What is the difference between a cruise in Alaska and the Caribbean?

An Alaskan cruise sounds like an incredible adventure, but how is it different from a Caribbean cruise?

Two of Royal Caribbean’s most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean and Alaska. Both offer the opportunity to set sail on an impressive vessel, enjoy onboard entertainment and dining, and make memories with fellow passengers.

Aside from these similarities, however, there is a vast array of differences between a Caribbean and Alaskan cruise. From swinging on a hammock in Mexico to walking on a glacier in Juneau, here are the key differences between these two cruising regions.

The landscape

In the Caribbean, days at sea usually mean a day at sea with no view around you except the open ocean. And while it’s a beautiful sight, time at sea in Alaska couldn’t be more different.

Most of the time spent on an Alaskan cruise will be in the inside passage of Alaska or Canada. The Inside Passage is a stretch of ocean that stretches from Puget Sound to Washington and along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska to Skagway.

The Inside Passage offers stunning views of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife as you cruise through impressive fjords. If you’re lucky, you might even spot whales swimming by the ship, and as fall approaches, the Northern Lights will burst from the sky.

Cruises

A unique aspect of Royal Caribbean’s Alaskan cruises is the ability to book an Alaskan cruise. These are 3-6 night land tours that you can book before or after your Alaska cruise.

For example, you can book a 7-night cruise from Vancouver on Radiance of the Seas, visiting Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Hubbard Glacier. The cruise will end in Seward, Alaska where you will begin a 3-night land tour visiting Seward, Talkeetna and Denali, Alaska.

You can also take a land tour after a round-trip Alaska cruise. For example, you can book a 7-night round-trip cruise from Vancouver on Serenade of the Seas. The cruise will visit Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Haines and Tracy Arm Fjord. After the cruise, you will begin the “Mountain Resort Experience Cruisetour” which visits destinations in Canada including Calgary, Jasper and Banff.

Booking an Alaska cruise gives you the opportunity to explore Alaska or Canada beyond the Inside Passage and see some of the region’s most magnificent and famous sights. Just like a cruise, the price includes accommodation, transportation and tours. Airfare, shore excursions and meals on shore are not included unless otherwise specified.

Planning a day in port is more important in Alaska

On a Caribbean cruise, the ports you visit are often a second thought to the ship you choose. Planning your stay in port can simply mean choosing from a list of beaches where you can spend the day or strolling the cobblestone streets of Puerto Rico.

However, you don’t visit Alaska just to spend the day sitting in a pool chair. Ports in Alaska require more planning. It’s important to research shore excursions and things to do in your port of call to make sure you don’t miss out on anything that interests you.

Whale watching tours, glacier tours and historic train rides are just a few of the unique shore excursion opportunities that await you in Alaska.

Shore excursions can be slightly more expensive in Alaska than what you are used to in the Caribbean. And while there are more expensive excursions, such as helicopter tours over the Mendenhall Glacier, you’ll also be able to find more budget-friendly options.

The food

Discovering new cuisines is an integral part of exploring a new place. Whether you’re sailing in the Caribbean or Alaska, you’ll have the chance to sample new local foods and beverages in the region.

Caribbean cuisine is synonymous with fresh, tropical flavors. Spending the day in Puerto Rico? Order the original piña colada in Old San Juan. Are you going to the Bahamas? Be sure to taste authentic conch fritters from a fish fry. Hoping for something healthy? Enjoy a fresh mango and pineapple smoothie in Saint-Martin.

Just like in the Caribbean, the food on an Alaskan cruise will give you insight into the region’s history and cultural influences. One of the most popular foods to try in Alaska is freshly caught seafood. There are seafood restaurants available at every port in Alaska, and Royal Caribbean even offers tours that visit an outdoor salmon bakery!

Besides seafood, you might want to sample Russian-influenced cuisine throughout Alaska or warm up with traditional Alaskan fry bread and hot chocolate.

Whether you are sailing in the Caribbean or Alaska, you are sure to enjoy delicious meals.

Weather

Consideration of the weather is much more important when cruising in Alaska than in the Caribbean.

You will almost always encounter warm weather in the Caribbean. While the winter months can be a little cooler and the summer months warmer, the weather generally remains comfortable. The weather forecast may indicate rain, but that usually means brief afternoon showers. And while fall may be peak hurricane season, Royal Caribbean will alter itineraries to avoid getting in the way of a potential storm.

While the weather in the Caribbean can be more predictable and comfortable year-round, the weather for an Alaskan cruise is constantly changing. The Alaska cruise season runs from May to September and each month brings different weather conditions.

Early May and September, being shoulder seasons, can see more unpredictable weather. June, July and August are the busiest months for an Alaskan cruise and will experience the hottest temperatures. Late May and early June tend to have some of the best weather in the region during the year.

Whichever month you sail to Alaska, be prepared for the weather to change several times throughout the day. You might find yourself shivering in the morning and exploring a port in a t-shirt in the afternoon!

Packaging

Packing for a Caribbean cruise is relatively easy and means shorts, t-shirts, bathing suits and a sweater or jacket if it gets chilly at night. Packing for an Alaskan cruise couldn’t be more different!

Choosing what to pack on an Alaskan cruise can seem daunting. No matter what month you sail, however, layers are essential to staying comfortable.

Our top recommendation for what to wear on an Alaskan cruise is to pack the following:

  • Base layer (light t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, leggings)
  • Warm layer (sweatshirt, hoodie, sweater, cardigan, jeans, etc.)
  • Waterproof layer (rain jacket, rain pants)
  • Beanie or other warm hat
  • Waterproof shoes or boots

However, don’t make the mistake of packing only cold weather gear. You might find that a t-shirt is all you need during the day in the height of summer or it’s warm enough to swim in the outdoor pools once you get closer to Seattle or of Vancouver.

Also, don’t make the mistake of packing too many clothes for Alaska. Because it’s not as hot and humid in Alaska as it is in the Caribbean, your clothes can stay cleaner longer, and you’ll be able to wear nearly the same outfit every day in port.

Another important packing tip is to bring a waterproof or water-resistant backpack with you to the port. Whether you’re strolling around town or going on a whale-watching excursion, it’s important to be able to keep your valuables dry in case of sudden rain.

Relaxation on board

A Caribbean cruise is often one big party. Live reggae is played by the poolside band as guests slide down the waterslides, order a drink from Lime & Coconut, and participate in poolside activities such as the belly-dropping contest.

And while an Alaskan cruise has its fair share of partying, the atmosphere of an Alaskan cruise is a bit more relaxed. You will often find passengers sitting quietly by the windows or on the upper decks, gazing at the amazing Alaskan scenery. Instead of a morning by the pool, you might want to catch trivia at the Schooner Bar, listen to jazz at Two70, or just read a book on your balcony.

It can be hard not wanting to spend the day doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying the sights around you on an Alaskan cruise.

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