Note: The State of Alaska released its phased re-opening plan on May 6, 2020. In all phases (currently), interstate travel requires a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Alaska. If you do not already have reservations, DO NOT BOOK NEW TRAVEL THIS SUMMER.
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 February 2020), have done one Alaska cruise, and have another planned for September 2020 (join me!).
I’ve spent ages reviewing each of the 20+ cruise companies’ websites and the excursions they offer in these 16 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.
How to Choose Alaska Cruise Excursions
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 four tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions:
- 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.
- Consider the Uniqueness of Experiences – You didn’t travel all the way to Alaska to do the same things you do at home, right? When recommending excursions, I always keep in mind how “Alaskan” the experience is.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Here are the Best Alaska Cruise Excursions in…
Note: To the best of my knowledge, the cruise excursions listed in this post are accurate for the 2020 Alaska cruise season – limited as it is by the impact of the novel coronavirus. There may be inaccuracies or schedule changes that I haven’t yet added. Also, if you see an excursion you love which isn’t offered by your cruise company, be sure to check their website.
Icy Strait Point: Glacier Bay Flightseeing
- Who Offers This Excursion? While this excursion is only offered by Celebrity, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, it’s definitely a must-do if you’re on one of their ships!
- Find 8 other excursion options on my guide to the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursions.
Icy Strait Point (also called Hoonah) is on cruise itineraries because of proximity to Glacier Bay National Park. What better way to see Glacier Bay than on a flightseeing tour? (Tip #1, above!)
While flightseeing tours are usually more expensive on a cost-per-hour basis (tip #4), I still recommend them because they offer an irreplaceable experience from land or sea.
On this specific excursion, you’ll fly across Point Adolphus, over Glacier Bay, and up a river of ice – the sprawling Brady Glacier. You’ll learn about “geomorphology” (which shaped Glacier Bay) and can try to spot tiny wildlife below.
Juneau: Dog Sledding & Glaciers by Helicopter
- Who Offers This Excursion? Pretty much every cruise provider offers this tour, which is a testament to its popularity. Find excursion details on your cruise operator here: Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Viking.
- Find 10 other excursion options on my guide to the best Juneau cruise excursions.
Alaska’s capital city of Juneau is one of the most popular cruise ports in Southeast Alaska. That means there are a ton of excursions to choose from. But whenever I get asked for a recommendation, I unabashedly recommend a flightseeing tour to dogsled on Mendenhall Glacier.
Helicopter Tour + Glacier Landing + Dog Sledding = One Epic Memory
On this excursion, you’ll fly over Mendenhall Glacier high above the other passengers who chose land and see tours. Once you touch down on the ice floe, you’ll board a dog sled and go for a thrilling ride across the frozen wonderland.
Ketchikan: Saxman Native Village & Lumberjack Show Combo
- Who Offers This Excursion? As one of the most popular excursions in town, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean offer this cruise excursion.
- Find 8 other excursion options on my guide to the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursions.
Ketchikan is often the first major port after departing northbound from Seattle or Vancouver (or the last one if you’re cruising southbound). This makes it a refreshing change of pace after days at sea.
Ketchikan is one of the best places to learn about state history, like Skagway further up Alaska’s Inside Passage. The best Alaska cruise excursion in town lets you experience two of the major chapters in Ketchikan’s history: Alaska Native heritage and the industrial history that built the modern town.
Look for excursions that offer these two in combination together – rather than either of them separately with another experience.
Seattle: The “Grand City Tour”
- Who Offers This Excursion? Celebrity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean offer this excursion with a short cruise included, which is definitely the better option if it works for your schedule. They also all offer it as a land-only option for about 50% less per person, as do Carnival and Holland America.
- Find 5 other excursion options on my guide to the best Seattle cruise excursions.
Seattle is one of two southern cruise terminals where most Alaska cruises begin (the other is Vancouver, below). For many people, this means their Alaska cruise is also their first trip to The Emerald City!
If this will be your first trip to Seattle, the “Grand City Tour” is a great add-on excursion. (It’s sometimes called “The Best of Seattle.”) Which sights make the cut? On the 4-6 hour tour, you’ll visit and see top sights including:
- Seattle Center
- The Space Needle
- Pike Place Market
- Pioneer Square
- The International District
While the itineraries might vary depending on your cruise company, they almost all include all of these sights as well as a short cruise along the Seattle Waterfront and into Lake Union.
Sitka: Sea Otters, Raptors & Bears, Oh My!
- Who Offers This Excursion? This Sitka cruise excursion is offered by almost everyone: Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Princess, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean, oh my!
- Find 8 other excursion options on my guide to the best Sitka cruise excursions.
While you’ll be trying to spot wildlife throughout your Alaska cruise, I thought it was important to include a diversity of excursions on this list. This excursion is arguably one of the best chances to see wildlife and sea life in any cruise port!
This wildlife-focused day cruise is offered the sister company of Alaskan Dream Cruises (who I’m cruising with in September; join me!). I’ve read the book of their family company history and I know they’ve perfected this tour over decades of service. It’s the excursion with the best boats, the best experience, and the best chance to see wildlife. Need I say more?
Skagway: Best of Skagway
- Who Offers This Excursion? As mentioned, this excursion is offered by many of the cruise companies. The Best of Skagway tour is offered by Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
- Find 9 other excursion options on my guide to the best Skagway cruise excursions.
In my opinion, there is just too much to choose from in Skagway. That’s why I consider a ‘city tour’ to be the best Skagway cruise excursion, like the top Alaska cruise excursion that I recommended in Seattle.
The ‘Best of Skagway’ tour shows you the best parts of this small Alaskan community. It’s offered by many of the cruise companies that make port stops in Skagway. On this 6.5-hour tour, you’ll have three incredible experiences – and three that are totally unique to Skagway (tip #2).
First, you’ll board and ride the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that ascends the White Pass for epic views and scenery. Next, most tours disembark at the “Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake” for a bawdy historic reenactment about Skagway’s history and a meal of fresh Alaska salmon. Finally, some tours add on a saloon stop at Red Onion Saloon – you can raise a glass in camaraderie with the legions of intrepid gold miners who passed through Skagway over the centuries.
Vancouver: Vancouver Highlights Tour
- Who Offers This Excursion? You can book this Vancouver cruise excursion with Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, or Oceania.
- Find 5 other excursion options on my guide to the best Vancouver cruise excursions.
Like Seattle, Vancouver is a cruise terminal you’ll visit at the beginning or end of your Alaska cruise. If you only have a few hours in Vancouver, the “Vancouver Highlights Tour” covers the must-see attractions in the city’s downtown core. (This excursion is also called “Vancouver Sightseeing” or “Discover Vancouver” depending on the cruise company.)
This excursion offers an experience that hits key Vancouver sights via bus in a 2-3 hour tour. You will drive through the heart of Vancouver including the historic Gastown neighborhood with its narrow cobbled streets and the unique Chinatown area, which is over 150 years old. The standout experience is a stop in spectacular Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America. Be sure to pack your camera for photo ops with the First Nations Totem poles.
Other Alaska Cruise Ports
The 7 cruise ports and terminals above are the ones you’re most likely going to visit during your Alaska cruise. 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:
Did you notice I mentioned Haines in the Skagway section? Haines is a perfect port for a cultural experience learning about Alaska Native heritage.
The name says it all: the best cruise excursion at Dawes Glacier will have you board a dingy and get close to the glacier.
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 is a small British Columbian community known for close proximity to grizzly bear habitats. Book a coastal cruise or flightseeing to try and see the bears.
One of two northern cruise terminals, Seward is located in the heart of Kenai Fjords National Park. It might seem odd since you’ve been on a boat recently (or are about to board on), but book a day-cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park (such as with Major Marine Tours).
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.
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.
Alaska’s other northern cruise terminal, there’s not a ton to do in Whittier itself. Instead, board a day cruise to explore Prince William Sound. The 26 Glacier Cruise is a good option.
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 to learn about Alaska Native heritage in this area.
Which Alaska cruise ports are on your itinerary? Let me know in the comments – and any other questions too!
Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!
My eBook, Alaska’s Best Cruise Excursions, will help you wade through all the excursions in each port to make the best choice for each stop on your Alaska cruise itinerary.
Get your copy for just $9.99!