experience about 16 hours of daylight in the month of May.
If you book one of the first Alaska cruises in the season, don’t expect embarkation day to go smoothly. Since Seattle and Vancouver cruise terminals don’t operate in winter, the ports often have new staff in spring. Coupled with unfamiliar procedures, getting onboard can be relatively slow.
Alaska Cruises In June
By June, Alaska cruises are in full swing, with cruises to Glacier Bay National Park being the most popular itinerary. The last weeks are busier as the children have finished school.
June still offers less rain, especially in the early weeks. However, as the months progress, the chances of rain increase. If you’re itinerary includes Ketchikan, be sure to check out the “Liquid sunshine gauge” in town.
With 18 hours of daylight, spring blossoms start to explode in June. While the summer season is short, you’ll have maximum daylight hours to enjoy all the sights of each Alaskan port.
The road to Denali National Park opens, so it’s a great month to do a cruise and land tour. If it’s on your bucket list to see Denali or its magnificent wildlife, consider booking in June.
The mosquitoes arrive in late June due to wetter weather. Make sure you have mosquito repellent on your Alaska packing list if you plan to hike.
By June, the animals have had their young, and it’s a great time to see young ones. Late June also allows for more bear sightings. For those cruising Glacier Bay, look along the shorelines. Visitors can spot bears in the creek near the Mendenhall Glacier visitors center near Juneau.
In June, the Chinook and red salmon start running, bringing more bear sightings. Cruise goers can try their hand at salmon fishing in Ketchikan Creek, a short walk from the cruise port. The local stores rent fishing gear and sell fishing licenses.
In June, the humpback whales have completed their migration to Alaska. If it’s your priority to see these gentle giants, consider booking a Juneau whale watching trip. You can also see orca, sea lions, seals, and eagles on the excursion.
Alaska Cruises In July
In July, the early weeks bring the warmest weather, with average daytime temperatures of 62F or 17C in Juneau. Although as the temperatures rise, the chances of rain increase.
Being one of the busiest months, expect to pay higher prices for your Alaska cruise. The peak Alaska season brings more crowds to ports. While this might not be a problem in the Caribbean, in contrast, Alaska ports are small. Skagway, a gold rush town, has a population of under 1000 residents.
Warmer temperatures cause glaciers to melt and calve. For the best calving action (ice breaks off the terminus and falls into the ocean), consider a Hubbard Glacier itinerary as the “galloping glacier” provides a spectacular show.
In July, cruise passengers can see the salmon run. Silver salmon swim up the river to spawn, which attracts hungry bears. When walking on Creek Street in Ketchikan, look down into the creek below. It’s hard to miss the thousands of salmon swimming upstream. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an otter or two.
During the peak of the summer, all trails are accessible. If you prefer to forego an expensive shore excursion, all Alaska ports offer trails suitable for all fitness levels.
With warmer, wetter weather come pesky mosquitoes. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Just be prepared with a mosquito repellent or choose a cruise earlier in the season.
As summer progresses, the flowers continue to bloom. The fireweed is especially beautiful with its vibrant red tones. Great places to view fireweed are on the White Pass and Yukon Route train ride in Skagway. Hikers around Mendenhall Glacier may also see fireweed on some meadow trails.
Alaska Cruises In August
Like July, cruises to Alaska in August commands the highest prices due to the warmer climate, and the kids are out of school. To save money, consider a one-way cruise to or from Vancouver. The average temperatures in Juneau are around 62F or 17C.
Expect it to rain a lot in August. On average, it rains 20 days in the month, with an average rainfall of almost 17 cm or almost 7 inches. In comparison, May receives almost 10 cm or 3.9 inches of liquid sunshine.
It’s still salmon season in Alaska. This time, visitors can view pink and chum salmon. It’s the time of year bears feast on the salmon buffet to prepare for the winter hibernation. However, towards the end of the salmon run, the fish rot in the rivers and cause quite a “stink.”
August brings lots of calving action at tidewater glaciers like the preceding month. Expect to witness ice falling off Hubbard Glacier and Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park if the conditions are right. Hearing the thunderous cracking is almost as exciting as watching the icefall.
Mosquitoes continue to be prevalent in dense forests and marshlands. However, they don’t like to fly in the rain. The pesky bugs leave in later August as the colder weather arrives.
As the Alaska season winds down, many gift shops have an “end-of-season sale.” I could remember shopping in a Skagway quilt shop where all their fabric was half price. So, for those shopaholics who love a great bargain, later August and early September offer bargains galore. Just remember to bring an extra suitcase to haul your treasures home.
Alaska Cruises In September/October
September announces the end of summer, and the days are getting shorter again. Although on average, cruise passengers enjoy an impressive 15 hours of daylight. The rainy season continues with approximately 23 days receiving some sort of wet stuff (in Juneau).
One of the rainiest cities in America, Ketchikan receives 35 cm or almost 14 inches of rain in September. By October, that number increases by three more inches.
As the season changes, the landscape starts to glow in warm autumn tones. Fall is a fantastic time of year, and Alaska offers warm shades at sea level with crispy white mountains as a backdrop.
Being the shoulder season, expect fewer crowds in port. Cruise lines offer these later sailings at bargain prices, much like departures in April and May.
It’s a great time to get a premium cabin at a budget-friendly price. Your ship might even sail with vacant staterooms, allowing you to enjoy popular cruise ship venues with fewer people.
Gift shops continue to have blowout sales, although some may have closed for the season. The ships themselves have great deals on their seasonal merchandise. So, if you’re looking for Alaskan souvenirs, September is a great time to benefit from low prices,
If you’ve booked a cruise and land tour, you’ll have a chance to see the Northern Lights. Emphasis on the word “chance.” The Aurora Borealis is unpredictable, and even when the conditions are ideal, they don’t always show their nighttime colors.
On the last few sailings, cruise passengers enjoy the easiest embarkation days. The ports have had all summer to practice their procedures. Also, as ships reposition to other areas, fewer ships arrive in port, making embarkation and debarkation effortless.
Best Month For An Alaska Cruise Overview
As you can see, cruise passengers need to consider many factors (not just itinerary) when choosing an Alaska cruise. With four Alaska cruises behind me and two more booked, I prefer to sail in May, simply because it offers excellent prices, and I’m not too fond of the rain, lol.
So, here’s an overview of which month to cruise.
|Warmest time||Mid-June to mid-August|
|Cheapest time||April, May, September, and October|
|Longest days of sunlight||June to mid-July|
|Bear watching||Late June through August|
|Whale watching||Late May to September|
|Driest time||April and May|
|Shopping sales||Late August to September|
Alaska, like any place globally, can experience an adverse climate. While the temperatures and rainfall numbers are averages, I have witnessed extremes.
During a back-to-back cruise in late July and early August, I enjoyed temperatures in the mid-80s. However, I experienced bitterly cold weather on my first Alaska cruise, and rain fell almost every day.
No matter when you decide to sail, pack for every type of weather. It’s essential to have waterproof clothing and layers to stay warm, especially on glacier viewing days.
Happy travels ~ Karen