Excursions come in all shapes and sizes. Some cruise lines include all excursions in the cost of your cruise passage, allowing you to choose the ones that suit your desires. Others include no excursions, which helps keep the initial cost of the cruise low, but you may find your onboard charging slipping higher than you expected. Still other cruise lines offer a hybrid option, where the basic tours are included and there is an upcharge for the higher-priced options.
Coastal Exploration By Zodiac
The Coastal Exploration by Zodiac excursion has you cruising along the coastlines of Port Frederick and Icy Strait, where you can search for humpback whales, sea lions, seals, eagles, and brown bears. This 2.5-hour outdoor adventure is listed as moderate in terms of activity level.
Each passenger over 25 years old will have an opportunity to drive the Zodiac. Your guide will choose an Icy Strait tour route based on the weather, and you will follow behind. The Zodiac holds a maximum of four guests. Cost for this excursion begins at $190 per person on Princess and Celebrity Cruise Lines.
Whales, Wildlife, And Brown Bear Search
For a full-day, 5.5-hour wildlife adventure, try the Whales, Wildlife, and Brown Bear Search out of Icy Strait Point. This excursion is offered by Princess and Celebrity cruise lines and the cost per person starts at $210.
On this guaranteed whale sighting tour, jump on a high-speed catamaran to cruise the very active feeding ground of the humpback whale. Return to shore for an often bumpy ride to the Spasski River for a guided drive in search of brown bear, black-tailed deer, and bald eagles. The walking portion involves covering about a half-mile of gravel and boardwalk pathways, meaning this excursion requires moderate exertion.
Mendenhall Glacier Exploration
Alaska is about the ice. Glaciers are ubiquitous and the variety of glacier-centric tour options runs from genial walks to full-on glacial climbs.
Mendenhall Glacier is the top excursion for your Alaska cruise’s Juneau stop. You can choose from a large variety of tours, and many providers have handicap-accessible options. They vary in time and price, meaning there’s a glacier tour option for everyone.
Princess Cruises offers the creme de la creme Mendenhall Helicopter Glacier Trek. If you are searching for the bucket-list Alaska cruise item, this is it. The 4- to 5- hour heli/walking tour starts around $480. You will be fitted for outerwear, hard hats, mountaineering boots, and crampons. Your kit will include a much-needed ice ax. After you touch down on the glacier, your guide will lead you on a 2-hour hike. You do not need experience, but you will be hiking for about two miles on uneven terrain.
Celebrity Cruises offers a Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Hatchery Tour that is less strenuous and includes a trip to an Alaskan fishery. This behind-the-scenes tour of a local salmon hatchery highlights the collection and incubation of salmon eggs that support one of Alaska’s most iconic industries. Your guide will then drive you up to Mendenhall Glacier where you can take a scenic walk along well-marked trails for a closer look. This tour starts at $60 and has a rating of mild since the walking is fairly leisurely and goes over even surfaces.
Disney offers the 5-Glacier Seaplane Exploration that explores the Juneau icefield and five of its glaciers. Your seaplane journey takes you over the Tongass National Forest before you soar over Norris, Hole-In-The-Wall, Taku, and the East and West Twin glaciers. Wildlife spotting is very likely; keep on the lookout for eagles, bears, and moose. This tour is perfect for adventurers who require or prefer little or no walking. The cost per person starts at $225.
Salmon is king in Alaska, but there are many types of fishing adventures suitable for everyone from novices to hardened anglers.
The Silversea cruise line offers a Fishing and Wilderness Dining Excursion in Ketchikan. Most excursions on Silversea are included in your cruise passage. This tour begins with an outfitting session to ensure you have the exact gear needed. This small-group excursion, which accommodates no more than five guests, has a customizable itinerary to suit your group’s desires. Hook red snapper, halibut, rockfish, or lingcod for your luncheon delicacies. Your catch will be prepared by your skilled guide. Feast on bouillabaisse-inspired stew followed by bread pudding and hot chocolate in the stillness of the Alaska wilderness. On this 4- to 5-hour moderate-activity tour, you will experience the real Alaska.
Disney cruise line also offers a Ketchikan Alaska Fish Camp and Wilderness Dinner. Prices for the Disney excursion begin at $370.
Panning For Gold
If you are traveling with teens or tweens, gold panning in Skagway is a fun, hands-on activity for the entire gang.
Princess and Celebrity offer a 6-hour exclusive Gold Panning, Sled Dog, and Scenic Railway excursion that starts around $180 depending on the cruise line you’re traveling with. The tour includes a gold panning lesson during which you can participate in a prospecting session in a controlled pavilion. You will also watch a dog sled demonstration run that includes a meet-and-greet with the sled dogs and musher. The tour concludes with a historic train ride through Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point, and Dead Horse Gulch. This is a great tour for everyone in the family and requires only mild exertion.
Prince William Sound 26 Glacier Cruise
Alaska is filled with ice flows. Princess offers a Prince William Sound 26 Glacier Cruise excursion out of Anchorage. Board your catamaran and sail right up to the beautiful glaciers. Witness the glaciers calve as chunks of ice break off and drop into the water. View otters, seals, sea lions, and eagles. You may be lucky enough to spot a bear or two. From your heated cabin with panoramic viewing windows, listen to your U.S. Forest Service Ranger guide narrate your day-long journey. Prices begin at $149 for the 10-hour cruise.
There is no shortage of tours for the foodie in your group. Silversea offers an Alaska Culinary Experience and Whale Quest that includes a ride on a high-speed expedition vessel. You will set out to Stephens Passage to view the humpback whales and, if you are lucky, maybe a few orcas. After your nature-filled viewing, explore wonderful local cuisine including reindeer sausage cassoulet and the fresh local catch of the day followed by a tempting dessert bar. Silversea excursions are included in their cruise passage.
Celebrity offers a Wilderness Exploration and Crab Feast excursion in Ketchikan beginning at $80. This hands-on adventure will have you working for your dinner. Join the crew as they pull up Dungeness crab pots. Once you have checked all the traps, you will disembark at George Inlet Lodge and enjoy a traditional crab fest.
Scenic Drives In Sitka
If you are looking for a private getaway where you can take some control, the 4x4 Nature Safari Adventure by Silversea is just the thing. Your 4x4 off-road vehicle gives you the opportunity to explore Alaska’s wilderness on Kruzof Island. Led by a local guide, the 4x4 RHINO holds two guests who have the opportunity to take turns driving and following the guide as they explore the island in search of bear, deer, and beautiful scenery. The ride may be bumpy, but the exertion involved is mild.
If you are looking for something a little more sedate, Viking Cruises offers a 1.5-hour Scenic Sitka by Motor Coach excursion that is included in the passage price. This tour does include some incline walking when you visit Sitka National Historical Park, where you can view the site’s 18 totem poles. Learn Sitka’s Russian and U.S. history in this Southeast Alaska city.
It is a good idea to choose an excursion that is booked through your cruise line. They will, in good faith, wait for you if there is a delay in your returning to the ship. If the ship cannot wait, they may make accommodations to get you to the next port of call. If you book an excursion with a private tour company, though, you are essentially on your own to get to the ship on time. If you miss the departure because of the tour arriving late, you will be responsible for catching up with the ship at the next port of call. That could be a considerable distance if they are at sea for two days, and some of the Alaskan cruises have several consecutive days at sea.
Alaska Cruises are a bucket-list item you will want to explore at any age. You will find the history, natural beauty, and fresh-from-the-earth (or ocean) cuisine bring you closer to nature.
Still not sure an Alaska cruise is right for you? Read one travelers intimate account of her Alaska by small ship cruise experience.