How to Pack for an Alaska Cruise

Packing for our Carnival cruise to Alaska proved to be quite the style challenge. My Florida wardrobe doesn’t contain as many cold-weather clothes, and my cold-weather fashion game is as weak as my backhand in tennis. Not to mention that winter clothes take up SO much space, and our suitcases needed to be under 50 pounds for air travel. Plus, I really didn’t know what to expect.

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Here’s everything I learned. My hits and misses, and what I wish I would’ve known when packing for an Alaskan cruise.

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1. Dinner attire.

On a Carnival cruise, there are two “cruise elegant” nights, which more or less means “cocktail attire.” So I packed one pair of heels, asimple black pump, and then packed several things that could go with them. I wore #1 and #3 above to “cruise elegant” nights, and the other two to regular dinner nights.

You will see a large range of attire on a cruise, so it’s really up to you as far as how dressed up you’d like to get. I felt more comfortable having a pair of heels, but they aren’t required. My husband brought one pair of dress shoes, which he wore on the two “cruise elegant” nights with dress pants, no jacket or tie. (picture below – unfortunately you can’t see the shoes)

Other nights he went more casual even when I was in heels:

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Let’s also talk about being warm during dinner. This tripped me up a bit… did I need a coat to go over my dinner outfits?

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The answer was no. I did not need to bring this black wool coat with a faux fur collar with me. It took up a lot of space and proved to be unnecessary. Inside the ship, the temperature is controlled and you won’t need a jacket to/from or during dinner, or during cruise activities like comedy shows. And when you do go outside, you will want to change into your warmest clothes (see next section).

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2. On deck.

When the ship is moving, and especially at night… it is REALLY cold! You will need:

  • A warm coat. I lived in this gray North Face fleece.
  • Shoes with socks to keep your tootsies warm.
  • Gloves and hats.

Not pictured: the hot chocolate and tea you’ll be drinking a lot!

Also… it’s windy.

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“Outfit pictures on a cruise be like…”

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3. Around the ship.

These outfits are for those in-between moments. Like traveling to and from your cruise, when you’re on deck and it’s warm (when the ship stops moving), you are headed to brunch, or additional outfits to wear for casual dinner nights. I packed a couple dresses, three pairs of jeans (blue, ivory and black) and long-sleeve tops.

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4. Off the ship.

What you wear off the ship is going to vary greatly based on two things: the weather, and what you do.

a. Weather: SE Alaska is a rainforest (100 inches per year gets you rainforest status and Juneau gets 300 inches of rain per year!), so I would recommend bringing waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket. From there, the temperature varies. We had unusually warm (70 degree) and dry weather, but a friend did the same cruise the week after us and it rained and was really cold. So I would recommend being prepared for both and plan on layering to be safe.

b. What you do:

Hiking: I thought it would be cold, so I packed jeans to hike in, but I wished I had brought more yoga pants. I was way too hot in picture #1 (even with my gray jacket off), and in #2 that outfit was never supposed to see the light of day. I saw lots of people hiking in cute yoga pants and wished I had brought mine!

Zip lining: In #3 we went zip lining and we both wore cargo pants, which was perfect.

Sight-seeing: If you plan to sight-see and shop all day, then you can wear cute boots and adorable fall/winter type outfits. We planned to be really active (hiking, fishing, kayaking) which is why I dressed less fashionable and more practical. I spotted some stylish outfits at port though!

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5. To workout.

One thing I definitely did not have room for in my suitcase was gym shoes. So I wore my hiking sneaks to the gym. In #1, I jogged on the walking track with my binoculars wrapped around me in case we spotted wildlife (they announce it over the loud speaker). And the other two I wore to the gym.

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Okay… let’s summarize what I packed. These are all the jackets and shoes I brought, as pictured in my Carnival closet on board.

Jackets (in order as pictured):

  1. A heavy jacket for “elegant attire” night – I recommend skipping this (black wool with faux fur collar)
  2. Light jacket for wearing around the ship (navy lightweight wool)
  3. Light jacket for wearing around the ship (olive army jacket)
  4. One very warm jacket (gray North Face fleece)
  5. Waterproof jacket (yellow North Face)

Shoes

  1. One pair of flats/something easy to throw on (JJ opted for flip flops)
  2. One pair of heels or dress shoes (simple black pumps)
  3. One pair of hiking boots or athletic shoes (mine, JJ’s)
  4. One pair of flat boots

Everything else

  • Three pairs of jeans – blue, black and ivory for around the ship, and traveling to and from our cruise
  • Various tops – long-sleeve blouses, light sweaters to wear with jeans
  • Casual dresses – dresses to wear with tall boots and/or leggings
  • Clothes for excursions – skinny cargo pants for zip lining, yoga pants or jeans for hiking
  • Cocktail attire – two nights worth of “cruise elegant” outfits
  • Athletic gear – for the gym and/or for hikes

Hiking checklist

  • Backpack
  • Waterproof jacket and shoes
  • Water bottle (bring your own and fill it up on board)
  • Snacks that bears can’t smell (like granola bars)
  • Camera, selfie stick
  • Monopod for camera, also doubles as walking stick
  • Ziplock bags for electronics in case it rains

What items do you pack for an Alaskan cruise? Leave your best tips and tricks in the comment section below, and check out my general cruise tips and Caribbean packing guide here.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.