Cruise Ports with Must See Items
Though Alaska is a massive state with infinite locations to visit and explore, there are relatively few cruise ports that can be accessed by most cruise ships. The big three of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan are visited on virtually all cruises to Alaska. Their location as Inside Passage ports, combined with their access to glaciers, railroads and wildlife, and their ability to handle ships of just about any size, make them a cruise lines dream come true.
You will find that along with many authentic local shops and activities, there are a smattering of cruise line owned shops and experiences that are the same as you would find in any large Caribbean port. To really dig into Alaska, I think a combination of these large ports with some smaller ports is ideal. This is where a luxury line like Oceania, Seabourn or Windstar really excels.
Juneau’s historic downtown harkens back to its gold-rush origins and you can still pan for gold. But nature is the priceless treasure. Native American Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian (sim-shee-an) people have lived in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years. Today, Juneau is a thriving city offering a great blend of city amenities and small-town hospitality, all in the heart of Alaska’s majestic mountains, rivers, glaciers, and forests. Surrounded by fjords, forest and snow-capped mountains, Juneau is one gorgeous state capital. Nearly 32,000 people call Juneau home – many of them working in government, tourism, mining, and fishing, and all of them instilled with a deep love for this place. Such a mix of personalities makes Juneau unique.
Sled Dogs of Juneau
The great Klondike Rush lives on in Skagway’s charming downtown of restored 19th-century buildings and its historic railway. From the vintage train, admire the mountains and see the 1898 trail that fortune seekers traveled on foot. Skagway emerged in the late 1890s as a makeshift gold-rush town for miners headed to the Yukon gold fields. Besides Juneau, Skagway is the most popular port in southeast Alaska and it rarely disappoints visitors. A seven-block corridor along Broadway features historic false-front shops and restaurants, wooden sidewalks, locals in period costumes and restored buildings.
White Pass Train
Ketchikan is best known for three things: feisty salmon, idyllic scenery, and an incredibly rich Alaskan Native culture. It is also a photographer’s dream: point your camera in most any direction and you’ll capture an image suitable for framing such as Misty Fjords National Monument, with its blue lakes and snowcapped mountaintops often shrouded in ethereal mist. For local Natives, the Tongass Rainforest provides red cedar logs for totem poles and cedar bark and spruce roots used in traditional basket weaving. The Native arts are thriving here in Ketchikan and there are several museum collections and totem parks that showcase both ancient and more contemporary works.
Salmon Fishing in Ketchikan
Victoria has the mildest climate in Canada. The wild beauty of the Pacific coast and adventures in the great outdoors are within city limits and ocean and mountain vistas will follow you wherever you go. With an energetic and vibrant atmosphere, it’s no surprise that Victoria, B.C. is one of the world’s favorite destinations. The capital of British Columbia is filled with blooming gardens, heritage architecture and historic charm. The heart of Victoria is its scenic harbor and Old Town, compact areas that are made for strolling and easily explored on foot. Victoria is a unique blend of old world charm and new world experiences. As an island destination, Victoria offers visitors an escape from the hurried world and beams with ambiance. In Victoria, heritage architecture, colorful gardens and traditions like afternoon tea are mixed with outdoor adventure, culinary experiences, cocktail and craft beer scenes.
Whale Watching in Victoria
The setting of Sitka, Alaska, in a tranquil bay on Baranof Island, is nothing short of spectacular; tiny islands dense with evergreen trees dot the blue-green water. Sitka has an abundance of wildlife. Humpback whales frolic in the bay; massive brown bears and Sitka black-tailed deer roam through nearby forests of spruce and hemlock; and thousands of seabirds, including the rare rhinoceros auklet and tufted puffin, flock to St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Sitka Sound.
Kayaking in Sitka
Smaller Cruise Ports
Once a Tlingit Indian stronghold, then a Russian outpost, and finally an American settlement in 1867, Wrangell is the largest U.S. national park. It is equivalent to six Yellowstones, with peaks upon peaks and glaciers after glaciers. Far from the hustle and bustle of other Alaskan destinations, the magnificent scenery and untamed nature of this park allow you to experience genuine “Wild Alaska” on its own terms. Nearby, the Anan Wildlife Observatory, a traditional Alaskan Native hunting and fishing site, provides opportunities to observe brown and black bears feeding on pink salmon.
Bear Viewing in Anan Bay, Wrangell, Alaska
British Columbia’s most northern coastal city, Prince Rupert sits on the very edge of the wilderness. The majority of its attractions revolve around the outdoors, such as sport fishing or a walking tour of the bonsai-like forest at Oliver Lake. Wildlife abounds, including bears, mountain goats and a variety of migrating whales.
A scenic drive to
Glacier and Fjords Viewing
Glacier Bay National Park
As its name suggests, Glacier Bay home to stunning glaciers, rugged mountains, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep fjords. Although glaciers can be seen in many cruises, Glacier Bay National Park can be only seen in certain itineraries with Holland America and Princess having the most itineraries that explore it through.
Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. Its immense beauty and phenomenal blue hues are enchanting, even from the comfort of our ship. With the snowcapped mountains serving as a glorious backdrop, you’ll have a prime viewing spot from which to witness the glacier calving, as it often expels icebergs the size of 10-story buildings- imagine the splash! The area around Hubbard Glacier is also renowned for its wildlife, a perfect setting for our faculty guides to point out whales, harbor seals and otters.
Tracy Arm Fjord/Sawyer Glacier
Just south of Juneau lies the magnificent Tracy Arm Fjord, carved by glacier activity. Among the sights to admire from the icy waters are waterfalls cascading down 3,000-foot-high granite walls. The Sawyer Glaciers at the end of Tracy Arm may not be the most famous glaciers in Alaska, but many visitors find them to be the most dramatic. Framed by mountains on either side, the glaciers are often bathed in a light mist that amplifies the blue hue of the ice. Check out the fjord’s many icebergs from close up as the ship maneuvers around them. The texture and color of the ice is quite different from the smooth stuff you put in drinks! The glaciers are home to black and brown bears, wolves, deer and moose. Look for seals and whales in the fjord’s icy waters, and frequent bald eagle appearances overhead.