The Best Time to Take an Alaskan Cruise

The dramatic coastline, majestic wildlife and intriguing ports that make Alaska such an incredible cruise destination owe their remarkable characteristics to the state’s northerly location.

Alaska’s faraway geography allows for a cruise season running from April to September, when the days are long and temperatures are at their most welcoming. Depending on your schedule and desires, any of these six months could be considered the best time to take an Alaskan cruise.

If you’re looking for Alaskan cruise calendar tips, the following are some key things to think about.

Seasons within the Cruise Season

Alaska is famous for its long, cold winters and fleetingly short summers, but within the April-to-September cruise season are ever-shifting patterns of temperature and daylight hours.

carnival ship cruising through alaska with snow filled mountains in the background

During early shoulder season throughout April and May, daytime highs average from the high 40s to mid-50s Fahrenheit, with overnight lows in the 30-to-40 range. Highs in the peak summer months of June, July, and August are in the low to mid-60s, with lows in the high 40s. In September, low temperatures drop back to the 40s, and highs to the mid-50s. June is the driest month, and the early season is usually drier than the late shoulder season.

June also offers the longest daylight hours, peaking at 18 hours a day, although even the shortest days during the Alaskan cruise season offer 14 hours of light.

Tip: If you’re looking at weather forecasts for Alaska, be sure to find facts and figures for the Inside Passage region, home to Carnival cruise ports including Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. Alaska is huge, so temperatures in the Inside Passage can be vastly different from those farther north.

The Busiest Season for Ships and Ports

Cruises to Alaska departing between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the most popular because they coincide with school holidays and the warmest temperatures. If you want to cruise during these peak times, it’s a good idea to book early. You can also expect a livelier scene and bustling crowds both on board and in port.

four friends exploring the glaciers in juneau

Shoulder season departures are a great choice if you prefer smaller crowds, don’t mind cooler weather, and have a flexible schedule. If you’re opting for an early- or late-season cruise to Alaska, ports of call are likely to be on the quieter side.

If you intend to cruise during peak season, know that it’s best to book a spot early for popular shore excursions with a fixed number of spots, such as the Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Explorer excursion in Skagway and VIP Alaska’s Whales and Glacier Rainforest Trails in Juneau.

Alaska’s Scenic Highlights by Season

Alaska is famous all over the world for its outstanding natural beauty, and the Inside Passage is spectacular in any season. There are some notable month-to-month differences, though.

people kayaking in skagway, alaska with mountains and glacier in the background

In the earliest and latest days of the cruise season, distant mountain peaks are capped with snow. Early cruises offer the chance to see meadows blanketed with blooming wildflowers in a gorgeous display of color, whereas September visits coincide with the appearance of brilliant fall foliage. Early June is the peak time to witness the breathtaking spectacle of calving glaciers.

The Most Wonderful Time for Alaskan Wildlife

At any time during the cruise season you’ll certainly see some of Alaska’s most amazing animal inhabitants, including whales, dolphins, bears and bald eagles. However, many migratory species are sighted more often during certain times.

Furthermore, cruise departure dates within some specific time frames offer unique and exciting wildlife-viewing shore excursions. One example is the Alaska Bear Adventure from Ketchikan, which is available only from mid-July to September, when black bears congregate at river rapids to feast on spawning salmon.

four friends zip lining through the forest of alaska

If you’re looking forward to a whale-watching or orca-spotting excursion, such as Discover Alaska’s Whales from Juneau or the Wildlife Safari and Beach Bonfire from Ketchikan, know that the entire cruise season is ideal and you have an excellent chance of seeing whales, orca and dolphins. April and May are best for spotting gray whales, while humpback sightings are more likely during peak summer months.

When the Northern Lights Are Most Likely

In Alaska, the great beauty of nature doesn’t disappear when the sun goes down – lucky passengers might witness the spectacular natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights. If you’re planning an Alaskan cruise with hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, there’s one key way to maximize your chances. The aurora can only appear when the sky is dark, so book a cruise as early or as late in the season as possible when there are more hours of darkness.

northern lights in the night sky with snowcapped mountains in the background

Experience Alaska on Carnival Legend

Carnival Legend sails to Alaska every year, taking guests to the amazing Alaskan cruise stops of Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Victoria, and Skagway and spectacular wilderness locales like Icy Strait Point, Glacier Bay, and Tracy Arm Fjord. You can spend your days admiring icebergs and glaciers, and your evenings sipping tropical cocktails at BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar or Alchemy Bar. Witness bears feasting on salmon, then dive into your own delicious lunch at Guy’s Burger Joint or the BlueIguana Cantina, all fresh new features on Carnival Legend.