There is not a port in Alaska that does not offer cruisers the chance to experience one of the state’s many wild and manmade activities. The state of superlatives, including being the largest in the US, offers adventurers the biggest national parks, tallest peaks and widest glaciers.
The Alaska cruise season is short,
with high season running from June to August and deals to be found in chillier
May and September. The largest ships travel the glacier-fed waters from ports
in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada like Vancouver, Seattle and San
Francisco, while the smallest vessels -- those that rock in the wake of a fallen
chunk of –iceberg depart from Alaskan ports like Juneau and Ketchikan. Every
major cruise line services Alaska, with the biggest players being Holland
America Line, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises.
Excursions in Alaska tend to be
pricey, with many adventures requiring transportation by small airplane,
helicopter or boat. There are ports where you can create do-it-yourself
adventures, but you will find that, more often than not, paying for these
once-in-a-lifetime experiences is worth it.
Snorkelling and scuba diving are usually associated
with tropical waters and coral reefs, but you can get underwater in Alaska -- albeit
with thick wetsuits and booties -- and there is a lot to see.
The intercoastal waters of southeast Alaska near
Ketchikan get as warm as 55 degrees Farenheight in the summer, and have one of the most diverse
ecosystems in the world, with a variety of colourful life on show such as red
sea stars, purple sea urchins, salmon, sea lions and whales. Snorkel Alaska offers a snorkelling outing
for $109 per person, and a one-tank scuba dive for experienced cold-water
divers for $209. Both excursions include equipment and certified guides, take
about three hours and are easily arranged through most cruise ships. If you
miss the opportunity in Ketchikan, Dive
Alaska offers trips across the Gulf of Alaska in Seward’s Resurrection Bay,
where you might see octopuses, wolf eels and sea otters. Their snorkelling and diving
trips also include equipment and certified guides.
tours by kayak
Fjords National Park has an abundance of beauty and wildlife best seen up
close by kayak. Surrounded by spectacular scenery, you will share the water
with orcas and sea otters while bald eagles nest on the nearby shoreline. There
are several kayak tour companies that work with cruise passengers, like Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking and Kayak Adventures Worldwide, and will provide
all the equipment you need.
The old miner town of Skagway is home to some of the most famous trails
in the US, taken by prospectors in search of fortune during Alaska’s Gold Rush
of the late 1800s. While a cruiser will not have time to experience the entire
665-mile Chilkoot Trail from Skagway to the headwaters of the Yukon River, local
hikes can give you a sense of what these prospectors faced. Tour companies offer
guided hikes to part of the Chilkoot and can add on trips to the
Taiya River for wildlife viewing. Skagway
Float Tours and SouthEast
Tours offer four hour excursions for under $100 per person.
You can do short hikes on your own from town. Try
the two mile trek to the Gold Rush Cemetery where many of the era’s most
notorious criminals are buried. To get there, walk from the cruise terminal to
the Skagway visitors centre in town, then walk one and a half blocks east, and
follow the train tracks for two miles to the cemetery. It is then only a short
hike uphill from the cemetery to Reid Falls which cascades spectacularly 300ft
down the mountainside. A walking
tour and trail map of Skagway is available online.
Juneau glacier hopping
trip to Alaska is complete without touching down on one of the state’s massive
glaciers, especially now they are receding and may not be around in the next
century. Strap on crampons and traverse the massive ice fields on guided tours
that have you climbing into crevasses and walking through glacier-blue ice
caves and tunnels.
companies offer glacier walks. Northstar Trekking offers the additional excitement
of a helicopter ride to see how the glaciers formed over thousands of years
before actually landing on one. A less expensive option is Above & Beyond Alaska’s
Medenhall Glacier Trek where you drive and hike to the glacier. Both
companies provide roundtrip transportation from your ship.
Haines grizzly bear sightings
The thrill of
seeing brown grizzlies in the wild is unmatched, and one of the most exciting settings
is while they are feeding on spawning river salmon. From August through
October, Rainbow Glacier Adventures offers
trips from Haines and Skagway to see groups of grizzlies gather at the Chilkoot
River to feed. For cruisers that go on the daytime trips, this is when mother
bears and their cubs are likely to be out fishing for salmon. The viewing site
is seven miles outside of Haines, and if you are coming from Skagway the
excursion includes a catamaran ride to town.