Alaska for many is a once in a lifetime destination, so it’s important to make it count! And key in that is choosing the right shore excursions while cruising Alaska. Insider tips for the Inside Passage are worth their weight in GOLD. Our family mined these Alaska excursions recommendations just for you of the most outstanding, rave-worthy excursions from Skagway to Juneau to Ketchikan.
Alaska Excursions Worth the Adventure
Mention Alaska as a travel destination and people swoon. For good reason. Alaska’s natural beauty, diverse ecosystems, and unique finds like glaciers and Northern Lights make it a bucket list worthy spot. One of the most convenient ways to tour Alaska is via cruise ship, and for many cruise lines, these sailings are their bread and butter. What sets an Alaskan cruise apart really are all the fun adventures available OFF the ship. Here are our recommendations for Alaska excursions worth the adventure.
Choosing the right excursions is even more important on an Alaskan Cruise.
For many, it will be that once in a lifetime experience, and so maximizing all that Alaska has to offer is essential. To that end, we’ve come up with our family favorites of the excursions typically available on Alaskan itineraries. My family sailed on the Disney Wonder, and in Disney parlance, the excursions are called “port adventures.” While my family only did one experience per port, we’ve also included in our recommendations those excursions that have the most buzz, best reviews, and seemed the most tempting to us.
1. Endicott Arm
While we didn’t choose an excursion for this day and opted to stay on the ship, the Glacier Explorer excursion takes cruisers via catamaran for a much closer view of the glacier. Because of ice, our cruise took Endicott Arm and viewed Dawes Glacier instead of the scheduled Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glaciers. Our naturalist assured us that it really did not matter which fjord we took as both are jaw-dropping. He was so right!
First prize: Glacier Lake Kayak and White Pass and Yukon Route Railway Adventure.
Out of all the Alaska cruise excursions, this turned out to be my favorite day of all. And why wouldn’t it be since it was 78 degrees and sunny?! What a fortunate fluke. It made all the difference in our views and being on the water in kayaks.
There’s nothing quite like an Alaskan excursion that takes your family to Fraser, British Columbia to kayak, followed by a scenic train ride built during the gold rush in 1898. I’m still in awe of how they managed to get their supplies up there to build! The White Pass and Yukon Route are consistently ranked as one of the best excursions in Skagway, which is why we selected it as opposed to choosing dog sledding in Skagway.
Kayaking is one of our favorite activities, so it was a no-brainer that a tour combining kayaks and the famous scenic railroad would leap out at me when planning our Alaska excursions. We actually didn’t get in it at first, and I asked when we were onboard to see if any openings were available. As luck would have it, they made a space for our family of 4. So ALWAYS ask onboard!
Honorable Mentions – Skagway Alaskan shore excursions
Musher’s Camp and Sled Dog Experience. This is the perfect pairing for those who want a sledding experience on land and interaction with dogs and puppies.
Another goldmine is the Gold Panning, Sled Dogs and Scenic Railway. Add gold panning to the previously mentioned sled dogs and scenic railway for a trio of quintessential Alaskan experiences.
TravelingMom Tip: While some of the titles of these excursions may be specific to the cruise line or company organizing, I included them to give a sense of their locations and what they include.
First prize: Dogsledding on the Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter.
This is the sad part of our cruise as we were unable to do our planned excursion because of weather. Cloud cover made helicopter travel that day impossible. Although very disappointed, we quickly rallied when we considered we had no choice but to get over it. After all, we could still go do something. Not to mention we saved a ton of money because this excursion is expensive at $ 700 per person! But the rave reviews about it still pour in, so it was our top choice for Juneau. In fact, dogsledding is definitely worth the splurge!
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Nevertheless, I would have given my right arm to be able to do this excursion for the mushing adventure and getting to see these dogs up close. My son had talked of little else since he found out about our cruise, his obsession with Huskies at an all-time high. As fate would have it, he was also the one who seemed to accept the fact we couldn’t go and moved right along. This mama needed to take notes because I wasn’t nearly so gracious!
So be flexible and ready to disembark the ship and try something else. There’s something to be said about having an early morning excursion for dogsledding in that if it gets canceled, you have time to grab a new one. We went into Juneau and there were kiosks everywhere.
While we found out around 11 AM that our Alaska excursions were a no-go, we would have been in even better shape to find a Plan B if our dogsledding had been set for earlier than 12:30.
Our second place backup plan in Juneau
Instead of walking ON the Mendenhall Glacier, we took a bus to view the Mendenhall Glacier at the Tongass National Forest. Be sure to walk the Nugget Falls Trail to get a close-up view of the glacier and Nugget Falls.
TravelingMom Tip: One reason why my default is to book shore excursions through the cruise line instead of independent operators is the cruise line will guarantee a timely return to the ship — or if that becomes impossible, THEY get you to your next port instead of it being your problem. Otherwise, the cruise line can say “not my monkeys, not my circus.” Nobody wants to hear THAT!
Honorable Mentions in Juneau
Check out the Enchanted Taku Glacier Lodge Flight and 5-Glacier Seaplane Discovery. One of the best combo tours around, which flies via floatplane above the Taku glacier to the Taku Lodge. This historic lodge, built in 1923, faces the Hole-In-The-Wall Glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers in Alaska. And this also includes an Alaskan king salmon feast.
Additional Options Alaska Excursions in Juneau
Pretty much any of the whale watching tours. Juneau is a popular feeding area for humpback whales. The holy grail: catching one “lunge feeding” or “breaching.” Other popular sightings on this tour include orca whales, harbor seals, sea lions, and bald eagles.
First prize: Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour.
Paging Deadliest Catch fans! Remember the popular show chronicling the Alaskan King crab season? Well, one of these boats, the Aleutian Ballad has been retrofitted and found new sea legs as a tour boat in Ketchikan.
During our Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s tour, learned about crabbing, what they catch, and what it takes to live this lifestyle. This also turned into a pseudo-nature cruise as we saw a convocation of eagles (imagine hundreds of them) and even spied some humpback whales on our journey.
TravelingMom Tip: Do not miss the naturalist presentations on your cruise. They were both a primer for what we might see and got us excited about what was potentially out there! Of course, with nature, nothing can be guaranteed but it helps to know what to look for.
Honorable Mentions in Ketchikan
Try the Amazing Misty Fjords Floatplane for aerial views of majestic fjords, cascading waterfalls, jewel-like lakes and abundant wildlife. The highlight is landing in a remote lake or bay when you can step onto the floats! Some cruising friends were raving about this excursion that I almost regretted not trying it. Almost!
Or another alternative is the Neets Bay Bear Watch by Floatplane (available mid-July-September) which travels over Tongass National Forest en route to one of the finest black bear viewing locations in Alaska. For those whose goal is to see bears on vacation, this is the tour to pick!
Hungry for more Alaska cruise adventures? Then check out more tips on cruising to Alaska.