Beauty and bluster: Prepare for Alaska's early spring while you're cruising

You've decided to brave the elements to take in the natural beauty of Alaska, as viewed by water. An Alaskan cruise offers nature views unlike virtually any experience in the United States, and it's loads different from a tropical cruise, so it's well worth the time. Spring in Alaska trends on the chilly side, much as it does in the northernmost parts of the continental United States, so pack accordingly. Layers are the name of the game for Alaskan cruise apparel any time of year, but especially in the beginning of the cruise season when cool winds can make the air feel even cooler.

What to pack for an Alaskan cruise in May

May marks the beginning of cruise season in Alaska, when the weather's still a tad chilly. Daily highs peak at around 55 degrees F in both the Inside Passage and in south-central Alaska, so a jacket is a must. Pack clothing that works well in layers, such as thin, long-sleeved shirts, warm sweaters or hoodies and hooded wind- and rain-blocking outerwear that fit well over a bulky sweater or sweatshirt. Keep in mind that the air may feel even cooler on the ship's deck, thanks to windchill. Pack gloves and a hat if you plan to spend much time on the deck; it's better to have them and not need them than to miss the view because it's too cold outside.

Waterproof hiking boots and a simple, lightweight backpack are also a good idea, since many cruises offer hiking opportunities at land-based stops. Pack extra socks in case your feet get wet during one of your excursions.

Many Alaskan cruises stop in Canada, so a current passport is a good idea. A passport is not necessary if your cruise begins and ends at the same port in the United States, but cruise lines still recommend keeping one on hand. If you don't have a passport book or card, a certified birth certificate from the state of birth, plus a valid photo identification such as a driver's license will suffice. Keep a printout of all your travel documents on hand, such as your itinerary, including flight information. Pack any required medications as well, plus motion-sickness tablets, since the water can be quite choppy.

Binoculars, a good camera (or cellphone with a camera) and chargers for your portable electronics are also items to add to your packing checklist, along with the day-to-day clothing and grooming gear you usually pack for any trip.

Sunscreen and polarized sunglasses acome in handy on dry, clear days. Even with cool temperatures, the sun's rays pack a powerful punch, especially when reflecting off the water.

Leave this gear at home 

Even though it may be wet and rainy on deck, an umbrella won't do much good. The winds are usually so strong they'll destroy an umbrella in no time.

Don't plan to spend every day in high heels, your best shoes, or any uncomfortable shoes, for that matter. The weather is chilly, the deck and mainland may be wet, and you may have to walk far to get from place to place, even on the cruise ship. Wear comfortable walking shoes instead. You won't need sandals and similar summer footwear, unless you enjoy wearing those in your room. Dressy shoes are optional, but you can pack them if you plan to dress up in semi-formal attire for a special dinner.

Leave your bulky winter coat at home; although it will help keep you warm during the coolest Alaska weather, you may warm up too quickly while out hiking during a nice day.

Other cruise-worthy considerations

The inside of every cruise ship is as warm and comfy as it would be in a hotel. You won't need to wear a coat to get from your room to a dining or entertainment area. Fitness attire such as yoga pants and athletic shoes can come in handy both on and off the ship, as many cruise ships have fitness centers. Yoga pants and similar attire are also great for iffy or in-between weather, and they don't take up much room in the suitcase.