Alaska tends to be wet and rainy in the summer and temperatures along the southern coast, home to many cruise ports, can range from the 40s to the 60s. All of these variants make it tricky to figure out what to wear on an Alaskan cruise. Particularly when you need to balance the chilly, wet outdoors with the climate-controlled ship’s interior.
My recommendations on what to wear on an Alaska cruise are based on our trip on the Norwegian Bliss in August. On our journey we stopped in ports in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria, B.C.
Of course what you wear is also dependent on what excursions you choose. If you are visiting Alaska, I’ll assume that you are doing more than just shopping in the cruise port or staying on the boat, and therefore need to be properly outfitted for excursions.
Alaska cruise excursions usually include activities such as hiking, kayaking, glacier hikes, visiting dog musher camps, and wildlife viewing. On our cruise we did a mix of activities on and off the boat including:
- Sea kayaking
- Sea plane + hiking to see bears
- Train ride + 3-hour hike
- Go karting
- Laser tag
- Running at the fitness center
- Soaking at the spa
Luckily, an Alaskan cruise is a bit more casual than other cruises. Our cruise on the Norwegian Bliss did not include a formal night, but I’m pretty sure other ships like Princess Cruises and others do have at least an optional formal night.
If you plan your Alaskan cruise packing list carefully, you can easily fit everything into one suitcase (each person) and those small cruise cabins are designed to fit a surprising amount in all their nooks and crannies.
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How Should I Dress on an Alaskan Cruise?
So what should you wear on an Alaskan cruise? That was something I stressed about a lot when planning an Alaskan cruise. After all, if you forget something you are kind of out of luck, at least until you get to the first port. If you are having similar worries, hopefully this guide will help.
I have also created a printable Alaskan cruise packing list and guide to what to pack for Alaska.
What to Wear on Days at Sea
During days at sea, you will spend time enjoying the ship’s facilities. Be prepared for the outside decks and balconies to be windy and chilly, unless you get lucky with a burst of sunshine.
Attire on board is pretty casual during the day: jeans or leggings, hiking pants, or exercise clothes are all appropriate. On top you probably want to dress in layers with a long-sleeve t-shirt topped with a sweater, light fleece, or down vest. I would still bring one or two short-sleeve t-shirts and a pair of shorts just in case it is warm enough to enjoy the sun deck or your balcony.
Since you don’t want to have to pack too many shoes, stick with either sneakers, flip flops, hiking boots, or flats which can be interchanged between the gym, spa/pool, outdoors, and dinner.
Whether you are sitting outside or in the observation lounge, you will probably want to have something cozy to snuggle up in. If you have room to pack a thin blanket, you will enjoy having that to curl up in while you are relaxing outside (or in the lounge.)
What to wear:
- Jeans / hiking pants / exercise pants / leggings
- Warm socks
- Long sleeve t shirts
- Flannel shirt
- Fleece / sweater / down vest / sweatshirt
- Warm PJs / lounge wear
- Bathing suit + something warm to cover up to walk from the hot tub / spa to your room
- Flip flops
What to Wear on Nights at Sea
Many restaurants do have a “no jeans or shorts” policy in the evenings, although I’m not sure how tightly enforced these are and most ships will have a more casual option. However, with the exception of the embarkation night, most people do dress a bit for dinner.
Expect to see a mix of dresses, dress pants, dress shirts, and blouses. Get as fancy as you would like, but to minimize your packing list, you can get away with just a couple of pairs of nice pants, a few nice tops/sweaters, and one pair of dress shoes that go with everything.
We found the restaurants to be chilly and it is a good idea to bring a sweater or wrap in the evenings. Keep in mind that the ship photographers are available to take family photos so you may want to coordinate one nice outfit for each.
Some cruises do have theme nights or themed dance parties. On our cruise, we weren’t aware of these in any of the pre-cruise information we received but those “in the know” on board came prepared.
There was a country and western night in the BBQ restaurant and bar one evening. I was surprised to see people decked out in cowboy boots, hats, and western gear. Even more surprised that they bothered to pack all of that just for one event. But if you love a good theme party, find out in advance what is happening during your sailing.
What to wear at night:
- Nice pants or a skirt that can be worn multiple times or casual dresses
- A few nice sweaters or tops
- A jacket or wrap
- Comfortable dress shoes
- A small evening bag to fit your phone, key card, and necessities
What to Wear for Excursions
If you are doing anything too adventurous, check with the outfitter to see what gear they provide. For example, when we went sea kayaking it was raining pretty hard when we arrived and they provided everyone with rain boots, rain slickers, and a waterproof kayak “skirt.” Likewise, our hiking tour guides provided everyone with a hiking pole but rain gear was up to us.
Most importantly, you want to be prepared for cold weather and rain. Of course, the weather is fickle and you may end up warm so dress in layers that can be added or shredded as needed.
What to wear on excursions:
- Waterproof shoes or waterproof hiking boots
- Hiking pants (don’t wear jeans — those take forever to dry!)
- Rain pants to slip over your hiking pants
- Wool or synthetic hiking socks
- Rain jacket or waterproof shell
- Puffer coat
- Long sleeve t-shirt or thermal
- Flannel shirt or second layer
- Baseball hat or knit hat
- Day bag to fit your camera, water bottle, wallet, and other necessities
- Refillable water bottle
What to Leave at Home
So with all that stuff that you have to bring, what can you leave at home on a cruise to Alaska?
- Black tie attire — double check with your ship but many Alaska cruise ships don’t have a formal night and if they do, it is optional. So you can leave the cocktail dress, tuxedo, and heels at home, unless you want to get dressed up.
- Shorts — ok, maybe bring a couple of pairs of easy-to-pack exercise or hiking shorts in case it is warm, but unless you get lucky with a warm week, you probably won’t need them. And if you are brave enough to jump into the hot tub out on the deck or use the pool and waterslides, you will probably want to cover up and duck inside as soon as you get out of the water.
- Straightening iron / curling iron — unless you really want to get dressed up for dinner, I would suggest leaving your straightening and curling iron at home. When you walk on deck, your hair is going to whip around in the wind. Also when you are outside, the rain or humidity will bring on the frizz. Plus you are likely going to have a hat on for part of the day. So do yourself a favor and just put your hair up and leave the products at home. If you really like to have your hair looking nice, go ahead and bring them or book an appointment at the salon, just be prepared to fight the mist, wind, and rain to keep your do looking fresh.
What do I pack for an Alaskan Cruise?
Looking for a full Alaska cruise packing list? Check out my full guide on what to pack for an Alaskan cruise and download a printable packing list!
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- Pick from the best Alaskan cruise excursions