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Located on the Pacific coast of the Inside Passage, Sitka is a bit off the main cruise routes through Southeast Alaska. While many companies do offer itineraries with a port stop in Sitka, plenty more itineraries stick to the calm waterways further inland and make other port stops like Juneau, Skagway, and Icy Strait Point. If you’re on this post, you may have stops in those ports of call too – but you also want to know what to do during your time in Sitka, and which Sitka shore excursions are the best. That’s where I’m here to help!
I’ve been fortunate to visit Sitka twice in the past few years, including most recently during my own Alaska Cruise aboard Windstar in June 2022. Sitka has fast become one of my favorite parts of Alaska, and I half-heartedly joke about moving there at some point in the future each time Mr. V and I talk about our visits. Seriously – Sitka is so cool, and one day in port is not nearly enough to experience it all… so again: how do you choose the best Sitka cruise excursion?
In choosing the best Sitka cruise excursions to include in this post I used my Alaska local knowledge of what makes tours unique, chose a sample of the best experiences, considered the price, and ranked them in the order I think most people visiting Sitka will love. I also kept in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions I’ve previously shared. These include uniqueness, cost, time, and cost-to-time ratio. I think you’ll see that this list is full of unique experiences and I hope you take advantage of at least one of them during your Alaska cruise.
If you have an Alaska cruise planned and the itinerary includes a port stop in Sitka, read on for my suggestions about the best Sitka cruise excursions.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Kiks.ádi clan of the Sheet’-ká X’áat’l 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 November 2022 for the 2023 cruise season.
The Best Excursions in Sitka for Your Alaska Cruise
When you step off the ship to explore Sitka, there are a lot of choices for what to do. Whether you want to see wildlife, learn about the city’s history, or burn off a few cruise calories, there are cruise excursions for everyone and every travel style in Sitka.
Given how many cruise companies offer a number of interesting and unique shore excursions in Sitka, it was hard to choose which ones to recommend. But, I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Sitka cruise excursions. Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Sitka 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 2023.
- 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 in Alaska!
Here’s my list of the best Sitka excursions:
|Tour Name||# of Cruises|
|1||Italian Hot Glass Experience||6||New!|
|2||Sea Otters, Raptors & Bears, Oh My!||7||-1|
|3||Ghosts of Sitka||2||+4|
|4||Explore Sitka Cultural Tour||3||+1|
|5||Dry Suit Snorkel||4||-3|
|6||A Food Lover’s Tour/Taste of Sitka||6||+2|
|7||Bike & Hike||7||-3|
|8||Siginaka Islands Cruise & Paddle||8||New!|
|9||Sitka Fishing (Variety)||5||-3|
Having recently visited Sitka and experienced some of these tours myself, I can say that it was really hard to rank them – you can’t go wrong with any of these tours, as long as you choose one that interests you.
1. Italian Hot Glass Experience
Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Regent
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.
2. Sea Otters, Raptors & Bears, Oh My!
Who Offers This Excursion? Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Regent, and Royal Caribbean.
Alaska is a wildlife lover’s dream destination – even when you cruise on a mega-ship with a major cruise company. And Sitka is one of the best wildlife destinations in Southeast Alaska, in part because it’s home to several conservation programs that allow you close experiences with wildlife you’d never see this way otherwise: the Fortress of the Bear, the Alaska Raptor Center, and the Sitka Sound Science Center among them.
This excursion to give you those coveted wildlife experiences is offered by the sister company of Alaskan Dream Cruises, whom I cruised with in September 2021, and 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, best experience, and best chance to see wildlife. Need I say more?
3. Ghosts of Sitka
Who Offers This Excursion? Holland America and Princess.
For a short, fun walking tour of Sitka with a little bit more personality than the standard tour, consider booking this “spooky” option. On a one-hour excursion, you’ll learn about some of Sitka’s darker chapters in history, and the spirits who may still walk the Sitka streets. Along the way, you’ll naturally cover different chapters of Sitka’s history: its role as the traditional lands of the Tlingit people, Russian territorial occupation, and later American ownership.
The one-mile walking tour route includes cobblestones and inclines so you’ll need to have mobility to handle those terrains. Also, this tour happens during the day so the creepiness factor isn’t too high, and anyone 10 years and up can go on this tour.
4. Explore Sitka Cultural Tour
Who Offers This Excursion? Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Viking.
I’ll be honest: I’m a little bit uncertain if the companies I’ve identified as offering this Sitka cruise excursion below are all offering the same tour. Several companies offer cultural tours, but they all seem to sample different destinations and experiences across Sitka.
In any event, this is a great excursion for history and culture vultures. Over the course of the 2.5-hour tour, you’ll learn about Alaska Native Tlingit culture as well as the history of Russian-American culture in Alaska; the tour typically includes a visit to the Sheet’ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi community center, as well as sites of historic importance.
5. Dry Suit Snorkel
Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess.
Most people come to Alaska with no plans to hop in the water there – after all, there’s no coral reef or tropical fish in these waterways. However, snorkeling in Alaska is definitely an unforgettable experience if you’re up for the adventure; it’s on my list for one of these trips…
On this 2.5-hour tour, you’ll slip a thick dry suit on over your street clothes and learn safety tips. Then, you’ll spend 30-60 minutes in the water depending on your group size. Once you’re in the water, keep an eye out for sea stars, sun stars, fish, anemones, crab, urchins, and more – all living in and near a huge kelp forest.
Note: There are age and weight restrictions. Guests must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 85lbs and 240lbs.
6. A Food Lover’s Tour/Taste of Sitka
Who Offers This Excursion? Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent, and Royal Caribbean.
Like the cultural tour mentioned above, many cruise companies offer some sort of food tour; I think they’re all the same though I can’t be sure.
I did take a Taste of Sitka tour myself during my visit in September 2021; I then planned my own food tour of sorts during my June 2022 visit to places I hadn’t yet had a chance to try.
All I can say is: if you love exploring destinations through food, this is the tour for you. From spruce tip donuts to Russian pelmeni to the Alaskan Duck Fart, Sitka has lots of new flavors to try and a food tour is the best way to do so.
7. Bike & Hike
Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess Regent, and Royal Caribbean.
If instead of adding more inches to your waistline, you’d rather burn off a few, this is the excursion to book! On southbound cruises, Sitka is often the first port stop after several days at sea; northbound, it’s the last one before several days at sea. In any event, stretching your legs and getting a good breath of fresh air on land is a great idea.
This is actually one of the more ambitious bike and hike excursions I’ve highlighted in this series: you’ll go on a four-mile ride along Silver Bay, followed by a mile hike on Thimbleberry Trail to see mountains, lakes, and other scenery. Most companies mark this as a ‘strenuous’ tour, and having hiked this trail, I can attest that you do need to be fit to accomplish it.
Note: the picture taken above is on Heart Lake, which is an extension of Thimbleberry Trail. Many tour companies use photos of this lake in their promotion, though I’m not sure the excursion actually takes you all the way there.
8. Siginaka Islands Cruise & Paddle
Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent, Royal Caribbean, and Viking.
Here’s another new excursion that made my list for 2023 which I haven’t seen in years past. I like including kayaking on most of these lists as another active excursion – and also a great way to have a more intimate experience with the waterways of Alaska (and Sitka is definitely a coastal community so it fits well for this port).
This excursion starts with a boat transfer from Sitka to the nearby Siginaka Islands; this cluster of islands is located north of town so you’ll enjoy views of Sitka’s waterfront and coast along the way. Then you’ll board kayaks for 90 minutes of paddling; keep your eyes peeled for sealife like otters and sea stars, as well as birds – Sitka is known for its huge eagle population.
9. Sitka Fishing (Variety)
Who Offers This Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
Last but not least, many people – or their spouses – want to fish while visiting Alaska, and Sitka’s a great destination to do so. There are a number of different fishing excursions out of Sitka; typically the cruise companies offer 1-2 if they offer any at all.
Most were fly fishing experiences, where you’ll be transferred from Sitka to a waterway where the fish are running; there are also a few salmon fishing excursions if you happen to visit during the time of year when the salmon are running and want to say you’ve caught an Alaskan salmon.
There you have it – my take on the best Alaska cruise excursions in Sitka. Have other questions about visiting Sitka, taking an Alaska cruise, or choosing Alaska cruise excursions? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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