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Alaska Ports & Excursions

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ALASKA
PORTS & EXCURSIONS










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©Susan Milne, 1999-2015
Gondola at Mt. Roberts, Juneau

Get out and enjoy the pristine beauty of Alaska! There's a lot to see and do in your Alaskan ports of call. Here's a discussion on cruise line versus independent excursions and details on each port. I've included valuable links to Alaska websites.

For photos and a description of the various glaciers you can see on your Alaska cruise, see the Alaska's Glaciers page.


ALASKA  EXCURSIONS  OVERVIEW

The number and variety of Alaska shore excursions and activities available for cruise passengers has steadily increased. Cruise lines have expanded their Alaska shore excursions dramatically to accommodate the thousands of passengers they take to Alaska each week from May through September. On my 1995 Alaska cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Sun Viking, 37 excursions were offered, ranging in price from $23 to $205. In 2005, Royal Caribbean offered more than 108 shore excursions from $23.95 to $489 with additional excursions available for those booked on the line's 19 different pre and post cruise-tours. Today there are more options than ever with all the cruise lines, focusing more than ever on adventure and outdoors activities: Kayaking, bicycling, dog sledding, river rafting, ziplining and sportfishing are possible in the scenic wilderness of this great state, alongside more traditional tours focusing on culture and history.

The right shore excursion for you depends on your personal interests. Half day tours allow you time to explore the town before getting back on board the ship.

Helicopter flightseeing gives you a unique perspective of Alaska's mountains and glaciers. The views are breathtaking!. The vibration can cause some people to be motion sick, however, it is still worth taking the ride! I took a helicopter over Mt. McKinley on a Princess tour from Anchorage. It was beyond spectacular. See Glacier Flightseeing over Mt. McKinley on the Alaska's Glaciers page.

If you're planning a late-season sailing, remember that by September, a number of excursions may no longer be offered. Dog sledding trips can be over by mid-August as the weather starts to close in on the higher elevations.

There's something for everyone in Alaska. Aside from excursions and exploring the towns you visit, shopping is available close to the cruise ship docks in all ports. For those who simply want to enjoy some R&R and take in the pristine beauty, there's no need to take an excursion at all. Just enjoy life aboard your ship. You'll be surrounded by some of the world's most spectacular scenery every day of your Alaska cruise.

Cruise Line Excursions

For those who don't mind exploring with a group on a schedule, cruise line excursions hold some distinct advantages:

  • You can be confident that the companies operating them are reputable and reliable, with good safety records.

  • If your excursion runs into delays, the ship will wait for you to return before sailing.

  • Shore excursions come with a money-back guarantee if they're cancelled due to weather or other factors -- which can happen given the unpredictable weather in Alaska.

Book excursions online at the cruise line websites where booklets with descriptions can also be downloaded. This gives you the chance to secure space on the most popular helicopter and dog sledding excursions before they sell out.

With the increase in family cruising in Alaska, the hours for the supervised kids programs on port days have been gradually extended to allow parents time to sightsee ashore on their own. Check the regulations for your ship. Cruise lines also offer reduced pricing for children taking excursions with their parents.

Independent Touring

Tour operators are in evidence in Alaska more than ever before. In Juneau, many now set up booths at the cruise pier when the ships are in, while in historic Skagway, several companies are ready to take you on excursions from town. In some cases, cruise lines monopolize tour space but return unsold tickets to the tour companies the morning they arrive. Therefore, you may be able to find some worthwhile excursions when you get off your ship if you are flexible with your plans.

However, advance planning is essential if you have specific things you want to see and do in Alaska. Facilities are limited in this remote State and the number of visitors is increasing. The very popular float plane excursions and helicopter flight-seeing combined with glacier walks or dog sledding must be booked well ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Cruise lines take much of the available space and it is often sold out well ahead of sailing. According to Temsco Helicopters, passengers who wait until the day they arrive in port to book their flights will most likely be on standby.

With so many travel companies letting you book online today, you can book your own excursions easily. Look for the cruise passenger information which is often on company websites giving you details on how to book and what they offer. Price wise, you may find you pay less for independent tours but many passengers have concluded it is more care free and efficient to go with a group from the ship and not have to worry about any confirming arrangements with the company while aboard ship, delays, meeting up with your independent tour guides or getting back to the ship on time.

Here are some companies offering Alaska shore excursions and pre/post cruise tours to cruise passengers:

Alaska Tours.com
Entree Alaska
Shore Trips
Port Promotions

Flightseeing:

Southeast Aviation, Ketchikan Flightseeing tours to glaciers, Misty Fjords, bear watching and fishing.
Temsco Air - Skagway and Juneau Glacier flightseeing, hikes and dog sledding.
Era Aviation, Juneau Glacier flightseeing, Juneau Icefield flightseeing and dog sled adventures.
Wings Airways, Juneau - Taku Glacier Lodge salmon bake and glacier flightseeing combined.




EXPLORING SKAGWAY

Skagway
The historic town of Skagway rests in the valley


Skagway Tourism: http://www.skagway.com; Phone: 907.983.2854 or 1.888.762.1898

Activities/Attractions: White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, Helicopter flight-seeing, dog sledding, gold rush cemetery, Jewell Gardens, Days of 98 gold rush show

About Skagway

Famous for the Klondike Gold Rush, Skagway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk into town, or for a small fee, the municipal shuttle will take you to Broadway, the main street. It still has a boardwalk and many original buildings from gold rush days. Stop by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center (at the corner of Second Avenue) to learn the history of the area.

A Skagway walking tour map is available at the Visitors Center (between Second and Third Avenue). This valuable guide can tell you every building on Broadway and the year it was built, along with background information about the surrounding area.

The Historic Skagway Inn and the Red Onion Saloon are just two of the many original buildings along Broadway. Walk down the side streets to discover more interesting historic sights. The gold rush cemetery is a fascinating spot just a short walk from town. The Skagway Museum & Archives (Trail of '98 Museum) is just off Broadway at 7th and Spring.

Shops are many and varied, from souvenir shops to jewellery stores.

Top Excursions

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway is one of the leading excursions in Skagway. This scenic and historic adventure follows the famous Gold Rush trail through the mountains towards the Yukon. The narrated Summit Excursion takes three to three-and-a-half hours to the White Pass summit, at an elevation of 2,865 feet, and back to Skagway. The railway depot is visible from your ship. Note that the trains pull up near the ships for cruise line excursions only. If booking independently, walk to the depot or take the municipal shuttle into town to catch your train.

The White Pass railway is one excursion you might prefer to book through the cruise line. Cruise lines monopolize space on the early runs, sometimes leaving 4:30 p.m. as the only departure for those booking independently -- a time that might not fit in with your ship's sailing time from Skagway. Unsold seats on the early departures are given back to the railway the morning the ships arrive, so you could check at the rail depot for the mid-day departure, the morning you arrive in Skagway. For more information, see www.wpyr.com.

Helicopter excursions have become extremely popular and are now combined with glacier walks and dog-sledding for added adventure. This is a remarkable way to experience the grandeur of Alaska and its many glaciers. Temsco Helicopters inaugurated glacier helicopter tours in 1983. Today when your ship docks in Skagway, you will see the Temsco helicopters lined up at their base near the piers, ready to take off. Since most of the seats are monopolized by cruise line excursions, you need to contact them a few months ahead of sailing to secure a place. Visit Temsco at www.temscoair.com

"Garden City of Alaska". Skagway is known for the great variety of flowers and giant vegetables that grow here, thanks to the extended light and good soil conditions. Garden enthusiasts should visit Jewell Gardens, which includes a miniature town site and train within the gardens. Garden teas and lunches are offered to groups of 10 or more only so book those through your cruise line. You are welcome to visit the gardens on your own. http://www.jewellgardens.com

Gold rush entertainment still lives in Skagway with the Days of '98 show at Eagles Hall (6th and Broadway), a musical comedy about Skagway and the famous outlaw Soapy Smith. Reservations can be made online. www.thedaysof98show.com




EXPLORING JUNEAU

Juneau
Cruise Ships Dock at Alaska's Capital, Juneau


Juneau Tourism: http://www.traveljuneau.com; Phone: 888.581.2201

Activities/Attractions: Mendenhall Glacier, glacier flightseeing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, whale and wildlife watching, sportfishing, Mt. Roberts Tramway, Taku Glacier Lodge salmon bake.

About Juneau

Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is the largest capital in the United States by land size, comprising 3,248 square miles. Within this area are a great variety of things to see and do. Here you'll have to plan carefully to fit in more than one option on your day ashore.

Ships dock right downtown. The Visitors Bureau has an office at the pier where you can pick up maps and information. A number of memorials are situated along the waterfront and boardwalk and the famous Red Dog Saloon is nearby; state and city museums and government buildings are a short walk with shops all along the way.

From your ship, you'll see the Mt. Roberts tramway gliding 1,800 feet up the steep slope beside the cruise ship pier. The tramway is quite an engineering achievement, built by the Swiss and operated by Goldbelt, a native-owned company. It opened in 1996 and is the only aerial tramway in southeast Alaska. At the top on a clear day, you'll see spectacular vistas and an aerial view of your ship, and you'll find walking trails, shops and restaurants. Watch "Seeing Daylight," the 25-minute, award-winning film about the culture and heritage of the Tlingit people. Day passes and individual ride tickets are available. Some cruise lines sell tram tickets for the same price, but since you still have to walk to the tram terminal, the only advantage to purchasing on board is maybe skipping a lineup at the tramway ticket counter. Visit: www.mountrobertstramway.com

Top Excursions

Mendenhall Glacier, a 20 minute drive from downtown, is the most accessible glacier to any town on the Inside Passage. A shuttle bus departs from outside the tramway to the glacier. Once there you see the visitor's center, the glacier and its lake. There are some spectacular hiking trails and park rangers offer guided hikes. Be alert if setting off on your own as bears are common in this area and some trails may be closed for this reason.

Hiking is readily available in Juneau. Due to the abundance of bears in the area, it's a good idea to take a guided hike with a naturalist/guide. You'll also learn much more about the region by hiking with a local guide. There are hiking trails as close as Mt. Roberts, right beside the cruise ship pier. Without a reservation, you can take the tram to the top and join a hike with one of the knowledgeable guides from Gastineau Guiding, considered the premier company in the area. To pre-arrange a hike in Juneau, contact Gastineau Guiding directly. The company offers several hikes in the Juneau area including the Mt. Roberts Alpine Loop in conjunction with a city tour. Visit their web site at http://www.stepintoalaska.com

The Taku Glacier Lodge Wilderness Experience has been one of Juneau's most popular excursions for many years. It departs conveniently from the Juneau waterfront near your ship. This three and a half hour tour includes 50 minutes of flightseeing in a DeHavilland Otter, during which time you'll see five glaciers from the air. During the two hours at the lodge, there's a king salmon feast in view of Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier. Wildlife viewing is common, with bears and bald eagles frequently spotted. You'll have time to explore the grounds and the historic Taku Glacier Lodge, which originated as a hunting and fishing camp in 1923. For more, visit www.wingsairways.com

Active Adventures This is an excellent spot for whale watching, wildlife viewing, kayaking and river rafting. Some whale watching companies actually offer a cash refund if you don't see a Humpback or Orca (killer) whale during your tour. For these individually priced adventure activities, cruise line pricing is often comparable to booking independently. Some companies do not take bookings directly from cruise ship passengers, such as the reputable whale watching excursions of Allen Marine Tours.

Helicopter Flightseeing   Be sure to book early.

Temsco Helicopters offers glacier flightseeing with glacier walks and dogsledding. Visit Temsco Helicopters at http://www.temscoair.com or call 1-877-789-9501.

Era Aviation is another well-established company in the flight-seeing business and they cater to cruise ship passengers. Era offers glacier flightseeing, Juneau Icefield flightseeing and dog sled adventures. Visit Era Aviation at http://www.eraflightseeingtours.com. See the Cruise Line Guest page for details when making your online reservation.




EXPLORING KETCHIKAN

Ketchikan
Creek Street, Ketchikan


Ketchikan Tourism: http://www.visit-ketchikan.com; Phone: 1.800.770.3300

Activities/Attractions: Saxman Native Village, Totem Bight Historic Park, sportfishing, kayaking, snorkeling, Misty Fjords National Monument flight-seeing, bear viewing, ziplining

About Ketchikan

Ketchikan is noted for its cultural heritage and is also the sportfishing capital of Alaska, with five species of salmon in abundance. You can actually fish right at the marina in town. In recent years, snorkeling has become popular along with the more traditional kayaking adventures.

Again the ships dock downtown, and the Ketchikan Visitor Information and Tour Center is at the pier. This well-equipped office has pay phones and public restrooms, an ATM and phone card machines.

At the Visitors Center, pick up a walking tour map and a Ketchikan guide, then head out to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center to learn more about the culture and history of the region. Walk along historic Creek Street built on stilts above salmon-filled Ketchikan Creek. Here you'll find the famous Dolly's House, once home of Ketchikan's most famous "madam," Dolly Arthur, which is now a museum. A cable car takes visitors up the cliff to the Cape Fox Lodge for local cuisine and a view over town. You might be able to take a great photo of your cruise ship from here. There's also a view into the mountains from the front of the lodge and a totem pole circle. You can walk the trail back down to Creek Street or ride the cable car down. En route back to the ship, stop in at the Dog Sled and Mushing Museum on Mission Street.

Top Excursions

Native Cultural Centers Saxman Native Village has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles. Here you can watch local artists carve, and experience the music and dance of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida peoples. Arts and crafts are available in the gift shop.

Totem Bight State Historical Park is a State park dedicated to native heritage. Entry is free. It has a fine collection of totem poles, a clan house and nature walks.

Fishing excursion for salmon, halibut and rockfish: Ketchikan is one of the best places in the world to take a then enjoy your catch at a gourmet lunch celebration. There are numerous companies offering fishing charters. AAA Sportfishing Co. caters to cruise ship passengers, picking you up at the pier and guaranteeing you will catch fish. Tours are customized to suit your requirements. See www.fishketchikan.com or call 907.723.2399.

Flightseeing, Misty Fjords & Bear Viewing www.southeastaviation.com. or call 1-888-359-6478.

Lumberjack Show The entertaining show runs rain or shine. It's a short walk from the cruise pier on the boat harbour on Spruce Mill Way, behind the Alaska Discovery Center. For more visit www.lumberjacksports.com.




EXPLORING SITKA

Sitka
Oosterdam at anchor at Sitka which is a tender port


Sitka Tourism: http://www.sitka.org; Phone: 800.557.4852

Activities and attractions: Russian and Native culture and history, Sitka National Historic Park, Alaska Raptor Center, kayaking, hiking, fishing, sea otter and wildlife viewing

About Sitka

Sitka, on Baranof Island, has one of the most picturesque settings of any Alaskan port. Here you will tender ashore to enjoy the former Russian capital of Alaska, which combines native culture, Russian history and Alaskan wilderness. The dormant volcano, Mount Edgecumbe, rises 3,200 feet creating a spectacular backdrop to the town on clear days.

Russians first settled in Old Sitka in 1799. The town was called New Archangel in 1804 by Alexander Baranov, the Russian America governor. It served as the Russian capital and seat of the Russian Orthodox church in the colony. The Alaska purchase was signed here, March 30, 1867 when The United States agreed to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million.

There are 22 buildings and sites which listed in the National Register of Historic Places. You can see many important sights on a walking tour around town, including St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral Totem Square, Isabel Miller Museum and the Russian Bishop's House.

Russian and Tlingit dances are performed in town. The all-female New Archangel Dancers troupe is preserving the authentic folk dances of Russia. They have performed around the world, and their show is worth seeing before returning to your ship. Performances are at the Harrigan Centennial Hall on Harbor Drive.

The Sheet'ka Naa Kahidid Dancers preserve the Tlingit art of storytelling through traditional dance. See them at the Tribal Community House along with other cultural events and a gift shop with authentic Native artwork. It's at 200 Katlian Street next to the Pioneers Home.

Top Excursions

There are 22 buildings and sites which listed in the National Register of Historic Places. You can see many important sights on a walking tour around town, including St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral Totem Square, Isabel Miller Museum and the Russian Bishop's House.

The Alaska Raptor Center is a 10-minute drive from town. Here, injured eagles, owls and other birds are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. The birds can be seen in the outdoor display and an informative presentation explains the work of the center. http://www.alaskaraptor.org/.

Sitka National Historic Park is situated near the downtown area, home to a fine collection of Haida and Tlingit totem poles and a museum of Tlingit and Russian artifacts. The active Tlingit arts program allows visitors to watch and talk to Native Indian carvers. Take the self-guided ocean-side trail past several totems to the site of the Tlingit fort. See salmon in the nearby stream. www.nps.gov/sitk/index.htm.

Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest Cruise This award winning excursion is offered by Allen Marine Tours. Led by a well qualified marine biologist, you'll observe sea otters, whales, sea lions, porpoise, harbor seals, brown bears, blacktailed deer, bald eagles and marine birds. www.allenmarinetours.com.

Hiking Sitka is one of my favourite hiking spots with boardwalks through the bog and excellent marked trails through the forest. I saw eagles fishing and a humpback whale in the waterways on my hike led by a very knowledgeable guide who made the forest come to life. My tour was booked through the cruise line with mini-van pick up and drop off at the tender pier.




EXPLORING ICY STRAIT POINT- HOONAH

Icy Strait Point
Beachcombing with the family at Icy Strait in May


Icy Strait Tourism: www.icystraitpoint.com; Phone: 907. 945.3141

Activities/Attractions: World's largest Ziprider, whales & wildlife viewing, tribal dance, kayaking, sportfishing, flightseeing, hiking

About Icy Strait Point

Situated 22 miles west of Glacier Bay at Hoonah, the capital of the Tlingkit people, this area has long been popular with small ship adventure cruises for its abundance of sea and wildlife. Icy Strait Point is a relatively new Alaska port which has been developed specifically for cruise ship calls. Excursions and attractions have been developed for cruise ship passengers to enjoy.

Icy Strait Point is owned by Huna Totem Corporation with the goal of "providing a one-of-a-kind experience for each visitor by sharing Alaska's natural beauty and Native Culture." Passengers tender ashore at Icy Strait and are welcomed by the local Tlingkit people. At the historic fish cannery they can enjoy cultural shows, learn about the area, sample local cuisine and shop for Native art and souvenirs. There is a wonderful nature walk through the forest and along the beach with spectacular views. A restaurant by the beach serves a variety of food including fresh fish. Be sure to take the shuttle into Hoonah where you are sure to see Bald Eagles "fishing" at the many canneries.

Top Excursions

Ride the world's largest Zipline which features spectacular views of the surrounding area as you launch, six at a time, from a mountain top. The ride is 5,330 ft. down the mountain.

Glacier Bay Flightseeing - Take a 1 hour 45 minute flightseeing trip to nearby Glacier Bay for superb views of glaciers, waterfalls and lakes. You'll also have a chance to see endangered humpback whales when you fly over their feeding grounds at Point Adolphus.

Whales, Wildlife and Brown Bear Search - This unusual tour combines wildlife viewing on land and at sea. A highspeed catamaran takes you to the best spots for viewing orca or killer whales, sealions, seal, porpoise and humpback whales. Return to Icy Strait Point for a wildlife search on land to find bald eagles, black-tailed deer and coastal brown bears.

In Alaska's Wildest Kitchen - Hosted by an experienced Alaskan fisherwoman and wilderness chef, this is a hands on tasting session where you'll have a chance to grill the catch of the day. Sample many items on the tasting menu and take home recipe cards. An alcoholic beverage is included in the price.


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