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Best Time to Cruise Alaska to See Whales

When is the best time to cruise Alaska to see whales? This is probably the number one question people ask about cruising the Great Land.

After all, seeing whales in the wild is a bucket list trip for almost everyone. I’ve seen whales off the coast of Vancouver a couple of times, but I’ve never seen anything like this in real life. Can you even imagine?

Killer whale breeching.
Killer whale breeching, Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska. Credit Holland America.

Where is Alaska?

Alaska is in the northwestern United States bordering Canada. It, along with Hawaii, is a non-contiguous state, meaning it does not border any other state.

When Should I Plan to Cruise Alaska?

A great time to cruise Alaska is between May and September. The peak season months for cruise season are July and and August, the warmest months of the year.

In fact, the weather for our trip in July was pretty much perfect. It was cool enough to wear long sleeves, but I didn’t need my coat most of the time. In fact, it was pretty warm the day we were seeking out the best Juneau breweries.

Woman in front of docked ship.

You absolutely can take a cruise to Alaska in April, but if you want to visit Denali National Park, you will want to wait until May when buses run in the park.

Denali is absolutely breathtaking in summer.

View of mountains.

As the weather is better in the spring and summer, you’ll have a better chance of seeing a lot of wildlife.

Moose grazing.

Another bonus of visiting in June and July is that the long days provide more hours of daylight.

It was crazy to be sitting on our verandah at 11 p.m. just enjoying the views!

Woman on a verandah of cruise ship.

You can also take a cruise ship vacation in October and November when there are fewer crowds, but it’s a little cooler.

What About Seeing Whales?

The reason many people go to Alaska is for whale watching, and with good reason.

You’ll find eight different various species of whales in the land of the midnight sun, including around 10,000 humpback whales that breed in Hawaii during the winter and come to Alaska for nourishment in the spring and summer.

The best time to cruise Alaska to see whales is also the best time to cruise there; May through September.

And though the whales are usually the main attraction, there is so much more to do! Check out our Holland America Alaska Excursions review to see our favorites.

What Kind of Whales Will I See?

Blue Whales

Gargantuan blue whales head to Alaskan waters in July and August, so if whale watching is at the top of your list, these are the best months to go.

Great Blue Whales are the largest and loudest animal on earth, with their tongues alone weighing as much as a baby elephant. Nothing prepares you for the magnificence of seeing these animals in the wild.

There was a point when blue whales faced possible extinction, so seeing them in the wild in Alaska is truly a bucket list experience.

Humpback Whales

These beauties are also known for the song-like sounds they make. They’re also known for breaching, making these huge animals even easier to view!

Breaching humpback whale against snow capped mountains seen in the distance in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Credit Holland America Lines.

Growing up to 55 feet in length and weighing 25-30 tons, Humpback whales are huge, and they eat massive amounts of plankton, krill, and small fish.

More than 500 Humpback whales swim into Alaska’s Inside Passage every summer. June and July are the best months to see these incredible creatures.

I would love to have a photo like the one above, but we didn’t have such luck. We did see whales from a distance!

Whale tail.

We spoke to people on the ship who had better luck not only on the whale excursion, but also right from the ship. One group told us they saw a pod of killer whales come right from under the ship! Timing!

We could see them frolicking from a distance, slapping their tails, but I would have needed a really good lens to capture it.

Beluga Whales

Near Anchorage in Cook Inlet there is a small group of around 300 Beluga whales. There are different larger groups of Belugas in Bristol Bay and Arctic areas.

Known as sea canaries for the many sounds they make, these white whales are critically endangered. It’s really special to see be able to see them in the wild.

Belugas are usually seen south of Anchorage near Turnagain Arm when salmon are running. Mid summer months to the end of August is the best time to see them.

There’s even a good chance you could see them from the shore! You may see their white backs breaking the surface of the water.

Orca Whales

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are those black and white whales seen breaching in so many photos.

Known to be very smart, they can be found in Alaska’s bays and inlets all year long. The best time of year to see Orcas on a cruise is early May to June.

In addition to whales, there is an abundance of other wildlife in Alaska. You could see moose, black bears, brown bears, sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and bald eagles.

We watched a group of seals play for about 20 minutes when we were on a whale watching excursion. What comedians!

If an Alaskan cruise has been a bucket list item, it’s time to start planning your trip now to be able to get the best rates and best cruise ship cabins and cruisetours.

Woman in front of cruise ship.

Neptune Suites

If you’re planning something special, book one of The Neptune Suites! I mean, this is a once in a lifetime trip, right?!

The Neptune Suites are located in a private area on the ship. This is where you’ll also have access to the Neptune Lounge. This Lounge features private cocktail parties, access to the best seats at the best restaurants, and 24-hour one-touch concierge service.

Let’s just say staying in a Neptune Suite takes your cruise to a whole new level.

Holland America is celebrating 75 years of exploring the land of the midnight sun, so they know a little bit about showing off their love for Alaska! There really isn’t a better way to see it.

Where You Begin the Cruise

In 2022 six Holland America Line ships will explore Alaska, either roundtrip from Seattle, Washington; roundtrip from Vancouver, Canada; or between Whittier, Alaska, and Vancouver.

We began in Vancouver which is one of my favorite cities. You will want to arrive the day before so you can board the ship at your appointed time.

Sunset in Vancouver.

I absolutely love the Vancouver Airport Hotel, but you may want to be downtown. In that case, I’d recommend the historic Hotel Vancouver.

Glacier Destinations

Every Alaska cruise includes a visit to one or more of Alaska’s iconic glacier destinations. Choose from spots like Glacier Bay National Park, College Fjord, Hubbard Glacier and Twin Sawyer Glaciers of Tracy Arm.

We sailed though both Glacier Bay and College Fjord, and it was magnificent.

The first day at Glacier Bay, there was a National Park Ranger team including a local Huna Tlingit guide on board to answer questions and tell us about the glaciers. It’s a true immersive experience.

National Park Rangers on ship.

Holland America serves their amazing pea soup on this day, too. I had heard about it and was so excited. It was as good as I had heard!

Cups of pea soup.

I think my favorite part of the cruise was sailing through College Fjords. You could hear the ice popping as it fell from the glacier.

Watching it from our room was incredible as it was quiet other than the popping ice.

View of glacier at College Fjords.

Ports of Call

Alaska ports of call include Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, and we had a great time on an excursion in each place. More to come on that soon!

Totem pole in Ketchikan.

EXC Talks

I loved the EXC Talks when I sailed Southeast Asia on the Holland America Maasdam a few years ago. The Holland America cruises offer such unique experiences, making for a truly unforgettable vacation.

The EXC Talks on the Alaska cruises explore the stories of real Alaskans and it really helps you to understand more about the places you’re visiting.

And don’t miss the Planet Earth in Concert. It’s a movie about the beauty of Alaska paired with a live symphony! It was one of my favorite evenings on the ship.

Movie and concert on a cruise ship.

We combined the cruise with an inland exploration of Denali National Park on a Cruisetour, and took the McKinley Explorer to Anchorage where we would fly home the next afternoon.

Woman getting on a train.

Let me know if you have questions about cruising to Alaska!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you see whales from the cruise ship?

You may see whales right from the ship. The crew makes an announcement if a whale is spotted. If you have a verandah, be sure to spend some time scanning the water. You never know what you might see!

Which whales are seen the most in Alaska?

Humpback, Beluga, and Orcas are the most commonly seen whales in Alaska.

What’s the best way to see whales closer up?

Taking an excursion with a captain who knows where the whales feed is the best way to get a closer look.

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