The Best Shore Excursions For Alaska Cruises

Published: February 10, 2020

As exciting, comfortable and special as it is to be aboard an Alaska cruise traveling along Alaska’s amazing coastlines, a cruise is often just the beginning of an unforgettable Alaska adventure. It’s true, Alaska’s scenery – with its glaciers, mountains and wildlife — will keep you constantly breathless as you gaze shore-side. But every Alaska port town you visit also offers unique experiences for those who wish to step off the ship, whether for a few hours, a full day, multiple days, or for the balance of their Alaska trip. And as more cruise ships visit more Alaska port towns more often each year, these shore excursions keep expanding in scope and variety.

Great day on the water in Prince William Sound.

Here are the best Alaska shore excursions that cruise passengers should consider when planning an Alaska cruise:

Take a Closer Look at Wildlife, Glaciers, Icebergs and Marine Life 

Many Alaska port towns are hubs for awesome activities out on the open water. Sport fishing and fly fishing are prime-time attractions, and many tour operators and fishing guides offer full- and half-day fishing trips that chase slamming salmon, hefty halibut and more.

If you didn’t get enough wildlife sightings along your cruise route, or simply can’t get enough of the jaw-dropping excitement of seeing Alaska’s animals “up close and personal”, there are lots of wildlife-viewing tours. Day cruises transport visitors to habitats where otters and whales, orcas and seals live and thrive, as well as migrating and seacoast birds. You might even see bears lumbering along the shoreline in search of a meal or Dall sheep dotting the hillsides.

UnCruise whale watching excursion by kayak.

Excellent opportunities for glacier viewing and hiking are also very, very nice near port towns like Whittier, Seward and Valdez, where glaciers carve across the landscape and even shoot up from the shoreline. Experienced operators share history, geology and glacier trivia with travelers, connecting them with massive icy icons in areas like Glacier Bay National Park and glacier-filled Prince William Sound. Some shore excursions will get you close enough to them to even feel a chill or hear the thundering crack of calving glacier ice.

And maybe you want to be the captain of your own ship while still seeing all Alaska has to offer? You can also connect with a kayaking outfit and paddle your way through a day of on-the-water fun that can include wildlife viewing, paddling up to glaciers and exploring quiet coves, as well as pulling your kayak on to sweet beaches where you can have the best lunch views – ever.

All Aboard the Alaska Railroad! 

Cruises are great and all, but another great way to see Alaska is by train. You can hop off your cruise ship in Whittier or Seward and climb right into an Alaska Railroad passenger car destined for some of Alaska’s finest locales. One of these one-of-a-kind train experiences begins as far south as Seward, carries passengers to Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage, and on to Alaska’s biggest natural attraction, Denali National Park and its namesake peak. The Alaska Railroad’s northern terminus is Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City of the Interior. No matter what your selected route, there are countless and breathtaking natural sights all along the way as historic Alaska Railroad speeds along its transcendent tracks.

Alaska History & Sightseeing 

Every Alaska port town has its own distinct origin and stories showcasing Alaska’s lore and evolution as America’s 49th state. Most also have a museum or two, as well as numerous historic landmarks, cultural sites and visitors’ centers, well worth stopping by to get a more in-depth knowledge of each place’s history and unique contributions to the state of Alaska. The world-class Alaska State Museum in the state’s capitol, Juneau, is a captivating display of Alaska’s culture and history and a must-see for any Alaska-curious traveler. Meanwhile, you can also strike it rich educating yourself about Alaska’s most exciting era – the Gold Rush – just about everywhere: in Skagway’s Gold Rush Museum; in Nome at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum; and at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. And to learn about Alaska’s marinelife, nothing is more impressive or interactive than a visit to the residents of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. Up-close viewing of beautiful birds, curious seals, diving sea lions, colorful sea stars and dozens of other sea beings will charm all Alaska visitors.

Immerse Yourself in Native Culture 

To truly appreciate Alaska’s history, you need to understand the legacy of its indigenous first people. There are numerous and rich opportunities along Alaska cruise routes to meet Alaska Native people and learn about each tribe’s and region’s lifestyles and traditions. Practically every port town and their nearby communities have cultural centers where the past and present of Alaska Native life are on display. Ketchikan is an extra-special stop as the Totem Heritage Center, Saxman Totem Park and Totem Bight Park are home to hundreds of colorful and powerful totem poles. Other impressive cultural stops in Alaska include the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, and the Inupiat Heritage Center in Utiagvik/Barrow for those lucky or bold enough to cruise along that rare northern route.

Ketchikan Totem Poles and Clan House

Dive into Outdoor Adventure 

Beyond sport fishing and kayaking, there are many other ways cruise passengers can experience Alaska-centric outdoor exhilaration! One fun way is zip-lining through the dense rainforests of Juneau and Ketchikan. For the less adrenalin focused, you can take a peaceful stroll (or a leg-burning hike) on countless hiking trails used by many Alaskans everyday located in every port town. And often, paddle boarding, snorkeling and scuba diving are also on the menu for Alaska shore excursions as recreational options!

Kenai Fjords Day Cruise

Savor Alaska’s Many Flavors 

There’s so much to do in Alaska, and an Alaska cruise offers travelers chances to explore many ports, each overflowing with their own personality. But sometimes the best Alaska experiences are found by simply staying in one spot, and enjoying its amenities, local hospitality and delicious flavors. Luxurious lodges, cozy cabins and historic hotels are in or nearby most cruise ports in Alaska, ready to wow their guests with Alaska’s finest accommodations and regional cuisine. Wherever you choose to stay on your Alaska cruise excursion, you can expect authentically Alaska comfort and a tradition of welcoming hospitality from your hosts. That means excellent “must eat” Alaska cuisine crafted by talented chefs; fresh seafood (salmon, crab, halibut, oysters and more), garden vegetables and regional berries; and all of it washed down with glasses of the state’s many craft brews or perhaps a fine wine. Who knows? You might not even want to check back in to your Alaska cruise ship when the date arrives!

Alaska King Crab for a special occasion.