5 Reasons to Cruise Alaska Early in the Season

A woman on an Alaska cruise looks through binoculars

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Arguably one of the most popular cruise destinations on the planet, Alaska's glaciers, wildlife, and scenic waterways draw a million people per year to port cities from Ketchikan to Anchorage. Operating within a small window between late April and September, demand is high for Alaska cruises, particularly those offering programs to explore the historical and cultural aspects of the 49th state.

Making careful financial- and calendar-based decisions about booking dates is critical, especially for those travelers wanting to try as many activities as they can, in as many places as possible. One viable option is to book an early-season cruise, beating the crowds and colossal prices that summer brings.

Disclaimer: Not all cruise lines will be underway this early—especially the smaller ones—so you won't have as much variety as you would during the summer. However, if you're willing to sacrifice a few options, you'll be treated to a number of perks that only springtime sailing can offer.

Better Prices

Cruise lines want to fill up their ships, seeing as they'll be sailing the Inside Passage anyway. You can often get great deals on cabins, even sometimes with a verandah upgrade, to better view those glaciers and whales. Some companies also offer onboard credit, up to $200 or more—a valuable commodity for sea days. Land tours can be bundled into many cruises, eliminating the hassle of arranging your own transportation once you reach your disembarkation point. Some cruise lines (like the small, Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures line) offer credit for passengers embarking upon their inaugural sailing from Fisherman's Terminal each spring, heading for Juneau as early as mid-April. This 12-day cruise wanders along Washington's San Juan Islands before ducking into the famous Inside Passage. It's an excellent introduction to the beautiful rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Fewer Crowds

Alaska's port cities, particularly Ketchikan and Juneau, are positively brimming with tourists during the high-season months of June through August. Visiting in late April or early May provides a breath of fresh air for those wanting to walk down the local sidewalks without bumping shoulders right and left. Popular attractions and sights like Mendenhall Glacier or whale watching cruises will be less crowded as well, offering you more space and privacy as you ogle at these wonders of nature. Most families hesitate to travel before the final days of school, so if you'll be cruising sans kids, it's best to go early.

Cheaper Land Stays and Plays

Planning to explore independently before or after your cruise? Early-season deals around Alaska abound, covering everything from Alaska Railroad tickets to accommodations at hotels and lodges. Be sure to snag an Alaska TourSaver book before your trip. It's a coupon booklet filled with deals across the state.

Unique Weather

Although Alaskan spring is notorious for its constantly shifting weather patterns, the unpredictable climate can wind up making for an interesting adventure nonetheless. When travelers pack appropriately and come prepared for inclement weather, battling the rain—and snow, on occasion—can be fun. The mountains maintain their white peaks, glaciers are sparkling, and icebergs bob in the water. On land, skiing is still possible in some northern locations. 

Active Wildlife

Come April, Alaska's wildlife is just beginning to shake off a long winter. You're almost guaranteed to stumble upon animals feeding on the new growth, especially in the Southeast, where temperatures are generally more moderate. Look for black and brown bears on grassy hillsides and beaches, moose browsing along willow groves, eagles swooping along shorelines, and gray, humpback, and orca whales feeding on herring, krill, and salmon in the water.

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