Alaska small ship cruise advice

What to pack
Powell Ettinger, Director of our leading Alaska small ship cruising holidays supplier, The Small Cruise Ship Collection:

What to pack

"The weather is changeable and sunshine does certainly happen – so pack layers so that you can easily remove them when out doing activities such as hiking or kayaking that will warm you up. Hiking trousers that unzip into shorts are great, as are moisture wicking base tops, because the air is pretty damp up here and that doesn’t work well with cottons. Good waterproofs are a must and do remember an extra pair of gloves, as they nearly always get wet. Same goes for socks; get moisture absorbing ones, and bring plenty of them. If you are brave, pack a swimsuit for a polar dip. The less brave will enjoy the on deck hot tub though."
Why go on a small ship cruise

Why go on a small ship cruise

“How would you like to see Alaska – through binoculars from the observation lounge of a large cruise behemoth a mile or two offshore? Or to be close enough while drifting silently to be able to hear the crunch as a bear chews a fish? Travelling on small ships will introduce you to an Alaska that others never see, much less experience. You’ll do more than just see Alaska through an observation lounge; you’ll be an active participant in all that it has to offer, from Zodiac rides around impossibly blue ice to savouring locally caught seafood at dinner.”

Advice for families

“For families, small ship cruises are great because you only unpack once, and yet you still get to explore different places. But of course, these boats aren’t adapted to have things like kids clubs and that kind of thing. The kids clubs are getting off the boat, exploring and seeing what’s out there. There are age restrictions with some boat operators, however, so we always check that.”
Accessibility tips

Accessibility tips

“Some of our boats are old Russian expedition ships which just don’t have access, but a lot of the newer ships do, so it is great that people with accessibility issues don’t have to do the massive cruise liner thing. They want the different experience that we offer on small ship cruises, and to actually get off the boat and not just point to a destination from onboard – which is completely what we don’t agree with. The boat is just a means to get from A to B and it is all about exploring and getting off the boat, more than anything.”
Traveller review
And a review from one of our travellers, Sarah Taylor:

“If you love scenery, wildlife and relaxing with a great crew book it tomorrow... The whole trip was outstanding from start to finish. The boat was great - large enough to give everyone space but small enough to be personal...We saw killers whales, black and brown bears catching salmon and had amazing interaction with the humpback whales. Most important of all it was all done intimate and sensitive manner so it felt like we were part of their world without intruding on it.”

Our top trip

Inner Reaches Eastern Coves cruise in Alaska

Inner Reaches Eastern Coves cruise in Alaska

Awe-inspiring glaciers, wildlife, and rainforests in Alaska

From £2845 to £4585 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 28 Apr, 3 May, 9 Jun, 16 Jun, 30 Jun, 7 Jul, 22 Sep, 27 Sep
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Alaska cruising or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Health and safety


Ensure your travel insurance covers not only water activities but also land based ones, especially if you are going to go river rafting around Haines, for example. Repatriation coverage is also worth considering. Make sure you have all your medication with you, as you will be sailing among remote islands without quick access to mainland pharmacies. Bring good quality, protective sunglasses and eco friendly sunscreen. That glacial glare is full on. It is worth packing some seasickness tablets, patches or wristbands and also alternative remedies, such as ginger tinctures or tea. Although in the main, you will be on well protected waters and in the straits and narrows. If you are taking a hike on one of your shore excursions, don’t drink river water. Although it looks glacially clean, it can be a source of giardia, a harmful bacteria. At the same time, please avoid plastic water bottles and bring a reusable bottle to fill up on board.


It is important to really listen to safety instructions from your skipper and crew when you board. If you are sea kayaking or sailing, always wear a buoyancy aid and ensure it is fastened properly. These waters are cold, especially near glaciated rivers. If you are going out hiking, take layers. Temperatures can plummet rapidly out here. If you are hiking, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. It is best to go with a walking guide, when possible. Alaska gets wild very quickly. On land, you do need to be bear and moose aware. Your guides will always give you good advice on that front, but the most important rules are to keep food hidden and locked away, walk in a group and make noise. Then, if you see one, don’t hang around to take photos. Nor should you turn your back and run. Move backwards, slowly. Carrying pepper spray is also an option, for emergencies.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Elaine] [What to pack : Paxson Woelber ] [Why go on a small ship cruise: Ethan Oringel] [Advice for families: Erik Halfacre] [Accessibility tips: mark byzewski] [Traveller review: Max Goldberg] [Health & Safety : Poom!]