The Alaskan cruise season is relatively short, lasting only from May through September, but is extremely busy. August is considered Peak cruise season, with higher prices and more crowded ships, but decent weather and expanded hours at tourist attractions may be worth the extra cost.
August Weather in Alaska
Alaska cruises sail along the Inside Passage, most of which lies within the Tongass National Forest. A coastal rainforest with annual precipitation ranging from 29 inches in Skagway to 160 inches in Ketchikan, the area is extremely humid. August is the second rainiest month along the Inside Passage, after September, but locals claim that there is a 70 percent chance of rain all day every day throughout the summer.
Temperatures are unpredictable throughout the summer months. Although the average daily temperatures throughout Southeast Alaska are in the 60s Fahrenheit in August, extreme highs near 90 and lows below 20 have been reported. Expect the temperature to fluctuate by 30 degrees or more in a single day regardless of when you cruise.
Summer Cruise Crowds
Since Alaska’s cruise season is so short, ships generally sail full. In late June, July and early August, cruise ships are often packed with families. Although it is impossible to completely avoid the crowds, try sailing as late in August as possible, after children go back to school. May and September are generally the least crowded.
Alaska cruises are most heavily discounted during the “shoulder season,” or sailings departing before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Expect to pay more for an August sail date. However, competition in Alaska is stiff. According to the Visitor Volume Report, 65 percent of Alaska visitors in 2009 arrived or departed by cruise ship. Cruise prices change rapidly according to occupancy levels. You can find the best bargains either very early, before the ship fills up, or at the last minute when lines are trying to fill the last few cabins.
Cruise lines offer official tours to points of interest throughout the cruise season. Whether you prefer historic sightseeing or water sports, theater productions or native culture, you are likely to find multiple shore excursions that catch your eye. If you prefer to go out on your own, however, August in an excellent time to visit Alaska. Many shops and cafes are open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, giving shoulder season cruisers fewer options. Tourist attractions may be open longer hours or add additional tours during July and August when business is booming.
Special Events in Port
With long, harsh, dark winters consuming much of the year, Alaskans like to party during the brief summer season. August cruisers should keep an eye open for free concerts, farmers’ markets and low-cost local sporting events in each port. These activities generally start around late June and are over for the season by early September. If you plan to spend time in Alaska before or after your cruise, take advantage of “midnight sun” activities such as late-night street parties and baseball games.