Updated 11.01.2019: Cruising in Alaska is one of my favorite active boomer travel experiences. With plenty of active adventures and beautiful scenery to admire and/or photograph, it’s no surprise that an Alaska cruise is at the top of many boomer bucket lists.
However too many folks become caught up in worrying about packing for an Alaska cruise. Don’t let that angst ruin anticipation of a wonderful trip. With my practical Alaska cruise packing tips, you’ll look forward to your cruise rather than dreading preparing for it.
What to wear on a cruise to Alaska?
What to pack for an Alaska cruise? I’m asked this question a lot. And my answer is always the same: not as much as you think.
With the typical Alaskan cruise ranging from one to two weeks, your Alaska cruise packing list should include clothing layers for outdoor fun with mix and match outfits for evenings, including formal night—if the cruise will have one.
In fact, as couple travelers, you and your partner could probably manage with one checked bag between you, a rolling carryon for her plus a personal item bag. He’ll be fine with a backpack, which you can also share on those fabulous Alaska cruise excursions. This advice remains the same for solo travelers, too.
And, if you’re an especially efficient packer, there’s no reason why you can’t pack your Alaska cruise attire into a rolling carryon, even when including cold weather gear. Remember, thin-layered clothing is your friend. I traveled for 21 days in China using only a rolling carryon and a personal item bag. You can do it, too!
Two-week Alaska cruise packing list
If you read my luxury cruise reviews here at My Itchy Travel Feet, then you know that I love to bring fancy cruise wear for dressing up on cruises. But that’s not the case for Alaska, where the cruise is all about active travel fun. Here are my suggestions for what to pack for a two-week Alaska cruise:
Daywear for Alaska
When it comes to what to wear during the day on an Alaska cruise, I opt for layers with items that will work well on the ship or on excursion. Even on scenic cruising days, I know that I’ll be outside on deck admiring Hubbard Glacier or another beautiful Alaskan scene.
Alaska weather is changeable. You never know if it will be cloudy and cold, sunny and warm, or rainy and whatever. Packing an assortment of layers that dry quickly—no bulky clothing allowed—prepares you for any situation. I recommend:
- 1 pair water resistant safari pants. On 14-day Alaska cruises, make this 2 pair of safari pants.
- 1 pair jeans for on the ship or walking around ports. Don’t wear jeans on active excursions, especially if you’ll be around water or where it might rain. Nothing is worse—or colder—than wearing soggy, wet jeans.
- 2 safari shirts that go with safari pants or the jeans. On warm days, roll the sleeves up.
- 2 long-sleeve crew-neck shirts (or turtlenecks) to layer underneath safari shirts or to wear with a quilted vest. Or make this one long-sleeve crew-neck shirt and one short-sleeve solid color tee, just in case the weather is warmer than you think it will be.
- Quilted sleeveless vest for layering with a long-sleeve shirt over jeans or safari pants.
- Fleece jacket, choose a colorful one for showing up against snow scenes in photos.
- Water-resistant jacket, same advice as for the fleece jacket—color rules!
- 1 set of thermal underwear. You probably won’t need these however they don’t take up much room so pack them anyway.
- Gloves, glove liners, hat, neck warmer, warm socks
- Shoe covers that have treads. Wear them on wet, muddy excursions or in port when it’s raining.
- Lightweight hiking shoes that can also be used for walking laps on deck. You can also use these for the gym in a pinch. Wear these shoes on travel day.
- Comfortable pants/top for travel day (wear them to and from the cruise). This can double as an extra outfit for on the ship or port days.
Expedition cruisers might consider bringing a heavier jacket, but check with your cruise line, first. Many small ship luxury expeditions provide a jacket to passengers. Of course you’ll need room in luggage to bring it home. Alan and I always forget that part, which is why you’ll see us wearing ours through the airport.
Don’t forget these must-have items for an Alaska cruise
- Bathing suit for the hot tub, yes you’ll enjoy a soak while admiring the scenery. You’ll probably want to pack a coverup, or use a t-shirt that can double as a workout top.
- Flip-flops or sandals for walking to and from the hot tub (or pool). Make them cute enough to double as daywear or nightwear shoes, especially if the weather surprises you with a warm spell.
- Baseball hat or sun hat for lounging on deck, on your balcony, or on a sunny wildlife watching excursion.
- 1 pair pajamas. I cheat here by wearing a t-shirt and shorts that I can also use in the gym. If they become sweaty, hand wash with TSA-approved laundry packets. Using the ship’s laundromat is another option, if your ship has one. That’s Alan’s job.
- Sunscreen to protect your skin from bright sun reflecting off snow.
- Insecticide repellent towelettes for those pesky gnats, flies and mosquitos.
- And don’t forget your underwear. I’m leaving the amount and type up to you.
If you’re worried about sweaty clothing or spilling food on clothing, bring a package of laundry packets for hand washing clothes. That’s what I do. Of course that means the clothing that you bring should wash easily by hand, dry quickly and require no ironing.
Cute Alaskan cruise outfits for casual nights
In Alaska, most of the nights onboard ship will be designated casual night—elegant casual, country-club casual, whatever term the cruise line uses. And that’s just fine with this baby boomer.
With so many outdoor adventures, Alaskan cruises are busy enough that there’s not a lot of time for night life. I mainly wear pants because I look better in them rather than skirts or dresses—boomer fashion tip: know your style and what looks best on you. For me, the mix and match clothing at Chico’s are perfect for cruises.
Here’s what I suggest packing:
- Two pair of pants: black and another color. Gray is good. Or if you’re in a summery mood bring white ones.
- Five tops—make one a cute summer sweater— that go with both pair of pants, which makes ten outfits. On a 14-day cruise, repeat 3 of your favorite looks. For 1-week Alaska cruises, three tops will do.
- 1 pair of shoes that will go with all outfits. Pewter flats are a great choice if you can find them. And, if you do, let me know as my Cole-Hahn favorite pewter shoes are almost worn out.
Accessories are an easy way to extend the life of an outfit, making it feel different each time that you wear it. A scarf or eye-catching necklace can instantly change your look without adding bulk to luggage.
If you’re cruising on an Alaska expedition ship, reduce this list by one pair of pants and 2 tops. The relaxed style of expedition cruising means you will wear less. Some adventure cruises are so busy that you’ll find yourself wearing safari pants and a top to dinner because there isn’t time to change clothes.
Have you seen my luxury cruise fashion tips for women over 50?
Alaska cruise formal nights
Although Alan and I love dressing up for formal nights, we leave the dinner jacket and long gown at home when cruising to Alaska. In fact, we’d do the same on any 7 to 14-day cruise. That’s not enough time on ship to make bringing the formal wear worth it.
For an Alaska formal night, Alan wears a sport coat and dress pants or khakis, perhaps without a tie as they are usually optional. He’ll bring one, though, just in case he changes his mind.
I’ll pack a pair of dressy black pants, sparkly top and shoes, especially if I’ve adhered to the two pants/five top/1 par of shoes list I mentioned for casual nights. If you really want to cut down on clothing, wear the black pants from elegant casual night in place of an additional pair of dressy pants.
No need to worry about formal nights on an expedition cruise because there aren’t any.
And there you have it. As you can see, deciding what to wear on an Alaskan cruise doesn’t have to be complicated. This is one trip where you’ll be happy that you packed light.
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