The peak of the cruise season in Alaska falls plainly in the summer, with July and August representing not only the warmer weather but also the greater number of visitors. It makes sense that the rates for an itinerary of Glacier Bay might be significantly reduced earlier or later in the somewhat limited Alaska cruise season.
And May can be an exciting time to explore the wilds of Alaska, extended daylight hours and creatures that swim or fly returning from migration, those which weather the winter might just be waking up - there are just some practical matter to consider when choosing May as the right time to visit. Here's some of my suggestions as to what you can expect and some tips to help plan your packing or planning.
If you've been to Alaska, please do leave a comment or suggestion of your own by replying to this post!
Calm waters in Glacier Bay, Alaska
At Odyssean Travel, easily 2/3 of our client cruise trips to Alaska have occurred in the May-June period, with mid-late May representing the best chance at a great price on a suite which might otherwise be out of reach only a few weeks later.
The big attraction, especially for inside passage sailings, is the glaciers and amazing scenery. It won't matter what month you pick to visit, I'm certain you'll be blown away by the size of everything!
The days are getting longer in May, but the rise in temperature won't be as comfy until later in the season. Expect to have to bundle up a bit even during day and certainly during the evening hours. If you're looking for some fresh air and a private, comfortable space from which you can watch the beautiful scenery pass by, consider a balcony cabin so you can enjoy a warm drink and maybe slip off your jacket or steal a blanket from inside.
As the temperature climbs, so too does the flow of rivers and streams. It doesn't have to rise much for the melting of all that snow and ice to start. You won't necessarily see the melt water as it flows under, cuts through, and meanders along the top of the glaciers, but you might see the result as late May or early June might be the best chance to see the calving of a glacier.
Longer days means shorter nights. That can mean fewer opportunities to spot the famed northern lights. I wouldn't expect to see them during a May cruise as the long, dark nights of winter have dwindled away - but before I say that you won't see them, let me remind you that Mother Nature always has a surprise in store; maybe just let it be a pleasant surprise if you do spot them, rather than a disappointing surprise when you don't.
May is also within the whale watching season, although the activity of whales somewhat matches the peak cruise season from late June through early September. You'd be forgiven for thinking the whales have their kids out of school then too!
Their numbers and activity should climb into July, but look out for a whale watching day trip to catch them feeding or on their inbound migration during the month of May.
During May and June there are a number of orcas (killer whales) in the waters off Alaska, just remember that their size and reduced local numbers might make them a bit more elusive. As with the northern lights, maybe mark them as an unexpected yet pleasant surprise if you do see them.
Birds and other things that fly
The migration of song birds starts bringing some species back as early as April, but the most famous flying creature is unfortunately the mosquito. Alaska does have mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes at their peak later in June and through July, but they are present during much of the Alaskan cruise season. You'll not likely see any on the or around the ship unless you're in port for an extended period, however it wouldn't hurt to pack a small amount of repellent for those exciting shore excursions further inland. This is particularly true if you've got your heart set on a cruise tour featuring Denali.
Shaggy hair and a thin frame? A bear out of hibernation looking for food!
There are bears here. Brown, black, grizzly, and even polar bears. You won't likely see polar bears unless you're visiting Alaska on an expedition cruise, but others might be seen on various hiking or sightseeing tours by float plane. May isn't quite their peak for the commercial cruise ship visitors, as the bears wake early enough in the year but tend to follow their favourite food rather than cruise ships - that's salmon and other fish!
The Pacific species of salmon engage their run earlier in the year when compared to the Atlantic species, but that's only as early as July or August. Pick a dedicated excursion by air from Juneau or extend your trip to include Denali if bear spotting is on your must see list.
What other animals would you like to see on your cruise? What about the train or dog sledding? Don't be afraid to ask a question, we'll find you a trust-worthy answer.