It’s been a crazy few years for Alaska cruises, even for destinations that aren’t in Alaska. Seattle is one of the main southern terminals for Alaska cruises – which mean that when cruises stopped in 2020, a huge portion of Seattle’s summer tourist sector disappeared overnight.
In 2021, cruises resumed thanks to a special act of Congress, and Seattle became the only southern terminal for Alaska cruises. This meant that any company operating ships in Alaska ran from Seattle, and encouraged many companies that didn’t offer Seattle shore excursions before to start adding them for their guests.
This is actually a great benefit if you’re planning an Alaska cruise in 2022 that starts or ends in Seattle, because it means you have more pre/post tours to choose from than you did before. And I’m a fan of any reason for people to get out and explore one of my favorite cities, and one I called home for four years.
In this post, I’ll share what I consider to be the best cruise excursions in Seattle. These are based on a bit of my own local knowlege (“Uniqueness”) as well as the value of the tour and its general popularity. Read on to discover the best shore excursions in Seattle to book before or after your Alaska cruise.
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Coast Salish, Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Stillaguamish, and Suquamish peoples. 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 January 2020, and was updated in December 2021 for the 2022 cruise season.
The Best Alaska Cruise Excursions in Seattle
In trying to choose the best Alaska cruise excursions in Seattle, there were some I didn’t include. These were ones I thought might not be the most cost-effective or time-effective ways to see what the Emerald City has to offer.
I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Seattle cruise excursions. Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Seattle shore excursions and chose the ones I think are worth doing (the V factor 😂)
- I looked at the number of cruise companies offering that excursion in 2022.
- I force ranked the excursions by uniqueness. (That means each excursion gets its own number, no ties)
- I gave each excursion a boost or deduction for being a good value based on the “Money-to-Time” Math.
- Finally, I added up the metrics to come up with a final score.
- To break ties, I used top Uniqueness score, since I want to encourage you to try new things on your Alaska cruise!
Here’s my list of the best Seattle excursions:
|Tour Name||# of Cruises |
|1||Seattle Underground Tour||5||7||1||13|
|2||Space Needle/Chihuly Garden & Glass Combo||6||4||1||11|
|3||The “Grand City Tour” by Land & Sea||4||5||1||10|
|4||Emerald City Highlights and Tillicum Village Excursion||2||6||1||9|
|5||Future of Flight & Boeing Factory Tour||6||2||1||9|
|6||Woodinville Wine Tasting||6||1||1||8|
|7||Small Bites On The Bay – Pike Place Tasting Tour||2||3||1||6|
Read on to discover more about each of these Seattle shore excursions, which cruise lines offer them, and what makes them worth doing during your day before or after your Alaska cruise.
1. Seattle Underground Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, and Princess all offer this Alaska cruise excursion in Seattle. You can also book it independently on the Seattle Underground Tour website and use public transit (or your own two feet) to reach Pioneer Square for the tour.
Curious about the history of Seattle? There’s no tour that teaches it to you in such an… interesting way as the Seattle Underground Tour. It’s by far the most unusual tour in town and still one of the most popular.
On a three-hour tour, you’ll descend beneath the streets of Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. There you’ll learn about Seattle’s first urban core, the fire that destroyed it, how Seattle was rebuilt, and the characters that called this city home when it all was going on.
This is a excellent tour for families, as the guides offer a more kid-friendly version. There’s also an adult version too if it works for your schedule. I list the Underground Tour on my Seattle Bucket List too, so you know this is a good one!
2. Space Needle/Chihuly Garden & Glass Combo
Who Offers This Excursion? Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Royal Caribbean all offer this Alaska cruise excursion in Seattle. It’s also easy to visit these two sights on your own; you can snag a Seattle CityPass which offers discounts on these two experiences plus others.
If you have less time or just want a shorter excursion that still lets you see some of Seattle’s top sights, the Space Needle/Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum combo tour is a good choice. As it includes two of the city’s most popular attractions and maybe even have time to explore the Seattle Center a bit too during the 2.5-3 hour tour.
As you already know, I absolutely love the renovated Space Needle with all of the glass walls and rotating glass floor. Like with the ‘Grand City Tour’ above – and especially if you’re not doing that one –, this tour is a must-do on your first trip to Seattle – or if you’ve not been up the Space Needle since it re-opened in 2018.
3. The “Grand City Tour” by Land & Sea
If your Alaska cruise includes your first trip to Seattle, the “Grand City Tour” is a great add-on excursion before or after your time on the ship. Not all of the cruise companies call it by this name; some just mention the sights you’ll see or call it something like “The Best of Seattle.”
Which sights make the cut? On the 4-6 hour tour, you’ll visit and see:
- Seattle Center
- The Space Needle
- Pike Place Market
- Pioneer Square
- The International District
The itineraries might vary a little from company to company. But they almost all include all of these sights as well as a short cruise along the Seattle Waterfront and into Lake Union. They also offer variations whether you need a transfer to the airport, your ship, or your hotel – and accessible options.
I assume that this is the most popular Alaska cruise excursion in Seattle – and for good reason. Many of these made my list of Seattle bucket list experiences, so this tour is a great option to tick a few of those off!
4. Emerald City Highlights & Tillicum Village Excursion
As you know if you’ve reviewed any of my other Alaska cruise port guides, I recommend booking at least one Native Alaskan/American excursion on your cruise to educate yourself about the people who lived here long before big boats cames sailing through.
There’s even an option in Seattle to begin/end your cruise with this essential experience, thanks to the excursion offered by Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Over the course of the 6.5-hour tour, you’ll see some of Seattle’s top sights, make a stop at Pike Place Market, and board a boat to Blake Island where you’ll visit the Tillicum Village and enjoy dinner there. This tourist attraction isn’t strictly traditional, but gives you a chance to experience the cultures of the Pacific Northwest Native peoples.
5. Future of Flight & Boeing Factory Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Royal Caribbean all offer this Alaska cruise excursion in Seattle. While it’s possible to do this tour on your own, you’ll need a rental car or to pay for a taxi/rideshare to get to and from the Future of Flight Museum and Boeing Factory – it’s just easier to book it through the cruise company!
Would you believe that despite my space nerdery, I have actually never done the Future of Flight and Boeing Factory tour? This is a great tour for families, aviation history buffs, and aerospace geeks like me.
On this 4.5-hour tour, you’ll explore all things planes and other flying contraptions. While the Boeing Factory Tour focuses more on industry and assembly, the Future of Flight has interactive exhibits all about historic and future technology, and innovation in the aviation industry.
6. Woodinville Wine Tasting
Who Offers This Excursion? Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Royal Caribbean all offer this Alaska cruise excursion in Seattle. Like the Future of Flight/Boeing Factory excursion, this one’s way easier to do as part of the cruise company tour than on your own.
If you love wine and have the time before or after your Alaska cruise – you’ll need basically a whole day before or after embarkation – the Woodinville Wine Tasting tours that several cruise companies offer are a great option to escape the city and taste local flavors.
This tour ranks lower on the list than others because it’s not as great for those who are making their first trip to Seattle as part of their Alaska cruise – or who haven’t visited Seattle in 10 years or more since the city has substantially changed.
If you have visited Seattle recently and want to try something new, this wine tasting tour is a great option. You’ll visit two wine estates (Woodhouse Wine Estates and Chateau Ste Michelle), tour them both and try their wines. As Washington continues to gain prominence in the global wine industry, oenophiles will want to take this tour for sure! (Isn’t oenophiles just the greatest word?)
7. Small Bites On The Bay – Pike Place Tasting Tour
As you may have guessed, Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s best attractions, and a great spot to grab a bite or try a few new flavors. This particular tour is a three-hour guided tour of the Market, including stops at nine different vendors to taste and samples their wares.
While I love this particular cruise excursion, it ends up at the end of my list only because of how few companies offer it – just two. That said, if you love food and are cruising with Holland or Princess, this is a great option!
Bonus! One Non-Cruise Excursion Worth Booking
If you have the budget, haven’t yet booked a flightseeing excursion on the rest of your Alaska cruise, or you just love to see the world from above, you should definitely consider booking a flight with Kenmore Air. I had the chance to do their Seattle Scenic Seaplane tour back in 2016 and it was the first time I had seen Seattle that way – despite having lived there for three years at that point!
Flightseeing tours are surprisingly affordable, starting at $99 per person, but you’ll need to arrange your own transport to/from the experience. Luckily, Kenmore takes off from Lake Union which is centrally located and an easy taxi or rideshare ride.
Doing Seattle On Your Own
If you want to break free from the crowds, no worries – I’ve got you covered. I recently wrote a post about two different ways to spend one day in Seattle – and one of them is for Alaska cruisers.
Briefly, here’s the itinerary I recommend if you’re coming off a cruise ship or planning to board one on the same day:
- 10am – Breakfast at Pike Place Market
- 11am – Coffee at the Original Starbucks
- 12pm – Ride the Monorail
- 12:30pm – Ascend the Space Needle
- 1:30pm – Grab Lunch at the Seattle Center
- 2pm – Catch a Ride to Your Ship/Head to the Airport
There you have it – my take on the best Alaska cruise excursions in Seattle. Have other questions about choosing Alaska cruise excursions in Seattle? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!
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