northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…

Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…

As an avid traveler and nature enthusiast, witnessing the northern lights on an Alaskan cruise has always been a dream of mine. 

So, when I stumbled upon several articles and reviews that suggested booking an Alaskan cruise to experience this natural phenomenon, I was thrilled. 

So thrilled that I then made plans with my grandmother, mother, and grandfather in a wheelchair to chase the Aurora Borealis. 

Armed with optimism, meticulous research, and a heap of confidence, I booked my trip with high hopes. 

However, what was supposed to be a magical journey turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster filled with disappointment and sleepless nights.

I also have to say that generally, I am an upbeat and optimistic adventurer who tends to hype things up. This is not going to be that post

These are going to be brutally honest accounts of my actual experience. It is what no cruise ship will tell you about because they just want a sale. Proceed with caution. 

Also, this was the only damper on my Alaskan cruise. Apart from it being rainy, I had an exceptional time during the day! Hiking, wildlife, adventuring…my Alaskan cruise was steller.

I would still recommend an Alaska cruise to all of my fellow adventurers, just not to see the northern lights. 

Bucket List Review of Seeing the Northern Lights from an Alaskan Cruise Ship

Who Should Add This to Their Bucket List?Strong individuals who
have realistic expectations
Best Time to GoFall and Spring
Traveling DifficultyEasy
Physical DifficultyEasy
Popularity Rating7/10
Group Tour RequiredNo, can see from ship
if you are lucky
Wheelchair AccessibleYes
Favorite Place to StayAny ship that gives you a
northern lights alert

If you need more information about the categories of this table, please check out the Bucket List Reviews guide.

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
After my emotional turmoil, I angry edited a kayaking picture and a picture of the deck to have the northern lights in it (this is FAKE). I sent it to my grandma and said, “THERE! I saw the northern lights and did it without losing tears or sleep”

The Journey Begins: Hopeful Expectations

Starting my journey, I did countless research on the best time to go and read every single cruise ship blog. 

That was my first mistake. I wish I had skipped the sales pitch of these cruise ships. I should have gone straight to the unbiased opinions of the travel blogs (like this one right here). 

Nevertheless, we ended up choosing Norwegian (NCL). I spoke with several cruise ship specialists to pick a cruise and that would be the best to see the northern lights.

All of the associates were very vague. It didn’t seem like they truly knew and didn’t quite give me the best explanations. They did allude that fall was still the best time to see the northern lights. So, we ended up picking a departure in October since I read that September/October was the best time to go.

The time came and we boarded the Norwegian ship with a heart full of excitement and anticipation. 

The articles I had read made it seem so straightforward. Book during the right season, stay vigilant, and you would be rewarded with breathtaking views of the northern lights on an Alaska cruise. 

It seemed like a no-brainer, and I was ready to tick this off my bucket list. This was especially true since this was most likely my grandpa’s last “hurrah”. 

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
My grandpa happy as a clam wrapped up in a trash bag because it was so rainy.

A Cold, Rainy Reality of the Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise

As the cruise ship set sail, my optimism was quickly replaced by frustration. 

The weather was relentlessly rainy and cold, conditions far from ideal for witnessing the northern lights. 

Despite this, I remained hopeful and vigilant, sacrificing sleep and comfort in the hope that the skies would clear up.

In fact, between me and my mother, we barely got any sleep at all. This was not ideal for a vacation. But, we were determined to find the lights for my grandpa. 

We took rotations about once every one or two hours, endlessly walking the decks in the rain for even the hope of a glimpse at the northern lights. No luck. 

After 5 nights of this, I started to get extremely frustrated. And with each night that I sacrificed my sleep and didn’t see the lights, the more desperate I became to find them. And a bigger deal it became to my mental and emotional health.

My nights on the cruise went like this:

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
Rainy days on the Goldbelt Tram in Juneau, Alaska.

Unhelpful Staff and Missed Opportunities

To add to my woes, the staff on the Norwegian ship were of no assistance at all. 

None of them had ever seen the northern lights themselves, or at least anyone I talked to. Their lack of experience and guidance left me feeling even more isolated in my quest. 

In fact, when I checked with the front desk to see if they had a “Northern Lights Alert”, they kinda laughed at me. It made me think that it is not as common as I had once thought and hoped. 

One of the most heartbreaking moments came when I missed a fleeting glimpse of the lights by just 20 minutes.

Since I had to be facing north, the only area that I could see a glimpse of was this laser tag area. It was often blocked off due to rain. Every other section was for the VIP guests. 

The frustration of being so close yet so far was gut-wrenching.

I actually found out about this because I was seeing a show and the guests in front of me had a picture of what seemed to be the northern lights. I casually asked them if it was on the ship and they confirmed. 

So, not only did I miss the lights by about 20 minutes (after being up on the deck from 10 pm to 5 am for all of the previous nights), but it wasn’t even that impressive. The picture showed a dull green streak across the horizon. 

It was, anticlimactic, to say the least. But, I still would have liked to see it. 

The entire thing was, in simple and honest terms, emotionally traumatic. 

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
Just being my mermaid self on the cruise ship to Alaska.

Emotional Impact of Not Seeing the Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise

The emotional toll of this unfulfilled expectation was a little overwhelming. 

I spent several sleepless nights on the deck, shivering in the cold, only to be greeted by cloud-covered skies. 

There were moments when I found myself crying out of sheer disappointment and exhaustion. 

The romanticized vision of peacefully witnessing the northern lights from the comfort of a cruise ship was shattered by the harsh reality.

As I said before, the more I, unsuccessfully, searched, the more angry it made me when I couldn’t spot them. And the more heartbreaking it was when I missed them because I was putting on my rain gear at 2 am. 

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
I may not have seen the northern lights…but I saw some incredible fall leaves in October on my Alaska cruise.

Romanticized Expectations vs. Harsh Reality

Comparing the reality of my journey with the romanticized expectations painted by various articles and reviews felt like a cruel joke. 

The serene images of the northern lights illuminating the night sky from the deck of a cruise ship were far from my experience of rain, cold, and emotional turmoil.

Don’t get me wrong, I will recommend an Alaska cruise all day long. It was one of the best cruises I’ve ever taken. 

However, if you have this vision of you glancing at the dancing lights from a cruise ship, skip it. Try another path. 

Granted, it is possible. It is just luck. 

Northern Lights on an Alaska Cruise Truth and Logic that Nobody Talks About

Here was the issue that I quickly realized (and nobody told me about):

The Alaska cruise season begins in the spring and goes until October. The lights can be visible from September to April. The deeper you get into the season, the longer the nights will get. On long and clear nights, you have a higher chance to see the lights. 

If you put two and two together, this means that late September and October are indeed the best time to see the lights (or in late spring) because the season then ends. I couldn’t find any cruises past this time, so it wasn’t possible to go into that December to February time.

Then you find out that this time is also the rainy season. So one of your only times to see the lights is also the time when you find the most cloud cover. 

You can see the dilemma…one that I, unfortunately, had to figure out by myself after no one was brutally honest with me. 

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
Again, one of my FAKE “joke” pictures that I sent to my grandma afterwards. I edited them in and said sarcastically, “SEE?! I saw the lights and didn’t have a mental breakdown in the process! Yippee!”

If You Still Want to Test Your Luck and Try to Spot the Northern Lights From an Alaska Cruise

If you are still set on trying this bucket list activity, I would aim for Spring instead (near the April Spring equinox), but I still wouldn’t get your hopes up. 

We decided to not wait because my grandpa’s health was declining and we wanted him to check this off of his bucket list and weren’t sure Spring was going to happen. 

Also, I would call beforehand and get them to confirm that they have a “Northern Light Alert service”. This way, you don’t have to wander around aimlessly and can actually get sleep. 

When I called Norwegian, they said to ask the ship when I got on. Well, I followed their advice and they didn’t even know what I was talking about. I was already on the ship by that point so was out of luck. Goodbye sleep. 

If you really want to see the northern lights, I would skip the cruise entirely and head inland further up north (like Fairbanks) from December to February.’s up to you.

Conclusion: Lessons Learned

Reflecting on this ordeal, I realized the unpredictable nature of such phenomena and the importance of managing expectations. 

Future travelers should thoroughly research and, more importantly, remain prepared for the possibility that the elusive lights may not make an appearance.

In conclusion, while a cruise to Alaska offers many beautiful sights and experiences, relying on it to guarantee a view of the northern lights may set you up for disappointment. 

Still, keep in mind that an Alaska cruise itself is wonderful! It is truly an adventurer’s playground and deserves a spot on your bucket list! 

However, if seeing the northern lights is a must for you, consider other venues and strategies where you have more control over the conditions and greater chances of success.

northern lights on an alaskan cruise, Northern Lights on an Alaskan Cruise? Think Again…
I may not have seen the northern lights on an Alaska cruise…but I did see THIS!

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