The last time I was in Alaska — many years ago — I stood on the deck of a cruise ship and watched giant pieces of ice, some seemingly as large as a car, fall off the Hubbard Glacier and into the sea. I stood there for what felt like forever, unable to take my eyes off the crumbling ice and the splash of the water below.
I was visiting in August, and while much has changed since then, this month remains one of the most popular times to go to Alaska, Colleen McDaniel, the editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, told Travel + Leisure.
“The best reason to cruise to Alaska is there are things that you can only truly see from the water. It’s why it is a bucket list destination for many, many people,” said McDaniel. “When you’re out on the water, you can do wildlife viewing as well, and it's built into that cruise experience.”
While the most popular time to travel to Alaska on a cruise is June through August, it’s also when it tends to be the most expensive. Instead, McDaniel suggested looking at the shoulder months of May and September, when you can save a little money. She added, "May tends to be a pretty dry month, which makes it appealing.”
According to McDaniel, some ships are even starting to extend the Alaska cruise season, sailing as early as April. Those summer months, however, are when you’re likely to see the warmest weather, with temperatures around 50 to 70 degrees, as well as the longest number of daylight hours, she said.
Another way to save some money is to check out glacier routes that go northbound, which can be slightly cheaper than those heading southbound. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, choose “a sailing that starts mid-week rather than on a weekend,” suggested McDaniel.
McDaniel said the most popular ports to leave from are Seattle and Vancouver, but cruises can depart from as far south as San Francisco or even from places like Seward, Alaska. Keep in mind, the closer your starting port is to Alaska, the fewer days you will spend at sea.
“If actually spending time in Alaska is what you want to do, you’re going to want to start further north,” she said.
Ultimately, there are many different types of Alaskan cruises to suit every taste, from big ships with lots of activities to luxury vessels with high-end amenities to small cruises with only a couple dozen passengers.
“The great thing about Alaska is there’s truly a type of Alaska cruise for everyone,” she said.
So pack your bags and get ready to spot humpback whales and get up close and personal with a glacier from a kayak because “The Last Frontier” is waiting.