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Alaska Cruise Guide To The Best Time To See Whales

whale watching in Alaska

While I love to experience the thrill of watching whales on cruises to Cabo and other ports in the Mexican Riviera, Alaska is equally special. Here though, in the icy northern waters the ships tend to go a little bit slower and especially on inside passage cruises, there's more of an opportunity to relax and watch the whales from the ship. However, one of the big differences between a Mexico cruise and Alaska is that virtually every port here has access to fabulous spots to see whales very close to port. This means shorter rides, more whale sightings, and ultimately more fun too. So, are you ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure through Alaska's pristine waters, where you'll witness the majestic beauty of whales in their natural habitat? From humpbacks to orcas and even elusive blue whales, an Alaska whale-watching cruise offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike.

Key Takeaways

  • May through September is the best time to go on an Alaskan whale - watching cruise.
  • Gray whales can be spotted earlier in the season, humpback whales in June and July, blue whales in the latter half of summer, and orcas from May to June.
  • Different whale species exhibit unique behaviors such as breaching, bubble - net feeding, and spouting water that make them exciting to watch during an Alaska cruise.
  • Guests should bring binoculars and a high-resolution camera with a long-range zoom lens for optimal viewing and capturing stunning photos of these magnificent creatures.

Overview Of Whale Watching In Alaska

Are you planning an Alaska cruise and hoping to spot some majestic whales? With over 20,000 humpback whales and several other species calling this pristine environment home during the summer months, Alaska is a top destination for whale watching enthusiasts. But when is the best time to go? And where should you look? In this guide, we'll delve into everything you need to know about the best time to see whales in Alaska and give our recommendations on what locations offer the most unforgettable experiences. So grab your binoculars and let's dive in!

Types Of Whales Found In Alaska

Alaska is home to a diverse range of whale species, making it an ideal destination for whale enthusiasts. Here are the types of whales you can expect to find during your Alaska cruise adventure:

  1. Humpback Whales: Known for their distinctive songs and acrobatics, humpback whales are commonly spotted throughout the Alaskan cruise season.
  2. Orcas (Killer Whales): These black and white beauties, belonging to the dolphin family, are often seen in Alaska's coastal waters from May to June.
  3. Gray Whales: Generally sighted earlier in the season, gray whales embark on one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling from Mexico to Alaska each year.
  4. Blue Whales: The largest animals on Earth can be found in Alaskan waters during the second half of summer, providing visitors with a truly breathtaking marine encounter.
  5. Minke Whales: Smaller than humpbacks or blue whales but still impressive in size, minke whales can be spotted occasionally during Alaska's cruise season.
  6. Beluga Whales: Uniquely white and typically found in small pods, belugas inhabit shallow coastal waters off Alaska.

By exploring Alaska's rich marine environment on a whale-watching cruise, you'll have the opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures up close and personal as they thrive in their natural habitat.

Best Time To Cruise Alaska For Whale Watching And What Whales You Can See

May through September is the best time to cruise Alaska for whale watching, and visitors can expect to spot gray whales earlier in the season, humpback whales in June and July, blue whales in the latter half of summer, and orcas from May to June.

May: Whale Watching In Spring

As the Alaskan cruise season kicks off in May, visitors can expect pristine weather conditions and unparalleled wildlife encounters during this spring month. In addition to the arrival of migratory songbirds and roaming herds of moose, both gray whales and orcas begin their journey through Alaska's waters during this time.

Gray whale sightings are more common earlier in the season as they make their annual migration from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean for feeding.

Booking your Alaska whale-watching cruise in May not only offers exciting opportunities to spot these majestic creatures but also comes with several benefits like great cruise deals and smaller crowds aboard ships.

Moreover, bird enthusiasts will be delighted by the various species flocking back after spending winter months elsewhere.

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June: Whale Watching In Early Summer

June is the prime time for whale watching in Alaska, as the weather becomes more pleasant and various species of whales start to make their way to Alaskan waters. Humpback whales, known for their acrobatic displays and mesmerizing songs, are particularly active during this month.

Taking an early summer cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage not only provides a higher chance of spotting humpbacks but also increases the likelihood of observing orca whales, which are best seen in May and June.

Additionally, gray whales migrate earlier in the season, making it possible to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants on their journey from Baja California to Arctic feeding grounds.

July: Whale Watching In Mid-Summer

July is an excellent month to cruise Alaska for whale watching during the mid-summer season. This time of year offers visitors a chance to witness humpback and orca whales in their natural environment while enjoying the stunning Alaskan landscape.

Humpback whales are best seen in June and July, with many using this area as a feeding ground before migrating south for the winter. Orcas, on the other hand, are more prevalent in May and June, making July an ideal month to spot both species on your Alaska cruise excursion.

August: Whale Watching In Late Summer

As the summer season reaches its peak in August, it is also the best time for whale watching during an Alaska cruise. Humpback whales are commonly seen during this month as they migrate from Hawaii to Alaska for feeding and breeding.

These massive creatures can grow up to 50 feet long and weigh over 30 tons, exhibiting spectacular breaches and tail slaps that never fail to amaze onlookers. In addition to humpbacks, orcas (also known as killer whales), gray whales, and minke whales can also be spotted throughout August.

While rare to see in comparison to humpbacks and gray whales, blue whales can also be seen in Alaska during the late summer months from July to September.

September: Whale Watching In Fall

As summer comes to an end, September marks the start of fall and a great time to go whale watching in Alaska. This is when prices begin to drop, and wildlife sightings increase, providing visitors with memorable experiences.

Humpback whales are one of the most commonly sighted species during this time as they leave their Alaskan feeding grounds and migrate south towards their breeding grounds in Hawaii and Mexico.

Visitors may also spot orcas, gray whales, blue whales, and belugas during this season.

Whales That Travel To Alaska For Food And Raising Babies But Exhibit Different Behaviors For Guests To Watch

Gray whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and orcas all travel to Alaska for food and breeding purposes but exhibit distinct behaviors that make them exciting to watch during an Alaskan cruise.

Grey Whales

Grey whales are a sight to behold when visiting Alaska. These gentle giants travel thousands of miles from Mexico every year to feed and raise their young in the Alaskan waters.

Guests on whale-watching excursions during peak season have a good chance of spotting Grey Whales, especially earlier in the season. They can be seen exhibiting different behaviors such as breaching, spouting water from their blowholes, or showing off their flukes while diving back into the ocean depths.

Observers may also witness mothers protecting and nurturing their calves while moving through the region's icy waters.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are one of the most popular whale species that visitors can see during an Alaska cruise. These magnificent creatures migrate to Alaska's waters from Hawaii and Mexico for food and raising babies.

Visitors can witness humpback whales exhibiting different behaviors, including bubble-net feeding and breaching, where they jump out of the water and create a big splash.

June and July are the best times to see these gentle giants in action, with various locations offering opportunities for spotting them.

Blue Whales

Blue whales are one of the most fascinating whale species to spot during an Alaska whale-watching cruise. These gentle giants can weigh over 200,000 pounds and are the largest animals on earth.

They migrate from warmer waters to feed and raise their young in Alaskan waters between July and August before heading south again for winter. Blue whales mainly feed on krill, small shrimp-like creatures, consuming up to 4 tons per day! Interestingly, they have a unique vocalization that can be heard for miles used for communication and mating purposes- an unforgettable experience when spotted during your cruise trip.


Orcas, also known as killer whales, are a popular sighting on Alaska whale-watching cruises. These black and white giants are the largest members of the dolphin family and can grow up to 30 feet in length.

They travel to Alaska between May and September to hunt for food and raise their babies in the nutrient-rich waters of the region. During whale-watching shore excursions, guests can witness different behaviors of Orcas such as spy-hopping, breaching, tail-slapping or fluking.

Despite their name, Orcas are known to be friendly towards humans but recommendations from onboard naturalists should always be followed when viewing them.

Top Whale Watching Locations In Alaska

The top whale watching locations in Alaska include Glacier Bay, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Seward and Victoria BC.

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is a top whale watching location in Alaska, with humpback whales being the most commonly sighted species. If you visit Glacier Bay from June to August, your chances of spotting these majestic creatures increase significantly.

Visitors can watch whales from the cruise ship's open-air decks or public areas with large windows, but booking a veranda stateroom or suite can make it an even better experience.

A whale-watching shore excursion is also worth considering, as it offers the opportunity to observe bubble-net feeding and breaching behaviors up close. Besides humpback whales, other wildlife such as sea otters, brown bears, and bald eagles are commonly seen in Glacier Bay.

It provides a unique opportunity to witness these animals thriving in their natural habitat while being surrounded by stunning mountains and glaciers.


Juneau is one of the best places to go whale watching in Alaska. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of experiences, including cruising around Stephen's Passage to see humpback whales and glimpses of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Whale-watching shore excursions offer opportunities to see humpback whales bubble-net feeding and breaching up close. The summer season, from June to July, is the best time for whale watching in Juneau, as this is when humpback whales are most active.

Celebrity Cruises offers several Alaska cruise itineraries for whale watching that include stops at popular destinations such as Glacier Bay National Park, Icy Strait Point, Sitka Sound, Kenai Fjords National Park, Prince William Sound, Turnagain Arm, Homer and Kodiak Island among others.

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point is undoubtedly one of the top locations for whale watching in Alaska. Tourists can witness humpback whales, orcas, and other marine wildlife in their natural habitat at Icy Strait Point.

June and July are the best months to see humpback whales in Icy Strait Point, where visitors can enjoy whale-watching excursions that offer opportunities to spot these magnificent creatures up close.

Moreover, Point Adolphus in Icy Strait Point is considered one of Alaska's best humpback whale viewing areas due to its abundance of food sources and strong currents.


Sitka is one of the top whale watching locations in Alaska. Visitors can spot humpback whales, orcas, and gray whales between May and September. What makes Sitka unique is that it offers a chance to see these magnificent creatures in their feeding grounds, along with other marine life like sea otters, seals, and porpoises.

Whale watching tours in Sitka provide a chance to learn about whale behavior and conservation while observing them breach, tail slap, and bubble net feed. Additionally, visitors can combine whale watching with other outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking to get the most out of their Alaskan experience.


Seward is a must-visit location for any whale-watching enthusiast cruising Alaska. With several options to choose from, visitors can take their pick from multiple opportunities to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Whale watching excursions available in Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park are known for sightings of humpback whales, bald eagles, sea lion colonies, and puffins during the cruise.

For those looking for the best humpback whale viewing area in Alaska, Point Adolphus in Icy Strait Point should be on your list.

Victoria, BC

Victoria, BC is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the natural wonders of Alaska. It's one of the top whale watching locations in the state and a popular departure point for many Alaskan cruises.

What makes Victoria, BC so special is its high success rate of whale sightings - thanks in part to expert naturalists who lead whale watching tours around the city's waters.

But it's not just whales that you'll see on these tours; expect to also spot seals, sea lions, and dolphins as they go about their daily routines.

Tips For Whale Watching On An Alaska Cruise

- Choose the best whale-watching excursions for you, and book them in advance.

- You can see whales from your cruise ship, but having a veranda stateroom or suite increases your chances of spotting them up close.

- Pack polarized sunglasses and binoculars to help spot whales from afar.

- Keep watch for signs of whale activity on calm waters such as spouts and splashes.

- Be patient, relax, and enjoy the scenery while waiting for whales to appear.

- Consider working with a travel advisor who can help pick the best whale watching cruise that suits your preferences.

How To Select The Best Whale Watching Excursions For You

When selecting a whale watching excursion, there are several things to consider to ensure you have the best experience possible. Here are some tips:

  1. Research: Look for popular tours and check reviews from previous customers. This will give you an idea of what to expect and which tours are worth booking.
  2. Timing: Book your excursion during the best time of day for whale sightings, which is typically early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  3. Boat size: Decide if you prefer a smaller, more intimate boat or a larger one with more amenities.
  4. Guide's experience: Choose an experienced guide who knows where to find whales and can provide information about them.
  5. Price: Compare prices of different tours and choose one that fits within your budget while still offering a quality experience.
  6. Safety: Check that the tour operator follows safety guidelines for both passengers and whales.

Remember to book in advance, especially during peak season, check cancellation policies in case of inclement weather, and bring appropriate gear such as warm clothing, binoculars, and cameras to capture those unforgettable moments with these majestic creatures.

Yes, You Can See Whales From Your Cruise Ship

One of the great things about taking an Alaska cruise is that you can see whales right from your ship. Whether you're lounging on one of the open-air decks or peering out through large windows in public areas, keep an eye out for spouts and splashes on calm waters.

Of course, booking a veranda stateroom or suite can increase your chances of spotting these majestic creatures up close. Humpback whales are commonly sighted in Alaska from May to September, while gray whales can sometimes be seen during their migration period from January to May.

Orcas are frequently spotted in Alaska's waters and can be seen in May and June as well.

Polarized Sunglasses And Binoculars Will Help When Spotting For Whales

To enhance your experience when spotting for whales on an Alaskan cruise, packing polarized sunglasses and binoculars is a must. Polarized sunglasses can reduce the glare on the water, making it easier to spot whales.

On the other hand, binoculars allow you to get a closer and more detailed look at these magnificent creatures – their size, markings, and behavior.

When planning your trip, consider bringing high-quality equipment such as a zoom lens camera or dry bag to keep them safe from sea spray. With polarized sunglasses and binoculars in tow, you'll be able to witness gray whales swimming with their calves earlier in the season or humpback whales breaching out of the water during peak summer months.

Look For Signs Of Whale Activity On Calm Waters Such As Spouts And Splashes

When on an Alaska cruise, one of the best ways to spot whales is by looking for their signs of activity in calm waters. Keep an eye out for whale spouts which can be seen from a distance and are caused by the whale exhaling air through its blowhole.

Spouts can reach heights of up to 30 feet and are easily visible against the backdrop of the water. Another sign to look out for is splashing - this could indicate that a pod of whales is breaching or slapping their tails on the surface of the water.

By observing these behaviors, visitors will have a better chance of seeing these magnificent creatures up close during their Alaska adventure.

Visitors should also keep in mind that different species exhibit different behaviors which can be spotted on calm waters if you know what to look for- humpbacks do tail lobbing where they slap their tails repeatedly against the surface while gray whales bottom feed leaving circular ripples behind- so staying attentive gives you insight into what's happening underwaters even before catching sight of it on the surface!

Always Be Patient, Relax, And Enjoy Your Alaska Cruise

Alaska is a land of natural beauty, and whale watching is an unforgettable experience that many visitors look forward to. However, it's important to remember that whales are wild animals and can be unpredictable.

So, always be patient, relax, and enjoy your Alaska cruise. Stay alert and keep your eyes peeled for signs of whale activity such as spouts or splashes.

Plus, don't forget that there's more to see than just whales on an Alaska cruise! Brown bears, sea otters, puffins, and bald eagles are just a few examples of other wildlife you may come across during shore excursions.

Proper planning can also enhance the cruising experience for families or multigenerational groups by ensuring there are activities suitable for all ages.

Booking Your Alaska Cruise Adventure

Choose the right cruise and plan your itinerary based on the best time to see whales in Alaska, which is from May through September. Consider booking a whale-watching shore excursion at ports of call like Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, or Victoria, British Columbia for unforgettable experiences.

Choosing The Right Cruise

Choosing the right cruise is essential to ensure that you make the most out of your Alaska whale-watching adventure. Here are some tips:

  • Decide on the type of ship that suits your travel style, whether it's a large vessel or a smaller yacht-like vessel.
  • Consider the ports of call and activities offered on each itinerary. Choose an itinerary that highlights your top interests, such as whale watching excursions, scenic cruising, wildlife viewing, and cultural immersion.
  • Check out each cruise line's reputation for their onboard amenities, customer service, and overall experience.
  • Determine your budget and choose a cabin category that fits your preferences and budget. Options range from inside cabins to ocean view staterooms with balconies and suites with added amenities.
  • Plan ahead and book early to secure the best deals on fares, including discounted rates or special promotions for shore excursions.
  • Opt for a cruise line with experienced naturalists who can provide commentary about Alaska's whales, marine life, glaciers, and ecosystems.

Remember that an Alaska cruise offers an opportunity not only to see majestic whales but also immerse yourself in Alaska's beauty by exploring its rugged coastline dotted with glaciers, fjords carpeted with wildflowers, abundant wildlife sightings like bears and moose, cultural attractions like Totem poles in Ketchikan or Athabascan Native culture in Fairbanks. The options are endless in this unforgettable destination.

Planning Your Itinerary

When planning your Alaskan cruise itinerary, consider the following tips:

  1. Decide on the best time of year for you to go. Peak season is July and August, but shoulder seasons in April-May and September-October offer fewer crowds and lower-priced cruises.
  2. Choose a cruise line that offers whale - watching excursions as part of their itinerary.
  3. Research the different ports of call that are known for whale watching, such as Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, and Victoria.
  4. Consider booking a veranda stateroom or suite to increase your chances of seeing whales from the ship.
  5. Look into additional activities like hiking or kayaking to make the most out of your Alaskan adventure.
  6. Keep in mind that weather can be unpredictable in Alaska, so bring appropriate clothing and gear for all situations.
  7. Make sure to budget accordingly for excursion fees and other expenses during your trip.

By following these tips, you'll be able to plan an unforgettable Alaskan cruise itinerary filled with opportunities to see whales in their natural habitat while also enjoying stunning scenery and outdoor activities.

How A Travel Advisor Can Help You Pick The Best Whale Watching Cruise

Booking an Alaska cruise can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to choosing the best whale watching experience. However, a travel advisor can offer insider knowledge on the best time to see whales in Alaska and which cruise lines offer the best excursions for spotting these magnificent creatures.

With their expertise, they can recommend cruises based on your interests and budget, as well as provide added benefits such as onboard credits, upgrades, and additional perks.

Travel advisors also have access to exclusive offers and promotions that can save you money while ensuring that you have the experience of a lifetime.


Alaska is a destination unlike any other, offering breathtaking natural beauty and unforgettable encounters with the world's most majestic creatures. Knowing the best time to go on an Alaskan whale-watching cruise can make all the difference in your experience.

From May through September, you'll have ample opportunities to see Humpback whales, Gray whales, Blue whales, Orcas and Beluga whales as they migrate to Alaska for food and breeding.

Whether you're looking for adventure or relaxation, a cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage will exceed your wildest expectations.