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Tips on Alaska Cruise Excursions

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Cruising Alaska is one of the most incredible experiences imaginable. The Alaskan cruise normally ferries between Anchorage, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia along thousands of miles of untouched coastline. Cruising Alaska takes visitors along beautiful fjords, salmon filled rivers, and massive glaciers. And Alaska expedition cruises are one of the best ways to experience these natural wonders. Whether you are taking part in an Alaska cruise from Vancouver or Anchorage, there are some incredible options for adventure.

Infographic showing Alaska cruise excursions overlaid on a map of Alaska

Cruising Along the Inside Passage Alaska

Our Alaskan cruise was our first stepping stone into cruising. This eventually led to cruising through Ontario and on a Northern Lights cruise in Norway. But, whether you are using an Alaska cruise as a way to enter the state and explore some of Alaska’s incredible National Parks, or just as a way to sit back and enjoy some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery, a cruise along the inside passage is something you’ll likely never forget.

The Best Alaska cruise excursions

Our one week Carnival Alaska cruise was a bucket list item for both Kevin and I. We had several Alaska cruise excursions planned to keep us busy. Kevin had never cruised before so when I saw a great deal on an Alaskan cruise came up I thought it would be the perfect introduction to cruising. Both Kevin and I had always dreamed of visiting Alaska so it was looking like a win-win!

Face of a Bald Eagle at the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center.

Our port of embarkation was in Anchorage and the Alaska cruise ended it’s journey in Vancouver, Canada. Between, we would be stopping at 4 Alaska cruise ports of call: Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. While planning our trip we were overwhelmed with all the available Alaska cruise excursions! For each port of call, we decided to explore the town and then join one of the adventure tours being offered.

Sitka

The town of Sitka was the first port of call on our Alaska Cruise. Sitka is the home of the indigenous Kiksadi Clan of the Tlingit people. In the 18th century, Russians established an outpost in Sitka and remnants of the Russian influence on Alaskan culture are still evident.

In the town of Sitka, we were able to visit three sites. The Sitka National Historic Park which is filled with beautifully carved totem poles. At the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center were we were able to get an up-close and personal look at some bald eagles and other birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, and owls. Our last stop was the iconic and beautiful St. Michael’s Orthodox Church.

A lone totem pole amidst tress in Sitka's National Historical Park.
Interior of St. MIchael's Orthodox church in Sitka.

Sitka Adventure: Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest

For our Sitka, Alaska cruise excursion, we signed up for a Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest. The scenery we were able to witness was stunning. Thanks to the smaller boat, we were much closer to the water than when we were on the cruise ship.

Sea otters playing in the water

We were able to see all the fish (including some flying fish) and jellyfish that could be found in the area. As advertised, we got to see sea otters splashing around in the waters! In addition, during our wildlife quest, we also saw bald eagles, seals, dolphins, and whales.

Tail of a humpback whale on our Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest.

Juneau

The following day we cruised north into the town of Juneau. Juneau is the Alaskan state capital and features both the Alaska state museum and Alaska state capitol building within walking distance of the port. Instead of touring downtown, we opted to take a cab for a trip 20 km out of town to view the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier as viewed from the visitor center viewing platform in Juneau.

Like all Alaskan glaciers, the Mendenhall Glacier is in retreat. The Mendenhall Glacier is shrinking at an astounding rate of over 30 m per year. Originally, we had planned to take a helicopter tour over the glacier and do a glacier walk. The weather had not been kind to us, and our adventure was scrubbed due to dangerous conditions. Instead, we had to settle with viewing the glacier from afar from the viewing platform at the welcome center. The spectacular views certainly didn’t disappoint us!

Walkway from the visitor center in Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.

Juneau Adventure: Sea Kayaking and Whale Watching

We had a couple of Juneau, Alaska cruise excursions planned. The afternoon saw us sea kayaking in Auke Bay. It was an amazing experience that allowed us to get up close and personal with some bald eagles in the wild all the while surrounded by the beauty of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Man kayaking with a view of the Mendenhall Glacier in the background while on an Alaska cruise excursion.

In the evening we joined a whale watching excursion on Stephan’s Passage. We boarded a catamaran specifically designed for viewing wildlife. Stephen’s Passage is the summer feeding ground for humpback whales. It was pretty incredible watching the humpback whales bubble net fishing as well we saw them perform some pretty awesome acrobatics!

Humpback whale breaching in Stephan's Passage near Juneau.

Skagway

Near the northern end of the Inside Passage, we stopped at our third port, the town of Skagway. Skagway is easy to explore by foot. Many of the buildings have had their storefronts restored to resemble what they would have looked like during the gold rush days. The historic downtown forms part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.

Street view of downtown Skagway stores and an antique car.

Skagway Adventure: Whitepass and Yukon Route Railway

Continuing with our Klondike Gold Rush theme, we boarded the Whitepass and Yukon Route Railway for a three-hour journey along the gold rush route culminating at the Whitepass summit near Fraser, British Columbia. This epic rail journey has a history dating back to the gold rush. And similar to other Rocky Mountain rail experiences like the Rocky Mountaineer, it offers views that are out of this world!

Rocky Mountains as viewed from the Whitepass and Yukon Route Railway.
Couple in front of Bridal Veil Falls in the Rocky Mountains near Skagway, Alaska.

The scenery along the way was breathtaking! The large windows on the vintage style locomotives allowed us to take pictures of sights such as Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point, and Dead Horse Gulch. It was absolutely incredible chugging along the tops of the Rocky Mountains and catching the summer flowers on the rocky terrain.

Whitepass and Yukon Railway train cars going into a tunnel in the Rocky Mountains.

Ketchikan

The final port of call in our Alaskan cruise was the city of Ketchikan. The boat docked within walking distance of downtown, so like the other three ports of call, there was no need to hire transportation. We spent most of our time along Creek Street. The buildings there once made up Ketchikan’s notorious red light district. The quaint antique-like buildings have given up lingerie and ladies of the night for trinkets, souvenirs, and local art.

View of boardwalk and stores on Creek Street in downtown Ketchikan.

Ketchikan Adventure: Mountain Point Snorkel

Our last Alaskan cruise excursion would have us diving into the frigid North Pacific to get a glimpse of the underwater world. We were bused to the shores of Mountain Point where we donned 7mm wet suits, boots, and hoods to protect us from the chilly waters. We snorkeled over an amazing kelp forest where we saw fish and various invertebrates. We even got the opportunity to handle some starfish!

Two star fishes in the waters of Mountain Point in Ketchikan Alaska.

These are just a few examples of the Alaska cruise excursions that you can partake in from the various Alaskan ports. Depending on the cruise line, you may also be stopping at other cities along Alaska’s shoreline. We found that in 3 of the 4 ports our originally planned excursions were cancelled due to weather. It is good to be flexible with your plans and know what other activities are available. We were able to sign up for other activities easily. Make sure you’re prepared for Alaskan weather. Here are some great tips on what to pack for an Alaska cruise.

Have you ever thought about combining adventure travel with cruising? What are your favourite memories?

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Infographic showing Alaska cruise excursions overlaid on a map of Alaska

Christina Wagar
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Christina Wagar

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
Christina Wagar
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62 Comments

  1. I also dream of going to Alaska, I mean who doesn’t? Not many people get to go there, you guys are lucky!

    I haven’t really thought about going on a cruise as I know they can be really expensive, but I sure wouldn’t mind taking one if ever I get a chance.

  2. This is indeed a great adventure, you have blended elements of a cruise with an exciting adventure as well. Loved the post. I would love to board the train and embark on the Gold Rush tour!

  3. Having worked within Alaskan cruising I’ve always seeing these options and only done two of them. I loved the railway. We’re talking about heading northward soon, so may need to be a bit more adventurous than we’ve previously been and do the cold water snorkel.

  4. Great post, Christina. We took a 2-week Alaska cruise and absolutely LOVED it! We did all of the same excursions you’ve mentioned, and a few more. The Otter adventure in Sitka was definitely one of my favs. They’re SO cute!

  5. Wow your cruise sounds amazing. All the photos look wonderful. We have always wanted to go to Alaska. We were on our way once but our van broke down and we never made it. Can’t believe you went snorkelling. It would have been so cold. Good effort. Thanks for sharing. We will just have to try Alaska again but maybe on a cruise this time.

    1. Oh no! Car troubles are the worst! We got saddled with a bad breakdown on our drive through Quebec a few years ago. For the snorkelling, it wasn’t too bad actually! Our wetsuits kept us toasty and being able to say we snorkelled in Alaska made it worth it!

  6. You guys, oh my, ALASKA.
    I am so envious of.you!
    Just kidding, I hope.that you enjoyed the trip.in total,well I enjoyed the beautiful pictures!

  7. Those are some beautiful places you’ve seen, and the wildlife in their natural habitat! I haven’t been in a cruise yet. Cruising isn’t popular for Filipinos, since there’s the idea that it’s expensive and majority of the time the guests will be in the ship instead of seeing wonderful views on land. I’d like to go to one in the future though. I bet I’d be overwhelmed too with all the options. 🙂

  8. Looks like a fun worthy adventure! I can’t help but feel happy for you guys, seeing your smiles at those various sights and sites. How I wish I can go back to Alaska and spend some more time there like you guys, that Route Railway place is something I’d like to see for myself!

  9. Seriously, you guys have the best adventures! I’m living vicariously through you these days because i’m stuck at work haha. I also dream of going to Alaska! Going on a cruise there seems a good move. And since I can’t take too cold temperatures for long, that’s what I’m going to do too. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I am not a big cruise fan, but I love Alaska. The cruises do allow you to see and experience more of Alaska in a short amount of time. Your photos are beautiful.

  11. Wow!!! The whales and snorkeling look amazing!!! Those are at the top of my list for a trip to Alaska!

    Thanks for the photos! Really great.

  12. Totem poles are always a welcome sight, very beautiful. Shame the Mendenhall Glacier is shrinking, here’s to hoping our environmental situation improves with worldly effort.

  13. Epic pictures! I love that shot of the bald eagle. I live in the Pacific Northwest so we see a LOT of these cruises come and go. I’m actually not a huge fan of them, but I might give them another try after seeing these pictures.

  14. oh wow. that’s really stunning! absolutely an adventure. by the photos itself, it shows how much of an adventure it has been. I scroll all the photos first before I even read all the article. hahaha.. Loved it!

  15. Everytime I see photos of Alaska it makes me want to get on a plane immediately and just go! I have also always wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise! I love the totem poles! I have no idea why, but I have always been fascinated by them! You’ve inspired me to really buckle down and try to plan a trip to Alaska! Thanks for sharing!

  16. I’ve never cruised, and I’m not sure I will, but this is one of the more enticing cruises I’ve seen! I drove to Alaska from Missouri and spent over a week driving and hiking all over the state! I’m curious what activities you turned down, were most of them more adventurous like the ones you chose! It looks like you got to see a lot! Cheers!

    1. It wasn’t so much about turning them down, so much as it was the weather not allowing us to participate. We had hoped to hike on one of the glaciers and experience a helicopter ride through one of the canyons. Alas, Alaskan weather is notoriously unpredictable 🙂

  17. My aunt and uncle plus their two full grown children just went on a cruise to Alaska all together! It was to celebrate one of my cousin’s graduation from their Masters. And while their photos looked great yours make me want to visit Alaska more 😛 Where were your two kids?

    1. That sounds like a great time! Cruising certainly offers a fantastic chance for families with different travelling tastes to experience a place together while still having unique adventures. As for our kids, this trip was taken pre-kids 🙂

  18. Alaska is not the first place that you think of when visiting the Us and I have never been there in spite of living in the Us for few months. It looks so pretty. I should definitely try visiting next time

  19. Wow this looks like an amazing trip – I have a bit of a negative association with cruises, all food and lazing about, but I never thought about all the onshore activities. Looks like you made the most of the location 🙂

  20. That sounds amazing! I’d love to do a cruise because it gives you the opportunity to see so many different places and do so many different things in a short space of time (and not have to stress about the travel plans!) It’s definitely something on my bucket list and Alaska looks like a brilliant place to try.

    1. Cruising certainly makes life easy 🙂 It’s not our usual style, but it gave us a great taste of what Alaska has to offer and allowed us to see places we might not otherwise have the chance to go.

  21. I can imagine very well why this was so high on your list. Each excursions looks absolutely amazing. Can’t believe you’ve crammed so much into just 1 week!

  22. We want so badly to be posted out West next so we can have amazing journey’s like this. Alaska looks amazing and I have always wanted to do more cruising. Thank you for the great advice.

  23. Wow, visitin Alaska is such a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would love to go so far into the wilderness. Going to pin this for later in the hope thay I get a chance to go someday.

  24. Whale watching is still on my bucket list, and now I’m really thinking of going to Alaska to do it! Thanks for all the details. Also, and this is probably dumb, but I had no idea jellyfish were that far north… haha.

  25. You guys are making me want to go back to Alaska! I was only 16 when I went on a cruise there with my family, so I feel like it would be a whole different experience now. I would especially like to do the Juneau adventure seeing whales and bald eagles. How amazing!! Your pictures are all so beautiful.

  26. Ahhh! Such a dream of mine. Alaska and Antartica would be two places that I would LOVE explore via cruise. Great photos. The eagle shot is stunning.

  27. Not a huge cruise fan, but I must admit to thinking I could do it for an Alaskan cruise. Thinking of getting over to west Canada next year, and adding Alaska to the trip seems to sound like a plan. Thanks for all of this info.

  28. There are a lot of things to see in Alaska! Especially seeing a humpback whale and the car in Skagway is awesome. I am always worried that spending so much time on a cruise make me seasick though.. 🙁 @ knycx.journeying

  29. You are one lucky couple! I have always dreamt of going to Alaska, and I know for a fact that it is such a rare and lucky trip to have if you can actually plan it. The post is so nice! Saving it for future reference.

  30. Ooh! Alaska cruise! My friends and I were talking about doing an Alaskan cruise (probably a similar one to yours because we were looking at one that ended in Vancouver too) a year or two back but it was very expensive for us to get to the starting point from SE Asia. So it has remained a dream so far. Hopefully one day! Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest & Whale Watching tour seem like not to be missed excursions for me!

  31. I’ve been to Alaska once before. I based my trip in Anchorage and went north to Denali and south to Seward, where I kayaked Resurrection Bay. One thing I learned quickly about Alaska is that the natural beauty exists everywhere… nothing disappointed me. I’d love to take this cruise and see these spots.

  32. Alaska is a nature lovers paradise! I visited Juneau years ago, but during the off season so there were no tourists. That meant everything was closed lol. I still was able to see the Mendenhall Glacier though. It’s too bad it’s retreating. 🙁

  33. Super cool. It is evident that you guys had a gret time. Alaska is in every travller’s bucket list. I am so muct motiavted now to visit.
    Have bookmarked this for future ref.

    Regards,
    Himanshu

  34. I keep looking at going to Alaska and then having to figure out which national parks I want to visit on that trip and it gets too difficult to plan. I will most likely go when I win the Denali road lottery one year and knock two parks out that trip. I think a cruise sounds like fun but I hate cruise ships.

    1. That sounds like an amazing time. A Denali road trip would be an incredible experience and one we have thought of for a return trip. Best of luck getting your reservation!

  35. Wow, this looked like an amazing trip! Alaska is so beautiful! I have never thought about doing a cruise before! thank you for a great post! love the photography! im also feeling really inspired!

  36. Thanks for the great read!!! I’ve always wanted to do an Alaskan cruise and this post has just reinforced that. I didn’t realize how many cool ports a cruise would stop in!

  37. Alaska is so high on my bucket list. My good friend is from Sitka and she always talks about how great it is. It’s great that your trip included the different areas, they’re all so beautiful.

  38. I love how sea kayaking and whale watching sounds in Alaska! My mom went on an Alaska cruise and they went sea kayaking and loved it! Thanks for all the suggestions, I’ll be referring to them more when I get the chance to go on an Alaska cruise.

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