So, you’ve decided to plan the best Alaska cruise for your family. But you have limited time to explore all of the many adventures that Alaska has to offer. Which Alaska cruise excursions are worth your time and money?
The sheer abundance of options can be overwhelming. To help you focus your planning, we’ve come up with a list of some of the best Alaska cruise excursions for families.
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Planning Tips For Alaska Cruise Excursions
Some key Alaska cruise excursion tips:
- Many of these can be found in several different ports. So if you don’t see something that fits the bill in one port as you’re planning, be sure to check out the same or similar activities for other ports.
- None of these activities are truly exclusive to any particular cruise line. The whales you’ll see on a whale watching excursion are the same whales you would see whether you booked the cruise excursion directly through the cruise line or through an independent operator. And, many of the cruise lines and touring companies use the exact same local operators. So, consider planning Alaska shore excursions on your own.
- By and large, Alaska cruise excursions tend to be on the more expensive side compared to other itineraries (for good reason). If you are trying to plan Alaska cruise excursions on a budget, be sure to do some comparison shopping. Both across ports and across excursion sponsors.
- The daylight hours during the Alaska summer time are quite long, and the cruise port times often take advantage of that. In June, for instance, you will often encounter more than 17 hours of daylight. And, outdoor activities can run well past 8:00 p.m. As a result, you may have the opportunity to plan multiple excursions or activities for a single port. Just pay close attention to the scheduled departure times as you’re doing your planning.
- Don’t forget to consider what activities you’ll be doing when deciding what to pack for your Alaska cruise.
Whether you’re sailing the Inside Passage (roundtrip from either seattle or Vancouver), or sailing across the Gulf of Alaska, your cruise ship will most likely stop in Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau (and sometimes Sitka or Icy Point). All of the Alaska cruise excursions discussed below can be found in at least one of these ports.
10 “Don’t Miss Out” Alaska Cruise Excursions For Your Family
1. DOG SLEDDING
Authentic Alaska dog sledding really can’t be replicated anywhere else. And, many people find a dog sledding excursion to be the highlight of their cruise.
Dog sledding excursions essentially have two types. A sledding experience over dry land in a location that’s accessible from the cruise port by motor vehicle. Or, a sledding experience that involves an abundance of snow and ice and requires taking a helicopter ride to a glacier. (Guess which one is more expensive?)
Either version of this Alaska cruise excursion will involve an opportunity to interact with the dogs, talk to the mushers, and ride on a vehicle pulled by a happy team of dogs. And, you will also have many photo opportunities with you and some cute puppies.
Snowless Dog Sledding
The “mushers’ camp” style experience involves a kennel tour and a wheeled sled ride pulled through the forest by sled dogs.
Although most people probably envision the ice and snow covered tundra when they picture a dog sledding experience, rest assured that a snowless dog sled ride nonetheless provides an authentic experience.
Mushers spend a substantial amount of time training their dogs in the fall without snow using ATVs and carts.
Glacier Dog Sledding
If you really want the snow and ice experience, you will need to take a helicopter ride to a nearby glacier. The helicopter version becomes substantially more expensive, but it does include a helicopter view of glaciers itself which has its own benefits
Some Dog Sledding Math
The difference between the forest-based dog sledding and the glacier-based dog sledding will run several hundred dollars per person no matter where you book it. For instance, for the snowless version, Carnival has an excursion for $149.99, Princess has one for $159, and Disney has one for $183. Viator has versions at $89 and $133.
By comparison, if you book the helicopter version, you’ll find one for $549 on Carnival, $599.95 on Princess, and $739 on Disney. Viator offers options starting at $539.
2. BEARS (and other land based wildlife)
Alaska may be one of the best places in the United States to see a wide range of wildlife in its natural habit. And, summer season is the peak season to do it. This particularly holds true for bears.
Alaska provides a home to all three species of North American bears — black bears, brown bears (aka grizzlies), and polar bears. While polar bears live on the arctic coasts and won’t be visible during a typical inner passage cruise, you can find many opportunities to encounter the other two species.
Every port along your cruise will provide wildlife viewing excursions that includes bear viewing tours. But, you’ll find the best opportunities to see bears without having to board a float plane when you’re visiting Juneau. Choose one of the cruise excursions that includes meaningful time at the Mendenhall Glacier.
To increase your opportunities to see bears, you can book an excursion in Ketchikan, Skagway, and elsewhere that includes a short plane ride to well known bear viewing spots. This “Alaska Bear Adventure” offered by Carnival ($399) during Ketchikan visits offers a good example. Disney offers a similar adventure for $479.
3. WHALE WATCHING (& other marine wildlife)
Several species of whales routinely migrate through the Alaska coastal waters. The most frequently spotted are humpback whales and orcas. And, fortunately, the best time to view these migrating creatures in Alaska is between May and early September – a period that coincides with the Alaska cruise season. Indeed, the chances of seeing a whale on a whale watching tour are so high that many tour operators will offer a money back guarantee.
You will find a variety of cruise excursions that include a whale watching component. Such excursions largely fall in the $175 to $250 range. Although you can also find some luxury yacht-based tours that run more than $400.
Some representative samples:
- Disney/Juneau/ Alaska Whales and Science Adventure = $229
- Disney/ Juneau/ Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest = $172
- NCL/Juneau/ Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest = $184
- NCL/Juneau/ Whale Quest and Orca Point Lodge = $249
- Carnival/Juneau/ Whale Quest and Orca Point Lodge = $179.99
- Carnival/Juneau/ Discover Alaska’s Whales = $194.99
You’ll find many options for whale watching tours during your stop in Juneau. And, if your ship visits Seward or Icy Strait, you’ll find great options there as well.
4. BALD EAGLES (and other avian wildlife)
The majestic bald eagle is one of the most well known symbols of America. It’s part of the official seal, and you’ll find some version of it on most of the currency in your wallet. And, you can also find them in Alaska, home to more than half of North America’s bald eagle population.
Or, similarly, you can find excursions that incorporate the Eagle Preserve into a broader wildlife viewing experience like this Haines Wildlife Wilderness River Adventure from Carnival (at $199.99).
5. TOTEM POLES
Shifting from wildlife experiences, one of the more notable cultural experiences in Alaska comes from Native American art, particularly Native American totem poles. And Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of totem poles. You can also find totem poles in Sitka.
If you’re visiting Ketchikan, you can actually arrange to see some totem poles for free at the Totem Bight State Historical Park.
Or, you can plan for a more robust exposure to Alaska’s Native American culture by booking a cruise excursion to the Saxman Native Village. In addition to touring the village’s 24 totem poles, you’ll likely see an exhibition featuring traditional Native American dance. Wood carvers will also be on hand to show off their skills.
Alaska cruise excursions to the Saxman Native Village are often combined with other sites in Ketchikan. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Alaska’s First City Highlights and Lumberjack Show ($59) combines a tour to the Saxman Village with a visit to the Lumberjack Show (see below).
6. HISTORIC TRAIN RIDE
Don’t miss the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad excursion out of Skagway. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this international landmark provides a scenic trip by vintage railcar steaming along a narrow-gauge railway through an array of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls.
The train will take you up more than 2,000 feet into the high mountain passes. You’ll see stunning views and learn about the route the gold miners took as they made their way to the gold fields of the Yukon.
7. FAMOUS LOCAL CUISINE
No list of recommended Alaska cruise excursions would be complete without some reference to the fabulous local cuisine. When you are in Alaska you should make a point of partaking of a salmon bake and a point of feasting on Alaska King Crab.
A wide range of cruise excursions will feature some type of culinary component. Some version of Adventure + Salmon Bake or Jaw-dropping beauty + crab feast. But, no formal cruise excursion is required. You can find many gems within walking distance of almost any port.
Two of the best known Alaska foods are King Crab and wild salmon. And, probably the most recommended place to get crab is in Juneau at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. As for salmon, try . . . anywhere. Alaska plays host to five different species of salmon. The most well-known being sockeye salmon.
Other noteworthy seafoods to try during your journey include dungeness crab, halibut, cod, rockfish, snow crab, shrimp, scallops and clams. The last frontier is truly a seafood lover’s paradise.
You should also make a point of trying some wild berries. But NOT anything you’ve picked yourself (berries you find along a trail could be poisonous). Alaska fields a wide variety of berries: blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more. You will find wild berries offered in a variety of forms – everything from jams to cobblers. And, of course, just plain fresh.
For the truly adventurous, you can also sample some reindeer sausage, yak burgers, and many other game-based foods.
Some Fun Examples:
For maximizing your time, you can look to combine your culinary wish list with one of your Alaska cruise excursions, such as combining a Mendenhall Glacier visit, kaying and salmon bake. Or, perhaps try a Whale Watching, Mendenhall Glacier, and Tracy’s King Crab Shack Combo Tour. Some other examples:
Royal Caribbean’s Wilderness Exploration and Crab Feast – $149
Disney Historical City Tour and Salmon Bake – $94
If your budget can afford it, book an excursion that involves a floatplane or a helicopter ride. This offers a unique perspective to view glaciers and more of the dramatic expanse of Alaska’s beautiful scenery, like the Misty Fjords.
Many different types of Alaska cruise excursions offer the opportunity to get an aerial view of the territory. Special majestic views of Alaska’s mountains, valleys, fjords and glaciers that can’t be captured from the road or a boat.
You can incorporate aerial transportation into a wildlife spotting tour where you can survey a broader expanse of land and increase your opportunities to see bears, whales and other wildlife. A floatplane tour can fly you over multiple glaciers and other scenery. Likewise, a helicopter tour can take you to more remote areas of Alaska where you can literally get off the beaten path.
For example: Royal Caribbean Misty Fjords Boat and Floatplane Wilderness Adventure – $399
9. SEARCH FOR GOLD
Alaska’s history contains stories of thousands of people venturing to Alaska to seek their fortune in gold. Although the most well known stories revolve around the Klondike gold rush of 1896, Alaska’s gold rush history runs more broadly. Gold has been found throughout the state both before and after the Yukon strike. In fact, a significant gold nugget weighing 24.5 pounds was most recently found in 1998.
While you’re visiting, you can take an opportunity to do some prospecting of your own. You’ll find numerous Alaska cruise excursions that revolve around some facet of gold seeking. Whether it’s venturing into a gold mine, dredging for gold, or panning for gold, this can be a fun activity for the whole family. Most excursions will combine gold seeking with other historical, cultural or culinary activities.
Carnival Juneau Gold Mine Tour – $79.99
Norwegian Gold Panning, Sled Dogs & Scenic Railway – $249
10. CATCH SOME UNIQUE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT
You will have several opportunities to experience live Alaska-themed entertainment (sometimes a wee bit corny). Try to see at least one of them. Some noteworthy examples:
The Days of 98 Show (Skagway)
This vaudeville style musical comedy originates from 1923 and tells the tale of Alaskan historical figure Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, a businessman/outlaw/conman who reigned over Skagway during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. The show features original music as well as turn-of-the-century tunes. It also has can-can dancers and audience participation.
Ghost & Good Time Girls Walking Tour (Skagway)
This gem consistently receives rave reviews from a wide range of travelers. Note, that it’s not for young children. The venue itself advertises a minimum age of 14. Most cruise lines seem to set a minimum age of 16. Disney has a minimum age of 18.
On this excursion, you’ll take a guided walking tour through Skagway’s historic district led by an informative and entertaining “madam” decked out in full period costume. Tour ends at the Red Onion Saloon where there’s an eclectic brothel museum. Outing includes a souvenir garter and a champagne toast. Tour guides are entertaining, educational and funny (with some adult humour).
You can book the tour directly for $45. The Saloon also offers an in-house only version of the tour (no walking) that’s $10 for 20 minutes.
Interestingly, the different cruise lines also seem to have a varied range of prices for the same 2 hour walking tour. At the time of this writing: Royal Caribbean was $49; Disney was $50; Carnival was $59.99; and Norwegian was $69.
Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show (Ketchikan)
Did you know that lumberjacking is a sport? It is. And, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show features real live ESPN lumberjack athletes! Although there are formal lumberjacking competitions and tournaments, this particular show is a peformance piece that’s put on several times a day during the tourist season.
The show, which channels Alaska’s logging history, features competitive displays of strength and agility involving spiked boots, seven-pound axes flying through the air, chainsaws, men running on spinning logs floating in water and more. Also, there’s comedy, drama, action and suspense. Something for everybody.
HONORABLE MENTION: SNORKELING
Although you may associate snorkeling with a warm weather Caribbean cruise, you can also snorkel in Alaska. But, you’ll need a full body wetsuit to do it. You can find this adventure at Mountain Point Snorkeling in Ketchikan.
Once you don your wetsuit, hood and boots, you’ll discover a dazzling world of Alaska’s diverse and colorful underwater marine life. All equipment provided. This Ketchikan excursion can be booked through the cruise line or the facility. Check out the website for photos of what you might see. Participants must weigh between 80 and 260 pounds to insure proper wetsuit fit.
So, to sum everything up:
Alaska Excursions Juneau: If you are visiting Juneau, your best options are dog sledding, local cuisine at Tracy’s King Crab Shack, whale watching (with guaranteed sighting) and wildlife viewing at the Mendenhall Glacier.
Alaska Excursions Ketchikan: In Ketchikan, the top family choices are the Lumberjack Show, totem poles at Saxman Native Village, or take a seaplane ride over Misty Fjords or the Tsongas National Forest. For a twist, also consider a snorkeling adventure.
Alaska Excursions Skagway: And, when you sail to Skagway, don’t miss dog sledding (if you didn’t catch it in Juneau), a live show such as The Days of 98, ride the historic train along the White Pass and Yukon trail, visit Bald Eagles at Haines.
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