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The Best Alaska Cruise Excursions in 2024

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Going on an Alaska cruise – a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see one of the world’s beautiful natural destinations. It’s an unforgettable experience, and even tops my Alaska bucket list! Trust me that I know how popular Alaska cruising is – I get questions about it all the time! That’s why I started working on a series of posts about the best Alaska cruise excursions in each port.

Choosing Alaska cruise excursions is critically important to your experience – if you choose lame ones, you’ll definitely come home disappointed. So who am I to make these suggestions that matter so much for your Alaska memories? I’m a gal who grew up in Alaska and worked for one of the major cruise companies for three summers – selling excursions just like these to people. I’ve visited Alaska many times (most recently in August 2023) and have done three Alaska cruises.

Alaska Cruise Excursions Hero

I’ve spent ages reviewing each of the cruise companies’ websites and the excursions they offer in different Alaska cruise ports and terminals. Keeping in mind my local knowledge of what’s “really” Alaskan, what’s worth the money – and what’s just sales language meant to convince you to spend money without the bang for your buck in return.

Based on that research and experience I believe these are the best Alaska cruise excursions and experiences in each port; I also have specific lists of other cruise excursions and what type of travelers each one is best for, which are linked in each section below.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní of the Áak’w Ḵwáan (Tlingit) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in May 2020, and was updated in December 2023.

How to Choose Alaska Cruise Excursions

Major Marine Tours Hero

Before launching into the list of the best cruise excursions in each Alaska port, I want to recap how I compare and choose excursions.

Here are my tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions:

  1. Get Up in the Air – Alaska is huge, so much bigger than most people can imagine. Taking a flightseeing or landing tour is a great way to get a better perspective on the vastness of The Last Frontier, from sprawling glaciers to towering mountains.
  2. Consider the Uniqueness of Experiences – You didn’t travel all the way to Alaska to do the same things you do at home – or anywhere else in the world, right? When recommending excursions, I always keep in mind how “Alaskan” the experience is.
  3. Go to the Source – Try to read through the flowery sales language to understand which excursions actually take you to see something up close and personally – rather than through the window of a motorcoach, or in passing on a tour.
  4. Do the Money-to-Time Math – I have three rules for how much an excursion should cost per hour based upon whether it’s on land ($50/hr max), on water ($100/hr max), or in the air ($150/hr max). I use these to figure out which excursions are “worth it” from a financial perspective.
  5. Understand the Essentials – Some excursions have specific criteria (like age, weight, ability, etc) that it’s important to know before you book.

You can read more about each of these in my guide for how to choose Alaska cruise excursions; then you’ll see why I picked each of the best Alaska cruise excursions in the cruise port below.

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The Best Alaska Cruise Excursion in…

Icy Strait Point: Seafood Feast & Tribal Dance Show

This Ice Strait Point excursion is new on my list this year, and it takes the #1 spot, which is quite an accomplishment. To be honest, it’s here because it’s offered by a lot of the cruise companies and is well-priced – but the reviews are more mixed than this #1 spot would suggest. Some past cruisers don’t love the tribal dance (saying it’s “not authentic” which I’ll come back to in a minute…) and some thought the meal was too casual for the price.

On the whole though, I think this excursion earns the top spot because it offers you a chance to experience Alaska Native Culture (which I think is important for all visitors) and try some foods that are typically quite expensive – at a reasonable price.

Coming back to the question of the authenticity of that Native Alaskan cultural experience, I think we should always assume that if an experience is being offered for visitors, it is inherently not authentic. It is, instead, an opportunity to learn in a way that respects the significance of those traditions; we are not members of the tribal group, and are not entitled to “authentic” access.

In any case, be aware that there are mixed reviews so this might not be the shore excursion for you – but it is a good contender worth considering.

Find other options in my guide to the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursions.

Juneau: Mendenhall Glacier & Whale Quest

When you look at the map, you might be surprised that Juneau is easily one of the best wildlife-viewing ports in Alaska’s Inside Passage – but the waterways around Juneau are healthy and vibrant ecosystems where you can see all kinds of marine and sea life, and land mammals and birds too!

The Mendenhall Glacier & Whale Quest excursion (including others similarly named) topped my list of all Juneau cruise excursions this year – meaning it’s a great value, popular, etc. – but it also gives you a good chance to spot whales in the waterways around Juneau which are well-known for great opportunities to see them. (It’s also offered in some form by every cruise line that visits Juneau, so you shouldn’t have any issue finding it from your cruise company of choice.)

The tour starts with time to visit Mendenhall Glacier; there is a guided option or you can strike out to try and visit the lake shoreline on your own with the allotted time. Then you’ll transfer on to Auke Bay, board a small vessel, and set out in search of humpbacks and orcas; both can be found in the waterways near Juneau! You might also spot eagles, sea otters, and seals if you’re keen-eyed.

Find other excursion options in my guide to the best Juneau cruise excursions.

Ketchikan: Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer

If learning about Alaska history isn’t your top priority on your cruise, I’m guessing scenery and wildlife are close to the top of the list. In that case, you should definitely consider booking the Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer excursion (or others similarly named) for your time in port in Ketchikan.

Large cruise ships can’t enter Misty Fjords National Monument, so you’ll spend this 4.5-5 hour excursion aboard a smaller boat, exploring the deep fjord waterways looking for wildlife like bears and eagles – if you’re really lucky, you might spot whales on the way there or back. Having cruised in Misty Fjords on my first Alaska cruise, I highly recommend this one!

It is worth noting that by booking this excursion, you won’t have a ton of time in Ketchikan itself; you may need to decide then whether this experience is your priority and how it fits into the other excursions in other ports that you’re planning. It is – despite this – still my #1 recommendation!

Find other excursion options in my guide to the best Ketchikan cruise excursions.

Sitka: Italian Hot Glass Experience

When it comes to culture in Sitka, there’s kind of two directions to go: historic culture or artistic culture. If you’re more of a history buff, this probably isn’t the right tour for you (instead, check out the “Best of Sitka” tour that most cruise companies offer, or consider booking one of the “Historic City Highlights” type tours that some cruise companies offer.)

If your love of culture is focused on (or also includes the arts), you might be surprised to discover that Sitka has a huge artistic heritage, from authors and the written word to music and other artistic mediums. And in that case, this excursion (“Italian Hot Glass Experience” or something similar) allows you to try your hand – literally – at one of those unusual art forms: Venetian Glassblowing. This is the second year this excursion tops my list of Sitka’s top shore excursions – so I’m even more confident that it’s a truly great experience.

During this 2.5-hour tour, you’ll learn about glassblowing at Wild Arts Gallery & Studio, then create your own glass cane. While it might not be the souvenir you planned to bring home from Alaska, it will certainly be a memorable experience and create a talking point in your home when people ask you where it was made!

Find other excursion options in my guide to the best Sitka cruise excursions.

Skagway: White Pass Scenic Railway

As I updated this post (and my Skagway-focused list too) for 2024 Alaska cruisers, I was shocked to see that the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway was not on my list! I think this is mostly because the cruise companies have been renaming and re-organizing their tours in the past few years, and this experience was included in the “Best of Skagway” tour that was always on my list. In any case, if you only have time for ONE excursion in Skagway, this has gotta be it!

The White Pass & Yukon Route (also called the White Pass Scenic Railway in many excursion titles) sets out from the heart of Skagway, climbing up to White Pass and – depending on which of the many railway excursions you book – traveling further into the Yukon to Bennett Lake or Fraser. When I rode this train in 2022, we only went as far as the Canadian border before returning back by rail (due to Canadian border restrictions at the time), but some excursions continue all the way to the Yukon, or have you disembark for a drive back to Skagway, or have other activities added on while up in the pass… there are lots of options to ride the train and do more, if you want to!

Best of all for you culture vultures, this tour is narrated with an excellent history of the region and what makes Skagway a significant location to the native peoples, the prospectors of the Gold Rush, and visitors today.

Find other excursion options on my guide to the best Skagway cruise excursions.

Other Alaska Cruise Ports

The 5 cruise ports and terminals above are the ones you’re most likely going to visit during your Alaska cruise – almost all cruise companies visit almost all of them on almost all of their itineraries.

However, there are other less common destinations you might see on your itinerary. Instead of a whole section on each, here’s a quick breakdown of the activities and experiences I recommend in each:

  • Haines – Most cruises visit either Haines or Skagway, as the two communities are very close – geographically speaking, which says a lot since Alaska is so big! Haines is known for its Native culture and wildlife viewing, so look for an excursion that offers one or both of those experiences!
  • Dawes Glacier – The name says it all: the best cruise excursion at Dawes Glacier will have you board a dinghy and get close to the glacier.
  • Petersburg – A tiny community serviced primarily by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system, Petersburg is a great spot to board a whale-watching vessel if you haven’t seen any yet.
  • Prince Rupert – Prince Rupert is a small British Columbian community known for its close proximity to grizzly bear habitats. Book a coastal cruise or flightseeing trip to try and see the bears.
  • Valdez – Famous as the terminal for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Valdez also has excellent access to glaciers; a glacier flightseeing or cruise tour is the best way to enjoy them.
  • Victoria – Most cruises to/from Vancouver also stop at Victoria. This community overflows with European elements, including castles and gardens. The best excursions will include a stop at Butchart Gardens and afternoon tea.
  • Wrangell – Another tiny Southeast Alaskan community, any trip to Wrangell should include a stop at Petroglyph Beach and a visit to the town’s Tlingit tribal house (Chief Shakes Longhouse) to learn about Alaska Native heritage in this area.

Which Alaska cruise ports are on your itinerary, and which cruise excursions will you pick? Have any other questions about which Alaska cruise excursion to pick in each port? Let me know in the comments below!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

18 Comments

  • Christine Mackintosh

    Hi!! We just booked an Alaska cruise (on Norwegian- don’t hate us!) Your “best excursion” page is amazing and super helpful. We’re traveling with our daughters (7 and 10) and trying to come up with a sensible budget for the excursions. We’d love to just follow your top tips – but 2 of them (the glacier seaplane one in Icy Straits) and dog helicopter one in Juneau would set us back 5k! If we had TJ pick one or the other, which would you pick? I noticed that there are “cheaper” ones in Juneau that involved dogs (pretty sure dogs are “a must” with our girls), but you didn’t recommend those….any guidance would be greatly appreciated 💕

    • Valerie

      No hate here Christine ☺️ I’d do the seaplane one for sure. That’s something you can’t experience anywhere elsee, whereas you noted there are other husky experiences in several ports.

    • Valerie

      Great question, Lisa! To be honest, I don’t find the whale watching tours to be as unique as other options, which is why they don’t make my lists – I also recommend whale watching from Seward/in Kenai Fjords National Park, if you’re going to go whale watching anywhere!

  • Laura A. Landon

    We are cruising on Windstar Star Breeze (11 day Seward to Vancouver) in a couple of weeks. One top interest is seeing whales but not our only interest. The ships first stop is Kenai Fjords National Park but we also have a day prior in Seward after taking the train from Anchorage. Should we do a whale watching excursion from Seward or would we be seeing the same things once onboard our cruise? We could only do a shorter 3-4 hour cruise and I can’t figure out if we would see more than we would see sailing on our cruise the first day.

    We also booked a Zodiac excursion in the Tracy Arm area and Kayaking in Misty Fjords and considered a whale watching trip from Sitka. Can you help determine if this is too much time and $$ on water tours when we are cruising already? Not sure if all of this is necessary and which places are really best for water excursions.

    Thanks so much for any help and Thanks for all of your info and research! Its great!

    • Valerie

      Laura, hi, I would absolutely do all of those excursions, though as I mentioned, I’m annoyed that you have to pay for the zodiac/kayak tours on Windstar. Each of those will be quite different and have different whale watching opportunities/scenery – so I don’t think you’ll regret doing them or think it was “too much time.”

  • Kimi

    I will be cruising with Princess Aug 2024.
    I have read several articles on the excursions that are offered and I don’t mind saying I am overwhelmed!! There are eight adults and one toddler traveling. Four adults are 60+ fairly healthy. Would you mind listing some B excursions that we would enjoy and be able to navagate. Thank you

  • Kathy

    Any thoughts on doing excursions not offered on our cruise. With the times offered we are limited to one excursion per port. Some local companies offer guarantee to return to ship on time. Any thoughts or local companies you recommend? Want to do air excursion for sure, sled dogs, white pass…. Also flying into Fairbanks, any recommendations of what to see in Fairbanks?

  • Trent Turner

    Great recommendations! We are traveling on Princess in a few weeks and want to take our two teenage boys fishing. Any suggestions for fishing excursions?

    • Valerie

      If you want to do a dog sled tour on the snow, yes, you’ll need to pay to get up onto the glaciers! Otherwise, it’s up to you whether a dog sled tour with the cart on dirt is worth it.

  • Christine Oldani

    Hi! I’m hoping to still book a cruise this summer 2024. Do you have recommendations for Denali excursions in addition to the Tundra Wilderness Tour?

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