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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 2022) and have done three Alaska cruises.
I’ve spent ages reviewing each of the 15 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.
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 2022.
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…
Icy Strait Point: In Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen
- Who Offers This Shore Excursion in Icy Strait Point? Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, and Viking.
- Find 8 other excursion options in my guide to the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursions.
Foodie cruisers, this one’s for you! I try to include a food tour in every one of the posts in this series; I believe food is one of the best ways to experience the culture of a place – including Alaska. Since I already pointed out that Icy Strait Point is a unique cultural destination, what better way to experience it than on a cooking class excursion?
On this excursion, you’ll sample some of the food Alaskans love to enjoy, learn from a local chef about how to filet and prepare fresh Alaskan seafood, and then try your hand at preparing some for yourself. As a souvenir, you’ll get recipe cards so you can try to prepare these meals once you return home.
Juneau: Mendenhall Glacier in a Traditional Canoe
- Who Offers This Shore Excursion in Juneau? Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent, Royal Caribbean, and Seabourn.
- Find 8 other excursion options in my guide to the best Juneau cruise excursions.
This excursion caught my eye the best Alaska cruise excursions in Juneau because it’s one of the only to have a cultural element to it. (There are other cities/port stops in Alaska that offer better cultural experiences, like Haines and Skagway.)
You’ll board a traditional Tlingit-style canoe and paddle up to the face of Mendenhall glacier; be ready to feel the cold emanating from this massive ice floe! You can try to spot wildlife (bald eagles are big in Juneau!), feel the mist coming off nearby Nugget Falls, and have a snack as part of the excursion.
Ketchikan: Saxman Native Village & Lumberjack Show Combo
- Who Offers This Ketchikan Shore Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Regent, and Royal Caribbean.
- Find 8 other excursion options in my guide to the best Ketchikan cruise excursions.
Like Skagway further up Alaska’s Inside Passage, Ketchikan is one of the major destinations for learning about state history. And 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.
There are several tours that include a visit to Saxman Native Village or the Lumberjack Show along with another activity – but this combo tour that has both is the one I recommend because it packs that one-two punch in a single tour.
Sitka: Italian Hot Glass Experience
- Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Regent
- Find 8 other excursion options in my guide to the best Sitka cruise excursions.
One exciting part of updating this post was that I discovered several brand new excursions that didn’t exist before the pandemic – new companies got creative to offer exciting excursions for cruisers coming through Sitka. (There were, of course, also some companies that are no longer in business or offering excursions I used to recommend.)
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; this excursion allows you to try your hand – literally – at one of those unusual art forms: Venetian Glassblowing. Over the course of this 2.5-hour tour, you’ll learn about glassblowing at Wild Arts Gallery & Studio, then create your own glass cane.
In addition to this excursion scoring well using my little algorithm, it’s the excursion I would have booked in Sitka during my Windstar Cruise last year, if not for the decision to explore Sitka on our own.
Skagway: Ghosts & Goodtime Girls Walking Tour
- Who Offers This Skagway Shore Excursion? Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent, and Royal Caribbean.
- Find 9 other excursion options on my guide to the best Skagway cruise excursions.
As I mentioned, Skagway is a destination for history lovers – so it’s no surprise that a history tour tops the list. But don’t worry, this isn’t some dry lesson taught by a professor who spends his time with his nose in a book.
Join a Skagway madam for an alleyway tour of Skagway’s saucy former tourism industry then tour the city’s brothel museum. Along the way, learn about the women who lived here – and perhaps still haunt the halls of their working establishments. End by enjoying a champagne toast in the Red Onion Saloon, whether you’ve seen a ghost or not!
(While Disney offers this excursion, I would imagine it’s better for older children than younger ones.)
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. 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? Let me know in the comments – and any other questions too or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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!