Alaska Cruise Ports: Top Excursions
A Guide to Alaska Cruise Ports
One of the most-asked questions about an Alaska cruise is "what are the best excursions at each port?" While picking the right excursions can greatly improve your "Alaska"
experience, there is no "best" for everyone. Your specific interests, likes and dislikes are what will determine the best for you (that's why there are about 90 excursions in Skagway alone).
Having said that, though, there are some
excursion types and independent activities that are highly regarded in each port because they either appeal to many people or they are particularly good places to do a given
activity. The vast majority of the excursions are available both through
your ship and from independent operators (who can be found in the port guides). I hope that the lists below help:
Best ports for specific activities:
- Best port to rent a car: Skagway, Haines, Fairbanks, Vancouver
- Best glacier flightseeing: Juneau, Skagway
- Best whale watching: Hoonah (Icy Strait Point), Juneau
- Best fishing: Ketchikan, Juneau, Hoonah, Skagway
- Best marine wildlife boat tours: Sitka
- Best bear viewing: by air from Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan or Wrangell
- Best totem poles: Ketchikan, Sitka
- Best historic sites: Skagway, Sitka, Haines
- watch (or join - gear can be rented) crowds of people salmon fishing in Ship Creek, right below the downtown highrises.
- visit the world's largest float plane base at Lake Hood (adjoining Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport).
- visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center - shuttles are offered from downtown.
- Fairbanks attractions are very spread out, and this is a good place to rent a car or take a city tour that includes the major sites/attractions: the Trans Alaska Pipeline interpretive center, the
University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Riverboat Discovery, the Large Animal Research Center, and perhaps one of the gold attractions (Dredge #8 or the Eldorado Gold Mine).
- visit Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.
- visit Santa Claus House in the nearby community of North Pole (it's a gift shop with Santa and a couple of real reindeer always in attendance).
- float the Chilkat River. Note that although the river runs through the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve, the famous gathering of thousands of eagles occurs in November - in the summer you won't see any more eagles here than anywhere else along the Alaska coast.
- rent a car (from Avis, or any of several independents) and drive up the Haines Highway.
Hoonah & Icy Strait Point (ISP)
- whale watching - on average, Hoonah/ISP offers the finest humpback whale viewing of any Alaska cruise port.
- the walk along the forest/beach trail is very pleasant and costs nothing.
- the Tlingit Indian dance show is excellent.
- the zipline is one of the longest and highest in the world (5400 feet long with a 1600 foot drop).
- humpback whale watching - virtually 100% success rate. Orcas are occasionally seen as well.
- Mendenhall Glacier - offers excellent glacier views and easy hiking. The cheapest way to get there is on a shuttle bus from the dock for $16 round trip (no need to prebook, just walk up to a kiosk)
- Mt. Roberts Tramway - offers superb views and
hiking if the weather is good - don't pre-book, there's no advantage to doing so and it's not worth the $25 if the clouds are low and there's no view.
- lengthy port times may allow for a boat tour to Tracy Arm, a particularly dramatic fjord.
- glacier flightseeing/dogsledding by helicopter. There are 3 operators: Era, Coastal, and Temco.
- totem poles - visit Totem Bight ($1 on the city's Blue Line bus), Saxman Native Village, the Totem Heritage Center,
or just discover the many poles around town on your own.
- fishing - Ketchikan is the salmon fishing capital of Alaska - the fishing calendar will show you if you're coming at a good time.
- take a floatplane excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument - some of the flightseeing operators add a landing on a wilderness alpine lake.
- visit Creek Street - at the far end, make it a longer walk by riding the funicular up to Cape Fox Lodge then walk the trail back down.
- Sitka National Historical Park offers a walk through the forest with 15 totem poles along it.
- there are several Russian heritage sites, offered by walking and bus tours but can be seen independently as well as the town is small and walkable.
- boat tours can offer not only whales but sea lions, sea otters and one of the finest seabird viewing areas in the world, St. Lazaria Island. A charter can include such places as Goddard Hot Springs.
- the White Pass & Yukon Route narrow-gauge railway has been the most popular excursion in Alaska for most of the past century. There are several options of various lengths, many including some time on a bus up to the Yukon Territory.
- rent a car (from Avis, or independent Sourdough) and drive up the South Klondike Highway to Emerald Lake (75 miles)
- there is superb walking/hiking at all levels of difficulty - pick up a free trail map at the National Park Service office near the dock.
- the most popular places to visit are Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, Gastown, and Granville Island. If your cruise ends in Vancouver, it can work very well to rent
a car at Canada Place (most of the big rental companies are there), do your touring and then drop the car at the airport.
- visit 135-acre Butchart Gardens, located 14 miles north of Victoria.
- orca viewing trips have a high rate of success.
- the Inner Harbour area is a great place to explore on foot, with many historic buildings (including the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings) and some excellent pubs. Shuttles to the Inner Harbour run regularly from your ship.