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Skiing at the Alyeska Resort outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

Courtesy of Visit Anchorage

Skiing at the Alyeska Resort outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

What to pack for an Alaska cruise

Smart packing begins with layering & not overdoing the heavy coats

How should you pack for an Alaska cruise? It’s been a while since I sailed in Alaska, but the memories are still strong — not only about the magnificent scenery of the Last Frontier but the weather, too, because It can rain and also be quite chilly.

So here are some tips on what to pack before heading off for the Great Land.

Tips from veteran travelers

I have one super-important word of advice for you: layering. Alaska in the summer is often not that cold, so don't overdo it with the parkas and heavy coats. Maximize your options. Some of your decisions on what to pack should come down to what activities you'll be dong. Will you be dog sledding? Trekking through Denali National Park. Skiing on a glacier? Whale watching out on the open water? 

When you're headed for one of the active shore excursions that are so popular on Alaska cruises, I suggest moisture-wicking long-sleeve T-shirts as the ideal first layer, with a fleece jacket on top of that.

Here's a shot of a Princess Cruises guide and guests on a cool, but not frigid, afternoon on a Princess sailing.
Courtesy of Princess CruisesHere's a shot of a Princess Cruises guide and guests on a cool, but not frigid, afternoon on a Princess sailing.

Because of the chance of rain at any time, waterproof hiking boots and a lightweight hooded rain jacket or parka are indispensable. Also handy is a backpack to stow clothing to provide extra warmth (gloves, ski cap) or to store layers when you remove them. You'll want sunblock because of the long northern days and glare from the water. And since Alaskans joke about the state bird being the mosquito, don't forget insect repellent.

My husband and I are booked on June journey to Alaska on Regent's spiffy Seven Seas Mariner. The cruise line has a rather relaxed dress code that leans more to country- or yacht-club stylish than elegant, with jeans even permitted in the dining room. With that in mind, we’re packing jeans and sweaters, but also at least one dressier outfit should an officer invite us to dinner. Men might want to throw in a sport coat, both for looks and warmth, and women might appreciate a throw for the same reason. 

Dining on any Regent ship is always a special occasion, so for this cruise I will be packing a couple of nice, but not too formal evening outfits. Check the dress codes to see if there are any formal nights or restrictions on clothing, but ultimately how relaxed or dressed up you want to get depends on your choice of ship and your style of travel.

Essentials to pack for your Alaska cruise 

Regardless of what kind of Alaska cruise you choose, you'll want to bring the following:

A men's OutDry Ex Diamond Shell Jacket at
A men's OutDry Ex Diamond Shell Jacket at
  • Rain hat.
  • Waterproof coat with a hood, which we both picked up at the Columbia Sportswear outlet at Cabazon shops near Palm Springs, Calif., for a bargain. While we were there we also picked up some shirts and blouses with SPF 50 protection to wear on tropical cruises, also dirt cheap. You can also shop for them online.
  • Waterproof boots or walking shoes (also available at Columbia or shoe outlets) if you plan to take shore excursions, or go on your own, to the forests as we do. Do remember sturdy socks or you’ll get blisters.
  • Biking outfits if you plan to book such a side trip, which most ships offer in Alaska. Helmets are often provided so don’t worry about carrying one.
  • Sunscreen. Yes, I said sunscreen: When the rays are out in Alaska, they can really penetrate the skin.
  • Swimsuits. Sometimes it's warm enough on the ship to jump into the pool on an Alaska cruise, so you should bring a bathing suit just in case -- it doesn’t weigh much and you never know.
  • Sunglasses are a must, for the glare from the icebergs.
  • Binoculars, because you don’t want to miss seeing a caribou, elk, whale or other wildlife. Binoculars are provided in the staterooms on Seabourn and Crystal Cruises but I’m not sure if they are on Regent, Princess or Holland America. Unlikely on Disney or Royal Caribbean. Call your cruise line or travel agent to find out.

You shouldn’t have to go overboard on the warm clothing, but if you’re like me, you’ll want to be prepared, so don't forget to layer. We both bought lightweight waterproof jackets, which can be supplemented underneath with sweaters, for our June cruise. See you there?

What other Alaska packing tips would you add?

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In our series Packing for a Cruise

Patti Pietschmann
I'm the LA Travel Diva and spend time cruising with first mate Richard, traveling the world, reviewing fine restaurants, going to plays, movies and events. It's the good life.