What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise (without packing everything)

What to pack for an alaskan cruise

If you know us, you know that we are sticklers for avoiding checking our luggage, and baggage fees when we travel. After recently traveling on an Alaskan cruise, the biggest challenge was figuring out what to pack. There are a ton of packing lists and blogs out there that will tell you to bring a little bit of everything. We’re going to share with you how to pack for an Alaskan cruise in just your carry-on case, without packing everything under the sun.

What to Plan on For Your Alaskan Cruise

The climate in Alaska is very finicky. You can analyze the weather forecast to death but what you are going to find is that the temperature can vary. You can most definitely expect a few things, rain, cold temperatures, and warm temperatures. Confusing, right? It can lead you to want to just throw in everything but just hold on. We can plan for a little bit of everything without taking everything. Just stick with us.

We should also let you know that our cruise was Holland America’s Alaskan Inside Passage. The sail left Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and traveled to Tracy Arm Inlet, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan, then returned to Vancouver. Our cruise was in early June.

Checklist Prior to Packing

  • The first thing you are going to want to do is to determine if you are going to take part in any onboard social events such as formal night or what Holland America likes to call, “dressy attire” night. If so, that is an outfit(s) you will need to plan for. 
  • What shore excursions are you planning? If you are venturing into hiking, kayaking, or anything with glaciers or waterfalls involved, we should plan accordingly.
  • Are you going to be exercising on the ship? If so, add to your list that you will need some workout clothing.
  • Will you be swimming or going into the hot tub while you are onboard?

Now that we have run through that short checklist, let’s get to packing.

what to pack for an alaskan cruise
This raincoat is from Columbia. I’ve had it for years. A similar version is here. I wore it most of the trip.

Let’s Pack for that Alaskan Cruise

If you are not familiar with our travel prep list to minimize your packing, now would be a good time to get familiar with it. This will be your best friend through all of your travels from now on, especially if you want to save time and money. We won’t go into every single thing to pack because this travel prep list has the basics on it. We are going to add things that are not covered on the list and edits/adjustments that need to be made for Alaska.

Our travel prep list is standard for just about any trip, but have not traveled to Alaska before, we were unsure about how it would stand up to a trip like this one. We did a ton of research to pack for our Alaskan cruise and we’re sharing what we learned.

what to pack for an alaskan cruise
Layering is your friend on an Alaska cruise as you can see by the coat on the floor.
  • The first thing you are going to want is a great carry-on bag that meets the TSA guidelines but it is also roomy and allows for proper packing. We love the Beis Travel Carry-on Roller. They are a staple in our travels. Message us if you would like a discount link emailed to you. 
  • For our cruise, there were two dressy evenings. One dressy outfit will do. You can wear it twice. Guess what, no one cares. Do you need formal photos taken on two nights? No. You really don’t need them taken one night. Use your phone and take your own photos. They will be much cooler anyway. After your dressy evening, take off that outfit and hang it up and have it ready for the second dressy night. *This is only if you are taking part in a dressy night. You can always go to the casual dining restaurant to eat those evenings. We totally get that.
  • Do you need hiking shoes? Many will argue that you have to pack these for your Alaskan Cruise but we didn’t. We went on several hikes and wore our sneakers. The same sneakers that were worn during workouts, walks, and around the ship were the same ones that were worn on hikes and the excursions and we are still living to talk about it. As long as they are comfortable and sturdy, you are good to go! 
  • Rain attire– if you haven’t heard, expect lots and lots of rain. If you go on your Alaskan cruise and it doesn’t rain, well thank the weather gods because, from everything we read and heard, you should always prepare for it. Take a rain poncho or a raincoat with a hood. Don’t bring an umbrella. Do you really want to carry that around? Just have a hood on your jacket or poncho and you will be fine. Your stateroom may have an umbrella in it if you really want one. Check with your cruise line, but for the love of Pete, don’t waste the space by packing an umbrella.
  • Jeans– we brought one pair of jeans and wore them several times. We read other bloggers who said they brought a pair of jeans for each day. (1) we don’t own that many pairs of jeans, (2) jeans are known to be one of the pieces of clothing that you can re-wear several times over before washing, and (3) why? That is just crazy packing! 
  • Do you need lots of sweaters? No. We brought one. Layers are your friend. Bring a few long sleeve t-shirts and a couple of short sleeve t-shirts and layer up. There was a day in Skagway when we were thankful for layers. We started the morning out on the town with a long sleeve t-shirt over a short sleeve tee, with a coat and beanie, and by lunch, we had the short sleeve t-shirt on walking around and it had reached the 70s. Layering is where it’s at folks. We cannot say that enough.
  • Coat/jacket– this was a tough decision. We could not figure out if we should bring a jacket. The coat was a no-brainer and even though it was 80-degree weather when we left North Carolina, we wore our coat on the plane to avoid taking up space in our carry-on bag. We knew we would need it when we landed in Vancouver, and we did. We kept wondering if we should take a jacket and opted not to do so. This was the right decision. As long as you have layers, you will be fine. 
  • Beanie, scarf, and gloves– yes, you will want them and need them so bring them along but don’t bring your biggest, fluffiest versions. Unless you are spending the day on the mountainside, just the basics for each will suffice. When you get back aboard the ship, you can hang these to dry if they got wet and have them ready for the next outing.
  • Swimsuit– yes, cruise ships have pools while traveling to Alaska. They are often heated and even if they are not, there are hot tubs you can enjoy. We searched everywhere while packing for this trip and no one addressed this question. If you want to swim or get into a hot tub, bring a swimsuit. Since it’s not a Caribbean vacation, you probably only need one. No beach towels. They are provided, as well as blankets while on the pool deck.
what to pack for an alaskan cruise
This black romper was a staple. It can be layered, dressed up, down, and super comfy.

The remainder of the packing is fairly standard, and as long as you follow our travel prep list, leaving off the things you don’t need, and make the adjustments we have listed here in this blog post, you will fit everything into the carry-on bag with no problem.

Know Before You Go

  • Several excursions will have the attire you will need to wear as a part of your excursion. For example, we rode ATVs while in Ketchikan. This excursion was rainy and muddy. We didn’t have to have an entire rain suite. The excursion guides had them for us. Check with the cruise line and/or shore excursions to inquire about what is needed and what is provided.
  • What would we do differently in regards to packing? Bring more socks! We brought a pair/day but this wasn’t enough. Due to the rain, our socks often became wet so it would have been nice to have additional pairs to change into. Fortunately, socks don’t take up too much room and we would have had the room for more pairs.
what to pack for an alaskan cruise
Not the chicest, but the ATV excursion in Ketchikan provided attire to protect our clothing from water and mud.

We wish we would have found this list prior to going on our Alaskan cruise so that we knew what to pack. Even after a week of being on the cruise, we still overpacked, but still managed to fit everything into one carry-on bag. Even the customs officers leaving Canada and arriving in Canada asked twice if we had checked luggage and couldn’t believe it when we said we only had what was currently with us- our carry-on roller and one personal item. We’d rather get the odd looks than have to wait at the dreaded baggage carousel or pay the extra fees for luggage check.

If you have any questions about packing for your Alaskan cruise, or about packing in general, let us know! We hope that this list helps. Remember, traveling is about the experience, not the extra stuff.  

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