9 Amazing Activities That Will Make Any Alaska Cruise Epic
9 Amazing Activities That Will Make Any Alaska Cruise Epic
Most cruisers only go on an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise once. So, every day must be special and memorable. That’s where I come in, as from my multiple cruises there, I think I know what you can do to make your Alaska cruise epic!
As some of these activities can be costly, I also have an “How To Explore Alaska’s Cruise Ports On A Budget” blog that will help balance your budget if these are a bit too much.
Epic Alaska Cruise – Juneau
Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It was founded by two prospectors, Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau, who discovered gold there. They triggered a major gold rush and people flooded into what at first was called Harrisburg and eventually became known as Juneau.
About 30,000 people live there, the gold mines closed in 1940 and its main business now is being the administrative capital of Alaska and, of course, tourism.
What epic things should you do in Juneau?
Go to the Dogs
While many people think going to view the Mendenhall Glacier just outside Juneau is incredible, which it is, but going dog sledding on the glacier trumps it.
It is the best trip I have ever done. A helicopter whisked me over Juneau and Juneau Ice Field, before landing on Norris Glacier. There were around 150 racing husky dogs there, which train and spend the summer season here. I then went on a dog sledding adventure. It was an incredible experience.
After the ride, I had time to interact with the dogs before the helicopters returned with the next set of guests and to fly me back to Juneau.
While it was a phenomenal experience, it is very pricey. Around $630 per person.
That’s why on a return visit I instead went for the next best thing, which was a helicopter up onto the Mendenhall Glacier to walk across the surface. This too was memorable and thrilling, and about half the cost.
If those eye-watering sums are a no go, I guarantee you and your family will find visiting the Mendenhall Glacier face and Nugget Falls up close a stunning experience. They’re 12 miles out of town and I explain the best ways to do that in my ‘Alaska on a Budget‘ blog.
Head up the Mountain
Another epic thing to do in Juneau is going up the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway. It’s one of the steepest cable car rides in the world, and at the top of the mountain you’ll see views across the area that you’ll cherish forever up there. I always go when I am in Juneau.
There is another adventure I do every time I go to Alaska, and this one is in Skagway. It is so fantastic, and I will never tire of doing it!
Epic Alaska Cruise – Skagway
Skagway became famous as the gateway to the Klondike in the Yukon, Canada. When gold was discovered there, going via Skagway was the easiest way of reaching the gold fields, even though they were many hundreds of miles away. 30,000 prospectors headed to Skagway using the Chilkoot or the White Pass behind the city to get to the Yukon.
Go on the Rails
The White Pass and Yukon Railway was built to make it easier for prospectors get to the goldfields, and to transport ore and the cargo back. The railway ran from 1900 until 1982.
In the late 1990s, it was resurrected as a tourist attraction, travelling from Skagway up many thousands of feet right up to the White Pass summit. While you can go further into Canada, the best trip, in my view, is the 40-mile return trip to the summit and back.
The views are incredible as the train twists and turns up the mountain, there is live commentary about the route and history, and the train itself is just brilliant.
Whilst the regular carriages are great, on some trips I’ve been on there was a Luxury Parlour Car option. But it cost almost three times the standard carriage price, around $140. It holds 14 people in big comfy seats, and a dedicated guide who serves drinks and food.
If booking as an excursion with your line, the railway usually allocates a train per ship, and you board right next to your ship.
Either before or after the train do spend time exploring the town itself, and it still mostly has the original buildings with many stories. In my budget exploring blog, I have tips on how to get the most when exploring the town.
In the next port, Ketchikan, there is one of the most fun things to do in Alaska.
Epic Alaska Cruise – Ketchikan
Ketchikan started as an indigenous peoples’ fishing camp, and rapidly grew after a salmon cannery was founded in the 1800s. It is the self-declared “Salmon Capital of the World”, although forestry and lumber-jacking were a major industry for a time. Nowadays, tourism is the main activity.
So, what should you do in Ketchikan?
Flight to the Fjords
The most spectacular activity is a floatplane sightseeing flight (via @scottsdaletravelchick) over the Tongass National Forest to The Misty Fjords National Monument, where millennia ago volcanos and ice carved the stunning scenery and, in theory, they claim you have a chance to see eagles, bears, deer, mountain goats, seals, or maybe even whales. But from a plane not really!
These are costly, around $300 for an hour.
First of the is such a laugh. It’s the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show on the site of the old Ketchikan Spruce Mill. Two lumberjack teams, United States and Canada, battle it out in increasingly spectacular and crowd-pleasing wood chopping competitions. It’s done tongue-in-cheek and a really fun activity.
Red Light Past
Not far away is Creek Street. These are original and colourful wooden buildings on stilts built over the Ketchikan Creek. It was Red Light District from the early 1900s right up until 1954.
Each building has a story, and now they are mostly craft and souvenir shops, and one is Dolly’s House Museum, home of one of the infamous Madams there.
Ketchikan is also renowned for the around 80 totem poles in the city and surrounds. My favourite place to see them us at the 11-acre Totem Bight State Historical Park, which was created in the 1930s.
As many indigenous native people were moving into the centres for work, there was concern that some of the heritage and the culture would be lost, particularly the beautiful storytelling totems.
So, they were collected and preserved these. The entrance fee includes a guided tour telling all about the history and story of each pole. It’s not far out of Ketchikan, and you can get there on a trolley bus that has tours of the city or by taxi.
While there are three main ports on most Alaskan Inside Passage cruise, there is one destination that is crucial to making any Alaska experience epic. It is also one that you’re not going to get off the ship when you get there, and this is Glacier Bay.
Epic Alaska Cruise – Glacier Bay
If you’re planning an Alaska Inside Passage cruise, makes sure it is one that will be going into Glacier Bay. Not many do as only two cruise ships per day are allowed in. The three lines that have most access are Holland America and Princess, as they have been going to Alaska longer than other lines, and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Other lines will go to other areas, like Tracy Arm which is great but lacks the scale and range of Glaciers in Glacier Bay.
I have been to Glacier Bay with both Holland America and Princess Cruises. Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve is a magical and important place to see glaciers. It’s 3.2 million acres in size, and you will get to see several impressive tidewater glaciers, including the Reid Glacier, John Hopkins Glacier, and the most impressible of all, the Margerie Glacier.
The cruise spends hours cruising between the different glaciers, and National Park Rangers join the ship to give talks and commentary while in the bay. At Margerie Glacier, the ship will spend time there, with everyone out on deck hoping to see the glacier calving, which it often does in the summer.
In my view, nothing beats Glacier Bay, and you are going to be shortchanged if you are on a cruise that does not go here.
Whale of a Time
Depending on when you are cruising, whale spotting and sightseeing is likely on an Inside Passage cruise. It is a memorable and humbling experience.
On my last Holland America Alaska cruise, I was told that over 500 humpback whales are in Alaska’s Inside Passage for part of the season, with June and July being the key months. As I discovered then, the first sign of a whale near the ship is a plume of steam that springs up from the water.
Orcas that feed on salmon in the Alaska Inside Passage can also be spotted earlier in the season (early May to early June) around Ketchikan and Juneau. I have not seen them, though!
If you really want to see whales, the best ports for boat excursions to find whales are Juneau and Ketchikan, and the lines will usually have options. They start from around $175 per person.
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