When I was getting ready for my expedition cruise to Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures, I gambled on the weather and won. I wanted to keep my packing light, so I took a chance and didn't overdo it with rain gear (meaning I packed none, really). We had a week of unseasonably sunny and dry conditions as we sailed through Southeastern Alaska in early May.
I lucked out, no doubt about it. I'm not saying I was smart. In fact, it was obviously foolish, but I just ran out of time to buy the proper gear and thus rolled the dice. I assume you want to be more prepared, so I am providing a smart travelers packing list for an expedition cruise to Alaska. Your packing list is much different than if you are heading out on a big ship cruise to the Caribbean. Don't bother with the shiny shoes and cocktail dresses! You'll need active gear and comfy clothes almost exclusively -- and to be ready for the rains.
Here's what to pack:
Waterproof shoes -- Get comfy shoes that can get wet while walking around on deck of the boat or to use when in kayaks, skiffs and standup paddleboards (you can always go barefoot on these, too).
Rubber boots -- While you can use your waterproof shoes for many wet conditions, some of your activities might require wet landings ashore off skiffs to go on hikes through muddy conditions in the rain forests, crossing streams and bogs. You also will have a chance to go bushwacking in similar conditions, and rain boots are the best option for these adventures. Boots take up a lot of packing space, so check whether your cruise line will rent them to you. Un-Cruise rents a pair for the week for $25, for example (this is what I did).
Rain pants/jackets -- It rains in Alaska. A lot. Except when I'm there, apparently. The top packing advice I hear repeatedly is to be prepared for lots of rain.
Insect repellent -- Mosquitos and other pesky bugs will bother you in the dense woods unless you apply repellent. Bring along a good spray or wipes.
Brimmed hat -- To keep your noggin protected from rain and sun.
Sunscreen -- Like I said, we had wonderful sunny days during my week, so you want to be ready for your long days out whale spotting, kayaking or hiking through forests.
Swimsuit -- This is for the hot tubs on your ship. And to wear when you take a polar plunge in the icy Alaska waters. You're not gonna chicken out and not do this are you?
Long-sleeve shirts -- They'll keep you warm when conditions cool after sunset and protect your arms from sun and bugs.
Sunglasses -- For those sunny periods.
Clothes you can layer -- Athletic shirts that wick perspiration are best, as well as comfy fleeces and light windbreakers.
Hooded fleeces -- Great to slip on in the evening or early morning when you're onboard and want to wander the outside decks of the ship sipping a beer or coffee and enjoy the amazing scenery and sunsets/sunrises.
Wicking athletic shirts -- You'll be very active on the trip, with all sorts of hiking, walking and kayaking opportunities. Also, consider athletic waterproof pants or tights.
Comfy sneakers or hiking shoes like Keens -- I really put my Keens to the test with miles and miles of wet hiking. They rinse clean in an instant and are ready to go the next day. You might want to pack sneakers for days when you visit more developed towns or to get around in comfort on the ship.
Extra memory cards and batteries for cameras -- You will be taking tons of pictures, and you want to make sure you're always ready with a well-powered camera that has plenty of space left on its memory card. Plus, batteries wear down more quickly when the weather is cold, like when you're out on a skiff getting up close to glaciers. (Pro tip: Back up your pictures nightly on a laptop so you won't lose all your images if the memory card gets corrupted or you lose your camera.)
Waterproof cameras -- You will be in kayaks and skiffs and have a chance to go snorkeling, too. Pack an underwater camera if you think you might be trying for pictures in rainy or underwater conditions.
DVDs or downloads of movies and TV shows -- Your cabin TVs will have limited channels with entertainment but might have a DVD player. If you want to have something to watch before you fall asleep, bring along your favorites. The boat's library also may have DVDs for you to borrow.
Books, magazines -- You'll find pockets of time to relax onboard, and many people like to sit out on the decks or in the lounge and read for a bit while waiting for the next brown bear, orca or other animal sightings.
Protein powder/bars -- I pack extra snacks for energy to supplement the fruit, granola bars and other items available onboard.
Aminos -- I also pack these powders to add flavor to my water bottles that I sip from while out participating in all the active adventures. Amino acids help prevent fatigue and support muscle recovery.
Been to Alaska on an expedition cruise? Can you think of any items I missed that you find essential? Please add them to the comments below.