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Why Aren’t There Any Alaska Northern Lights Cruises?

why arent there any alaska northern lights cruises

Having trouble finding Alaska northern lights cruises this season? If so, you’re not alone. The truth is, there aren’t any. We explain why, and share some alternatives you can consider instead.

If your dream is seeing the aurora from the wide open Alaskan waters, then you may have already experienced the frustration of searching for Alaska northern lights cruises… and finding none. As romantic as the notion may be, sadly your dream of catching a cruise to northern lights Alaska may have to stay in the realm of fantasy.

This is because, at the time of writing, there simply are no dedicated Alaskan northern lights cruise operators. And for good reason: the Alaskan waters are dangerous in winter, making sea travel during the prime aurora season near impossible.

As well as explaining why there are no Alaska northern lights cruises, in this article, we share some safer and spectacular alternatives that you can book instead.

Why Aren’t There Any Alaska Northern Lights Cruises?

Alaska is a popular destination for aurora hunters from all over the world who are seeking to catch a glimpse of the elusive lights as they dance through the night skies. And although there are plenty of winter northern lights cruises in Europe, there are no cruises in Alaska from October to February.

There are several different reasons as to why there are northern lights cruises in Norway and Sweden, but none in Alaska. Let us take a closer look at the factors that affect the ability to take a cruise in the middle of the winter.

Timing of Alaska Northern Lights Cruises (in Theory)

Firstly, to understand why you can’t find one single cruise to northern lights Alaska, it is necessary to understand the timing of the aurora hunting season. Cruises in Alaska cease operating between October and February, which coincides with the peak aurora tourism season.

Although the aurora is technically visible all year round, the peak aurora borealis tourism season in the northern hemisphere (including Alaska) runs from late-September to early-March, to take advantage of the long dark nights of winter.

Outside these aurora-hunting months, the daylight hours are too long for good aurora visibility; it is still possible to see the aurora but your chances are lessened due to the excessive daylight.

alaska northern lights cruises do not operate in winter
Alaska northern lights cruises do not operate in winter

Weather Conditions

Extreme Cold

Although both Europe and Alaska get very cold during the winter, the temperature drop in the seas around Alaska are far more brutal than those found along the Norwegian coastlines. This extreme cold can make it very uncomfortable to go on a cruise, and can also be extremely hazardous for both the crew and the passengers. In Europe, thanks to the influence of the Gulfstream, the temperatures during the winter months are more bearable for the average aurora hunter.

Stormy Weather

The winter months in Alaska are also characterized by frequent and heavy storms. Not only are there regular blizzards throughout the winter, but the amount of snowfall can actually result in the freezing of the northern seas. These heavy snowfall conditions can reduce visibility out on the open waters, making it more difficult to see the northern lights.

Operational Challenges

Sea Ice Formation

As the temperatures begin to plummet, sea ice will begin to form along the shores of the Alaskan coastline. Due to the subfreezing temperatures, this sea ice can expand rapidly, making navigation extremely difficult for ships. In fact, the amount of sea ice that develops along the shores of Alaska during the winter months can make it virtually impossible to sail through the waters. In northern Europe on the other hand, the seas surrounding Iceland and Norway are generally free of sea ice thanks to the warmer North Atlantic currents.

Restricted Access & Port Closures

Then there is also the issue with port closures. Due to the inaccessibility of many different waterways throughout the Alaskan coastlines, cruise ships sail out of the ports in October, and the ports themselves shut down for the winter. This limited access to cruise ship ports along the coast of Alaska also limits the ability of cruise ships to dock, resupply, and provide the basic necessities to their passengers.

Limited Daylight

While many people realize that during the winter months, Alaska experiences very short days and long nights, very few people realize that due to the tilt of the earth, and the latitude differences, the nights in northern Europe are shorter. This creates numerous issues with operating cruise ships, especially when it comes to developing onboard activities for passengers.

cruise northern lights alaska dangerous sea ice
Sea ice formation makes the potential for Alaska northern lights cruises challenging and dangerous.

Safety Concerns

Navigational Hazards

Countless navigational hazards pose safety concerns when it comes to operating a northern lights cruise in Alaska. For example, there are numerous icebergs and ice floats that can be found along the shores of most of the northern parts of Alaska that can result in collisions that are capable of damaging the ship’s hulls and even causing them to sink. There are far fewer ice hazards in the North Atlantic than there are in the North Pacific.

Emergency Response

Due to the vast openness of the Alaskan wilderness, in the event of an emergency, the potential to conduct an emergency rescue even on land can be downright challenging throughout the winter months. Not only do you have harsh weather conditions, but manpower is also limited. This issue is exasperated on the high seas, where it is virtually impossible to provide timely maritime rescue services during the peak of the winter season.

Crew and Passenger Comfort

As stated previously, the winter season in Alaska is a lot colder than it is in northern Europe. The colder Pacific weather can create extremely harsh conditions for both passengers and crew. Prolonged exposure to the immense cold can not only feel uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous or even deadly. To ensure a safe and comfortable environment, cruise ship operators choose to refrain from offering northern light cruises and Alaska during the winter months.

glacier tours

Alternatives to Alaska Northern Lights Cruises

Alaska Cruise Alternatives

By now, you may be feeling your northern lights cruise dreams fading into disappointment, but you shouldn’t lose hope! Although it’s true that there aren’t dedicated northern lights cruises in Alaska, there are many other excellent northern lights trip options, including:

Northern lights cruises in Europe

If you aren’t absolutely committed to Alaska, consider changing your travel destination to northern Europe instead. Various locations in Northern Europe, including Norway, do indeed operate dedicated northern lights cruises throughout the aurora tourism season, which include all the on-board features and amenities you might expect from an aurora-hunting cruise.

For more information, check out our article on Northern Europe northern lights cruises.

Alaska cruises outside the peak aurora tourism season

There are several cruises on the Alaskan seas that operate on the shoulder of the aurora tourism season. While these are not explicitly marketed as Alaska northern lights cruises, you will still have a reasonably good chance of seeing the aurora on these cruises. However, it is important to be mindful that since they are not sold as ‘Alaska northern lights cruises’ they most likely won’t have the features associated with these cruises such as:

  • No workshops on aurora photography or science.
  • No wake-up alerts or alarms for aurora borealis.
  • No on-board aurora specialists.

When booking one of these cruises, just be mindful that you will need to be responsible for your own aurora-hunting, including choosing an Alaskan cruise at the right time of year and setting your own alerts on a northern lights app, as well as learning how to read aurora forecasts.

Most importantly, make sure you choose a cruise that runs around late-September to October, or February to early-March, to take advantage of the longer night-time hours.

Alaska: Glacier Bay, Skagway & Juneau

  • Website: official Alaska cruise page
  • Operator: Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL)
  • Price: $799 USD
  • Duration: 7 days
  • Destination: Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Vancouver

Norwegian Cruise Lines offers some of the last Alaska cruises of the season and generally stops operating towards the middle of October until the middle of February. On this enjoyable seven-day cruise, you will sail out of Seattle Washington, as you make your way up to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and finally to Vancouver. All the while, you will have plenty of opportunities to visit the shore to explore towns on foot and get up close and personal with the Alaskan wilderness.

Seattle Cruise Tour

  • Website: official Seattle cruise page
  • Operator: Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL)
  • Price: $2,218 USD
  • Duration: 9 days
  • Destination: Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, Seattle

Norwegian Cruise Lines also offers a 9-day cruise that starts in Seattle and continues to many of the same ports. You’ll have the opportunity to visit Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria before finally making your way back to Washington. This particular tour also comes with a full-day tour of Seattle, taking you to many of the iconic landmarks throughout the historic seaside town.

Alaska’s Winter Sports & Northern Lights

  • Website:
  • Operator: Adventure Life
  • Price: $5,600 USD
  • Duration: 8 days
  • Destination: Juneau, Lynn Canal, Glacier Bay. Eaglecrest, Juneau

You can also enjoy a lovely 8-day northern lights cruise that takes you from Juneau up to Lynn Canal, Glacier Bay, and Eaglecrest before returning to Juneau. All along you will have plenty of opportunities to go ashore to participate in many popular winter sports activities. Although this cruise option sounds promising, at the time of checking no dates were scheduled, so you’ll have to contact the provider directly for details.

alaska aurora igloos

Alaska Land-Based Tour Alternatives

If you want the best chance of seeing the northern lights and want to stay in Alaska, then your next best bet is to book into a land-based northern lights tour in Alaska instead. Many tours operate in Alaska that are designed for aurora dreamers, and we have an entire article dedicated to it here:

Excellent Northern Lights Vacation Packages & Tours in Alaska

Fairbanks Northern Lights Vacation Package

  • Website:
  • Price: $ 1,749
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Destinations: Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs (Alaska)

During the peak of the winter season, when cruise ships are simply not sailing along the shores of Alaska, you can count on a memorable northern lights vacation package in beautiful Fairbanks. This popular tour offers comparable pricing to cruises but gives you access to more exciting things available in and around the city, like the Museum of the North and the Chena Hot Springs.

Alaska’s Northern Lights

  • Website:
  • Price: $ 3,999
  • Duration: 6 days
  • Destinations: Anchorage, Talkeetna, Fairbanks (Alaska)

If you are looking for something a little more adventurous, then why not take Alaska’s Northern Lights tour, which starts in Anchorage, and makes its way up to Fairbanks? You will also have plenty of opportunities to experience a glacier cruise when the weather conditions are favorable, and even visit unique indigenous locations that will provide some of the most awe-inspiring backdrops for your northern lights photos. Keep in mind that this tour is only available from February to March due to sea ice that forms during the peak of winter.

Basecamp Packages Winter 2024/2025

The Borealis Basecamp is one of the most popular destinations for Aurora hunters in the world. To secure a spot in one of their many amazing accommodations, you will need to book your trip well in advance. This popular 4-day package allows you plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the Alaskan wilderness during the day, as you hunt for the elusive lights well into the night. Enjoy all the creature comforts of home, including a wake-up call when the auroras make their appearance.


Although you may not have received the clear answer you were seeking, we hope you now have a good idea why you may have been having trouble finding a cruise to northern lights Alaska. Not only that, but you should now also have a good selection of alternatives to consider.

While there are no dedicated Alaska northern lights cruises during the peak aurora season, you can find some great alternatives in our other articles here:



Happy aurora hunting!

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