An Alaska cruise is truly a magical experience. There’s a reason why many consider it to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It can also be an overwhelming trip to plan. If you are wondering where to start and what to expect, I’ve gathered tons of essential Alaska cruise tips and helpful advice to help you have an epic time!
Taking an Alaska cruise has always been on my bucket list – I’d always wanted to see all those glaciers, snowy landscapes, and wildlife and it seemed like the perfect way to see tons while maximizing time.
So, I was super excited when I was invited to sail aboard the recently renovated Celebrity Millennium on its maiden voyage to Alaska! At the time, I was overwhelmed because I wasn’t sure how to plan, what to pack, or make the most of my cruise.
This was only my second cruise (with my first being a three-day bachelorette booze cruise to Mexico, which was a VERY different experience), so I wasn’t really sure where to start when preparing to go on my Alaska cruise. There was a lot to consider – what is the weather like? What should I wear? What excursions should I book?
After doing lots of research and planning, I am happy to say that I had a successful cruise, and that it was truly one of the best trips that I’ve ever taken in my life! I enjoyed every single minute of my experience, from when we departed from Seattle, all the way through the towns on the Inside Passage, to our days at sea.
I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone go on an Alaska cruise – it is such an amazing way to see the Last Frontier.
Whether you are just starting to plan your vacation, or have already booked and wondering what the experience is like, here are some insider tips for an Alaska cruise and helpful advice to help you have a trip of a lifetime (including plenty of things I wish I knew while planning my own)!
**Note: Thank you to Celebrity Cruises for hosting my cruise. As always, opinions are all my own
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Essential Alaska Cruise Tips + Everything You NEED to Know
Why go on an Alaskan cruise?
Going on an Alaskan cruise is an amazing way to explore the area. I’d never really considered myself a cruise person, but I wholeheartedly recommend going on an Alaska cruise.
Why? For starters, Alaska is HUGE – at 663,000 square miles, it is the largest state in the United States, and bigger than California, Texas, and Montana COMBINED. That’s a lot of territory to cover, and there is so much to see and do in the Last Frontier!
Therefore, I always said that if I ever made it to Alaska, I would do it on a cruise because you get to see more places in a shorter amount of time. Of course, sailing to Alaska for a week (or even two) is still not enough time – I still have plenty more I want to see and am dying to make it back – but it’s still an efficient way to cover a lot of ground.
Secondly, most of the towns that are usual stops on an Alaska Inside Passage cruise are not easily accessible by land – you can only reach them by boat or air. Going on a cruise allows you to see them all easily without having to find your own transportation, which would be a lot more difficult, expensive, and require a whole lot more planning.
One last reason to go on an Alaska cruise – they usually sail past glaciers in remote areas that can only be accessed by boat. Being able to see these breathtaking landscapes is one of the reasons an Alaska cruise is worth every penny!
Who should go on an Alaska cruise?
Answer: almost anyone!
I know that the stereotype for Alaskan cruises is that it is mainly for old people. While, yes, the crowd tends to skew older (which makes sense because you’re not heading to a “party destination” such as the Caribbean or Mexico), I found that the crowd on our cruise on the Celebrity Millennium was very diverse, spanning a variety of age groups.
There tends to be more families on an Alaska cruise, and there is not much of a party vibe (part of the reason being – well, you had to get up early on port days). That isn’t to say that it’s boring – not at all! There was so much going on at all times on our cruise. And those that wanted a bit of nightlife on the Celebrity Millennium were able to find it at the Sky Lounge, which had nightly events (like karaoke), dance parties, and a DJ.
For reference, I am in my mid-30s and felt right at home on this cruise! We met so many cool people on this cruise – from those in their early 20s, to retired folks looking to have a little bit of fun. Meeting and connecting with so many wonderful people was truly one of the best parts of going on an Alaska cruise!
That said, going to Alaska on a cruise tends to be laid-back. While there are a few adventurous excursions at every port of call, most of them tend to be more slower-paced. If you are looking for an adrenaline-filled adventure, then exploring Alaska on a cruise may not be for you.
When to go on an Alaska cruise
The Alaska cruise season usually runs from May through September every year.
The most popular months to go on an Alaska cruise are July and August. Expect prices to be at their highest, and for spots to fill up fast. This is for good reason, however – these months are when the weather is warmest with the least amount of rain.
You’ll get longer days, and be able to see tons of wildlife, right from the boat! There is also less ice in the water, calling for smoother sailings on the way to the glaciers (not a guarantee though – there was too much ice during our sailing in late July). However, expect crowds.
If you are looking to save a bit of money, one of the best tips for an Alaska cruise is to go during the shoulder months (May/June or September). You’ll find plenty of deals, so prices will be a bit lower than in the peak months. These are also the best times to avoid crowds.
Keep in mind that the weather might be chillier and more unpredictable during the shoulder season, so bring extra layers + a rain jacket – this is one of the most essential Alaska cruise tips!
Our sailing aboard the Celebrity Millennium was in late July, and the weather was as close to perfect as you could get! We only had a tiny bit of rain in Ketchikan (which is known as the rainiest place in the United States), and on our last sea day – even the locals were commenting on how great the weather was and how lucky we were!
Which Alaska cruise should I choose?
There are many cruise lines offering Alaskan itineraries. Which one you pick will largely depend on your needs and preferences – for example, some cruises cater to families, some have more of a party vibe and meant for a younger crowd, and others specialize in sailing smaller vessels.
I had the opportunity to sail on the newly renovated Millennium from Celebrity Cruises on its maiden voyage to Alaska, and the first sailing from a major cruise line since the world shut down in 2020. This was only my second cruise so I was not all that familiar with all of the different cruise companies and what each is known for.
I absolutely loved sailing on Celebrity and I’ve been wholeheartedly recommending them to others for the following reasons:
- Emphasis on culinary experiences: The food and beverage program is headed up by a Michelin-starred chef. As a foodie, I absolutely LOVED this about sailing on Celebrity and really enjoyed everything I ate and drank aboard – everything was delicious!
- Sophisticated, modern design: Seriously, the decor of the entire ship and especially the staterooms looked like what you would find at a high-end boutique hotel or resort!
- Super friendly crew + excellent service: Anyone who sails on Celebrity will tell you that interacting with the crew is the best part and I couldn’t agree more. Every single crew member that we encountered always had a genuine smile on their face and just seemed so happy to be there, and it was amazing to get to know them over the course of our trip.
- Effective health + safety protocols: I get into this later, but I felt safe on our entire journey.
- Sustainability practices: Including implementing practices and equipment for better fuel efficiency, use of energy-efficient appliances, use of paper straws and aluminum bottles on board, and advanced wastewater purification. One of the naturalists on board said he specifically chose to work with Celebrity for their sustainability practices.
- Emphasis on gender equality and support of inclusivity: Captain Kate McCue (who commands the Celebrity Beyond) is the first woman to captain a mega cruise ship.
You can see all of Celebrity Cruises’s upcoming Alaska cruise offerings here.
Weather on an Alaskan cruise
Weather conditions can vary greatly, and be a bit unpredictable so it is important to pack to be prepared for all conditions. You can even experience all four seasons in one day (it kinda reminded me of the weather when we went to Olympic National Park).
Different port cities will have wildly different weather conditions. Ketchikan is known as one of the rainiest cities in North America. Juneau can reach highs in the 80s in July and August. Skagway, which is surrounded by mountains, was the chilliest and required bundling up.
Expect wind and rain (much of southeast Alaska is in a temperate rainforest) and pack accordingly!
Summer temperatures in Alaska tend to be quite a bit lower than what you would expect from summer – it is comparable to a California winter (or a summer in San Francisco, IYKYK). Therefore, be prepared by packing lots of layers!
The temperatures in Alaska ranged from the high 50s Fahrenheit in Ketchikan and Skagway, to the upper 60s in Juneau.
When does the sun set in Alaska?
Alaska is known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because of its super long days between April and September – there can be as much as 18 hours of daylight during these months!
So does that mean it stays light out all the time? Not necessarily. Taking an Alaskan cruise in June will yield the closest feeling to Midnight Sun because it is near the summer solstice and the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm.
Our seven-day Alaska cruise went up as far north as Juneau in late July, where sunset was around 9:30pm. I personally enjoyed the extra hours of daylight – it was easier to get out of bed in the morning (there were a lot of early wakeup calls on this cruise), and more time to explore at the end of the day. One other thing I enjoyed was that sunsets in Alaska seem to go on endlessly – taking them in from the Sunset Bar on our ship was one of my absolute favorite things to experience!
If you are afraid that the extra daylight will disrupt your sleep schedule, one of the best tips for booking an Alaska cruise is to go later in the season, in August or September, when the days will feel much more “normal.” Also pack a sleep mask to help block extra light, as well as a light sleep aid such as melatonin.
How long is an Alaska cruise?
Most Alaska cruises are seven days long. You’ll find cruises that sail north from Seattle (or Vancouver) and through the Inside Passage; or glacier cruises that sail south from Anchorage. Some cruises sail round-trip to and from the same port of origin, and others are one-way cruises that drop you off at a different port.
Even within the Inside Passage cruise options, you’ll find a variety of itineraries – some visit the Dawes Glacier, some to Glacier Bay National Park, some to the Hubbard Glacier.
You’ll also find plenty of 14-day Alaska cruise itineraries that also make stops in Anchorage and Seward. Those wishing to extend their Alaska adventure may consider a one-way cruise that also has a land tour option.
Our trip on the Celebrity Millennium was a seven day cruise, and I felt that it was the perfect amount of time – not too short, not too long. It included ports of call at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We also cruised through the Endicott Arm and were slated to visit the Dawes Glacier; however, we had to turn back because of too much ice. There were also three sea days to explore the ship and all of its amazing amenities!
Selecting a cabin type
There are stateroom types available, to suit your budget and preferences. The cheapest room type available is usually an inside stateroom, situated in the inside parts of the ship, with no window. You can also choose an ocean view room, which has a window but not outside access, or a veranda room, which includes an outside balcony.
On Celebrity Cruises, there are also Aqua Class rooms (with an emphasis on wellness), and Concierge Class rooms (with a higher level of personalized service), as well as several classes of suites.
Our veranda stateroom was super stylish, and looked like something you would find at an upscale boutique hotel (even the inside staterooms have this stylish design)! The room was quite spacious (around 140 square feet), with plenty of storage space, drawers, and shelves, to store our belongings.
If you can, one of the best tips for an Alaska cruise is to book a room with a balcony! This is absolutely worth it for an Alaska cruise because there are so many amazing views and landscapes throughout the entire voyage. On the Celebrity Millennium, over half of the available staterooms include balconies.
Imagine sailing past floating icebergs while you enjoy a room service breakfast out on your balcony (on that note – ordering room service breakfast is a must!). Or, imagine enjoying a slow-paced morning gazing at snow-capped peaks while you sip on your morning coffee in bed.
These are the things that you can experience when you book a veranda room, and trust me, it is absolutely worth it! Seriously, these are some of my favorite moments from my Alaska cruise.
If you get seasick, I’ve heard from friends that having a balcony room can also help since choppy waters are common along the route.
If you feel like splurging (it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip after all), consider upgrading to a suite. On Celebrity, booking a Suite Class room gives you access to a whole array of extra amenities. One perk is gaining access to the Retreat Lounge and Sundeck, private lounges with extra snacks, drinks, and a dedicated concierge.
You also get the opportunity to dine at Luminae, the exclusive restaurant for Suite Class guests. They also have a special signature menu from Michelin starred chef Daniel Boulud – this was probably my favorite thing that I ate during my trip!
How much stuff should I pack?
This is probably the thing that I struggled with the most. On an Alaska cruise, you have to pack for many different situations – plenty of layers for chilly weather, something for rain, sturdy shoes, dressy clothes for the evenings, swimwear to hang out at the hot tub…the list goes on and on.
I am the kind of person who absolutely refuses to check bags, and usually travel with a carry-on only. This was one of the rare times in which I ended up not being able to fit everything in a carry-on (even after playing Tetris with my stuff for literally HOURS), and ended up having to pack a second bag to check. At the least, you’ll probably have to pack a larger suitcase (unless you are much more efficient than me, in which I give you props!)
The standard staterooms on an Alaska cruise aren’t huge, but they have plenty of drawer space, places to hang stuff up, as well as shelving, so there was plenty of room to store all my belongings. There was even room to tuck away our suitcases as well.
What should I wear?
Here is one of the best Alaska cruise tips that anyone will tell you – DRESS IN LAYERS. This is absolutely key! This way you’ll be prepared for the cold, but you’ll be able to peel off layers as you get warmer.
Also don’t forget a waterproof, windproof outer layer! It gets windy out on deck but you won’t want to miss the scenery, so you’ll be glad you have it. Rain is also common in Alaska (especially in Ketchikan), so having a waterproof layer is key. I took this lightweight rain jacket with me and it was perfect over the rest of my layers.
Be sure to also bring a pair of comfortable, waterproof shoes – I brought these boots, which are super comfortable and keep me warm! They also served me well while traversing around Prague and Munich in the winter, when it was freezing cold and I was walking over 20,000 steps a day.
In addition, I also suggest packing:
- Base layers or thermals: to keep you warm underneath all your other layers
- Fleece zip-up: this totally saved me! It kept me warm throughout the cruise, on deck, and in Alaska.
- Sweaters: I bought both this one and this one and ended up getting lots of compliments.
- Flannel button up: Great for an outdoorsy look in photos, and adds a soft, warm, lightweight layer.
- Beanie, scarf, gloves
- If visiting during colder times of the season, I suggest bringing a packable puffer.
Pack some dressy clothes
Be sure to pack some dressy clothes to wear in the evenings for dinner! On our cruise, we had two “evening chic” nights, a modern version of formal night. This called for cocktail attire, although we saw some people get dressed to the nines. Getting dolled up on those nights was so much fun!
If you are worried about space, one of the best Alaska cruise tips is to pack something like this convertible maxi dress, which you can style in multiple ways so you can pack one just dress and have different looks!
The rest of the nights were designated as “smart casual.” Some people were dressed up even on those nights, so I wish I packed a few more dresses.
Bring a swimsuit
Not going to lie, it is not really going to be pool weather on an Alaska cruise. The pool area looked so inviting that I tried to dip my toes in, and immediately regretted it because the water was so cold!
However, you should still pack a swimsuit – the weather on an Alaska cruise is perfect for soaking in the hot tub! We spent a bit of time soaking in the hot tub on one of the mornings on a sea day, and it was the perfect way to start the day.
What else should I pack?
- Bring a good camera! Alaska is full of epic landscapes, and you’ll want to capture them all. I go everywhere with my Sony a6000 – it is suitable for photographers of all levels. Also suggest bringing a telephoto lens to capture the wildlife (I didn’t and I wish I did)
- Binoculars: You’ll see tons of wildlife, whether on a shore excursion or right off the boat. Have a pair of binoculars handy so you can take a closer look at them.
- Battery pack: So your phone stays charged while ashore to capture all the memories, and you can enjoy the ship without having to run back to your stateroom to charge on sea days.
Wondering how exactly to pack for your cruise to Alaska? My Alaska cruise packing list includes everything you need to pack (+ a few things you don’t)!
Make sure you have a valid passport (or birth certificate)
You might think that because Alaska is part of the United States, that an Alaska cruise is considered to be a domestic cruise. While this is technically true, one of the most important tips for an Alaska cruise is to make sure you have a valid passport, or at least the original certified copy of your birth certificate.
Why? In more normal times, you will usually have a stop or two in Canada as well (usually Vancouver and/or Victoria). While current travel restrictions do not allow Alaska cruises to stop in Canada, you will still need to bring proof of citizenship – either a passport or birth certificate.
Yes, Alaska is part of the United States, but don’t forget that you are technically sailing in Canadian waters to get there.
We did not think about this and did not realize until right before our cruise (do not be us). My friend had just sent in her passport for renewal, and had to scramble to get her hands on her birth certificate. Luckily, she was able to get it just in time before departing for the trip (phew!), but we saw a few people get turned away at boarding for not having these documents in hand.
What health and safety protocols are in place?
Cruise ships definitely got a bad rap in the beginning of 2020. When the global health crisis began taking hold, there were several horror stories of people getting sick on ships, being quarantined, and not being able to dock anywhere.
It is understandable to be apprehensive about being on a cruise ship after hearing those stories. I definitely had those thoughts. However, after going on my trip, I can tell you that I felt very safe on my cruise.
Because there was such a bad light put on the cruise ship industry at the start of the global health crisis, these companies are taking absolutely no chances. There are many protocols that have been put in place by cruise ship companies to ensure a healthy and safe voyage for all.
As guidelines are always changing, it is important to keep on top of all the health requirement before you go on your cruise. If any tests or vaccinations are required, be sure to be ready to present any required documentation.
And as always, one of the best Alaska cruise tips is to follow proper hygiene guidelines, such as thorough hand washing. This is a must during any time!
As I stated earlier, each cruise line has their own protocols and guidelines, so it is important to read them carefully to understand what measures are being taken, both prior to boarding and on board.
On that note…make sure you also have the proper health documents
Much like having your valid passport or birth certificate, make sure your health documents are in order (and that you do not forget to bring them!). We saw several people getting turned away as well for not having their vaccine cards, or incomplete documents.
Download the cruise app
Most cruise lines have an app that syncs up with your cruise booking. This will make the check-in process so much easier, as well as help you plan your time on the ship.
I was able to start the check-in process using the Celebrity app, which saved a bit of time. Once on the ship, it was super easy to check the app to see the schedule of daily activities (and even add them to my schedule within the app). It was also helpful to determine which restaurants were open at any given time, as well as make reservations.
The boarding process
Keep in mind that the boarding process takes a bit of time, so allow plenty of extra time to prepare and to ensure that you don’t get left off the ship! For most cruise lines, you have to be on board a certain time before the ship departs (for Celebrity, it is 90 minutes before departure), so plan accordingly.
You’ll have to go through several lines in order to complete each step of the boarding process – checking luggage, verifying your travel and health documents, going through health screenings, etc. This all takes a bit of time, so have patience (and make sure that you have all necessary documents in hand)!
All in all, I would say it took us about an hour and a half to get on the ship. Once on board, we had to complete the last part of our safety training before we were allowed to do anything else.
Try to arrive to the departure city the day before the cruise
If you have to fly into the departure city, leave plenty of extra time in case of delays, as well as to account for traffic to get to the cruise terminal. One advantage of booking your flights through the cruise company instead of on your own is that if you miss departure, they will usually make arrangements to get you to the next port. Otherwise, you can fly in the day before departure to not stress about it – this is what we did, and I suggest you do the same if you are worried.
Once you’re on the ship, you can already start to enjoy all of the amenities on board, so it pays to be early!
Familiarize yourself with the boat
Once you get on board and settle in, take some time to explore and familiarize yourself with the boat. A cruise ship can be large and overwhelming – by taking some time to acquaint yourself with everything on board, you’ll be able to prioritize the things you want to experience without wasting any time!
Getting familiar with where everything is on the ship will ensure that you don’t waste time finding your favorite restaurants, venues, etc. so you don’t miss out on reservations or preferred activities because you got lost.
What kind of food is on board?
Aside from seeing all the epic landscapes in Alaska, my favorite part of my cruise was all of the food that I got to eat on board! As I mentioned earlier, Celebrity Cruises is known for their culinary experiences, so I was super excited to be able to sample all the delicious food on board and it absolutely did not disappoint!
Each cruise line and vessel will have their own selection of restaurants and food options, but generally most ships will include dining at a buffet for quick, grab-and-go meals, along a main dining room for more formal, sit-down meals. There are also an array of bars and lounges on board as well.
The Celebrity Millennium also had several specialty restaurants, which were reservation-only at an additional cost. In addition, there were exclusive restaurants for guests who booked a certain class of stateroom (i.e. suites and Aqua Class).
I tried to experience as many restaurants as possible while on board, and enjoyed every single one of them! I was impressed with the quality, variety, and presentation of food in every single dining venue, from the Ocean View buffet, to the specialty restaurants.
Each of the restaurants had a rotating daily menu, so I was able to experience a variety of cuisines on board. This meant that I never got tired of the food which was a huge plus – no joke, I came home five pounds heavier because the food was so amazing!
What kind of activities are on board?
Your Alaska cruise will have a variety of scheduled events taking place throughout the day, every day – yes, even on port days – in case you don’t feel like getting off the boat (but I highly suggest getting off the ship to explore on those days!).
You’ll find something for everyone to keep you entertained throughout the day – everything from musical performances, trivia and games, dance parties, stage productions, and more. I really enjoyed the activities and performances that I went to – I was never bored at any point during the cruise!
Most cruises will also have presentations that give you an insight into the local culture, history, and wildlife. I highly recommend you go to some of these, as it will really enhance your experience while actually being in Alaska!
Attend the Alaska lectures
On our cruise, we had a naturalist who gave lectures about the local wildlife (i.e. whales and bears), along with a historian who spoke about the history of each town, as well as the Native culture. We learned so much about each of the towns we visited while sitting in on these presentations, and it really helped us see them through a more educated lens.
For our cruise, the daily schedule was displayed in the Celebrity Cruises app (along with a paper copy being delivered to our room every night). If your cruise has an app like this, I highly recommend that you take advantage of it! The app will easily keep track of the activities you want to participate in and to add them to your daily schedule so you don’t miss the ones that you want to go to.
Book excursions early
ESPECIALLY those bucket list ones, such as helicopter or flightseeing excursions! While many shore excursions can be booked on board, the popular ones sell out super quickly.
We wanted to do a helicopter tour of the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. However, when we tried to book it the week before our cruise departed, we were told that all of the helicopter excursions (I believe there were three offered) had already been sold out for weeks! We were placed on a waitlist, but because these sorts of excursions are so popular, it was no surprise that a spot never opened up.
Some of the others in our group said they tried to book a different excursion but were told they were sold out as well. Luckily for them, a spot ended up opening up for them at the very last minute.
So one of the best Alaska cruise tips to keep in mind is this – if there is an excursion that you have your heart set on, then book it well in advance to guarantee that you’ll be able to participate in it!
Wifi and cell service
Keep in mind that cell service is unavailable for a large part of the cruise, as you will be traveling in open waters. Also be advised that you may be subject to roaming charges when you actually do have service, as you will be sailing in international waters throughout much of your journey.
Wifi is available for an additional charge. Be advised that it is a bit spotty and slow, even with the highest package – you are, after all, sailing in open waters. There may also be times in which the ship’s internet does not work as you get into more remote territory.
The on-board internet is nice to have to do basic things, like texting your friends and family. If you need to make large uploads or downloads, do it before you leave land.
I found that I had pretty great cell reception while in port and was able to post to Instagram, etc. on those days. The one exception to this was when we were in Skagway – because it is situated between some large mountains, the cell service was VERY spotty. However, we were able to get free WiFi at the library – good to know! 😉
Also, download offline maps just in case! We couldn’t load Google Maps while in Skagway, which was the reason we were so desperate for internet while there.
You’ll probably see wildlife from the ship
One of the coolest things about going to Alaska on a cruise was that we got to see plenty of wildlife right from the ship! It was so exciting to be able to see whales, dolphins, porpoises, eagles, and more right from our balcony, or while hanging out on deck.
Even cooler is that there is a naturalist on board who gives commentary about what you are seeing. You can hear this by hanging out on the common areas of the ship, or by tuning into the cruise channel on your stateroom TV.
If you want to see even more wildlife, there are plenty of excursions offered to get a closer look at them. We did a whale watching tour in Juneau (since it is known as the best areas for it), but we had already seen so many whales right off the ship that I might have gone for a different excursion.
Be prepared to get up early
You’ll have an early start during each of your days in Alaska, so get your beauty rest! We had a little bit toooo much fun late at night and were dragging our feet a bit in the mornings. The scenery in Alaska is so beautiful that it will wake you right up, though!
Waters are choppy
You will likely sail through some choppy waters at some point on your way to and from Alaska. We sailed through some very choppy waters on each of our sea days and there was plenty of swaying and rocking!
If you are prone to seasickness, having a balcony room helps. I also suggest bringing meds and/or a motion sickness bracelet.
Alaska cruise itinerary
Wondering what to see, and which excursions to pick in each port of call? Here are some helpful Alaska cruise tips for planning your shore excursions and activities in each stop!
Things to do in Ketchikan
Explore the Misty Fjords National Monument
The Misty Fjords National Monument comprises two million acres of the Tongass National Forest, the largest coastal rainforest in North America. It is full of steep fjords, carved out by the melting of glacial ice, covered in lush green vegetation and waterfalls that fall directly into the sea.
We took the Misty Fjords and Wilderness Explorer excursion, which was a sightseeing cruise that took us through the Behm Canal, and through the fjords. There were plenty of breathtaking views, with each getting more scenic as we sailed further into the fjords, which have a foggy, mystical vibe – you can easily see why they are called the “Misty Fjords.”
Spot the totem poles around town
The Ketchikan area is known to have the largest collection of totem poles in the world, which were used by Native Americans to commemorate and tell stories about ancestry, histories, people, and events.
There are numerous excursions that take you to one of the totem parks in the area (i.e. Saxman Village, Potlatch Totem Park, Totem Bright State Park, etc.), but you can also spot several significant totems just by walking through the downtown area.
Try some local salmon
Ketchikan is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” referring to its early days when it was founded as a salmon cannery site. You can take a salmon fishing excursion, or if you take another water excursion, chances are you will see the fish flipping in the water. Also check out the salmon ladder at Ketchikan Creek, located downtown at the end of Creek Street, to see if you can spot the salmon making its way up the creek.
You can try some of the local salmon at numerous eateries around town – we unfortunately didn’t have time for this as we were too busy exploring town. However, you can stop by one of the local shops (try Salmon Etc. or the Salmon Market) to take home some cans of smoked salmon, which make a perfect souvenir! I brought a few cans home and they were super tasty.
Take a stroll along Creek Street
Creek Street is a historic boardwalk built on pilings over Ketchikan Creek, and was once the area’s Red Light District. There’s a lot of fascinating history here, as well as an array of shops, galleries, and museums housed in colorful, charming (aka photo-worthy) buildings.
One of the notable establishments on Creek Street is Dolly’s House – the only “den of iniquity” that still stands here today. There is a tour available here that is a fascinating look into Dolly and the house’s days as one of the most successful brothels back in the day. You will also get a peek into Ketchikan’s edgy past.
Looking for more things to do in Ketchikan? Check out my complete Ketchikan travel guide!
Things to do in Juneau
Explore the Mendenhall Glacier
Located just 13 miles outside of downtown Juneau, is one of the most popular attractions in the area. The half-mile wide and 1800-foot deep glacier is part of the massive Juneau ice field and also one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska.
There are several ways to get to the Mendenhall Glacier, whether you take the Glacier Express shuttle from downtown, or select one of many excursions available. We booked the Mendenhall Glacier and Evening Whale Quest excursion (similar to this tour), which allowed us to explore the area around the visitors center and then ended with a whale watching cruise.
There are many other excursions available, depending on the kind of adventure you are looking for – there are ones that explore the glacier via kayak, canoe, white water rafting, and even by helicopter (be advised that the helicopter excursions sell out SUPER QUICK!).
If you have the chance, you can even hike to the glacier itself and actually hike ON it. If conditions are right, you can even explore the glacier’s ice caves, which look absolutely otherworldly and mystical! Be aware that the hike is pretty adventurous and difficult so the excursions aren’t for everyone, and conditions have to be ideal for the excursion to take place.
A few people in our group did the Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake excursion, which started by exploring the glacier via kayak, and then followed with a traditional Alaskan salmon bake. I’m usually anti-water sports because I am AWFUL at rowing related activities, but I kind of wish I sucked it up and did one because it does allow you to get close to the glacier!
Because seeing a glacier was high on my bucket list, this was one of the highlights of my Alaska cruise itinerary! It was impressive even seeing it from the visitor’s center. We walked around and took photos around the rim of Lake Mendenhall for a bit, then took a short walk up to Photo Point. If you have time, the hike to Nugget Falls is supposed to be spectacular as well.
I highly recommend you add a stop at the Mendenhall Glacier to your itinerary in Juneau!
Go whale watching
Juneau is known as one of the best places in the world to go whale watching – over 600 humpback whales migrate here each year after spending the winter in Hawaii. Sometimes you will be able to spot orcas and other whales as well.
The whale watching season takes place from April to November each year, which is in line with the cruise season. Tours rarely return without spotting a whale – you’ll likely see many! The tour operators here are so confident that you will see a whale, that they usually have some sort of guarantee (this sounded awesome as I am still a bit salty about that time we didn’t see any whales in the San Juan Islands).
We had an evening whale cruise as the second part of our excursion, and we did see tons of whales! We did see lots of whales off of our cruise ship, but this experience was cool because we were able to get closer to them since we were on a smaller boat. It was also magical to see them against the gorgeous, mountainous landscape surrounding the waters, with that magical golden hour light.
There are many whale watching excursions offered – many of them are combination tours, so you can combine it with another activity of interest to maximize your time in Juneau.
Eat at Tracy’s Crab Shack
Crab fans rejoice – you will not want to miss a meal at Tracy’s Crab Shack! We were so excited to eat here that we made sure we were the first ones off the ship, then literally ran from the downtown shuttle stop to the restaurant (yes, we are a bit nuts but it is super popular and the line can be long at times).
It was absolutely worth it! The king crab legs are some of the best I’ve ever had, and were so juicy and meaty. They came with some rolls, slaw, and we also got an order of the crab cakes – all of which were delicious as well.
Seriously a must in Juneau for foodies and crab lovers!
Grab a craft cocktail at the Narrows Bar
I’m a sucker for a good, well-made cocktail, and often seek them out on my travels…so I was super excited to come across the Narrows!
The menu has a selection of craft cocktails, showcasing fine spirits and seasonal ingredients. I was impressed with the amount of detail that goes into each cocktail, and our bartender was all-around awesome, and always at the ready with recommendations and suggestions (even though she was the only one working and the place was somewhat busy).
Ask to see if you can get your cocktail made with glacial ice – they sometimes have it!
Things to do in Skagway
Take a journey on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway
Known as the “Scenic Railway of the World,” the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway climbs nearly 3,000 feet in elevation over a 20 mile journey.
This is arguably the most popular excursion in Skagway, and it’s easy to see why – there are just spectacular views throughout, everywhere you turn! I could not stop snapping pictures during the entire hour and 45 minute journey.
The railroad dates back to 1898, at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush and is considered an engineering marvel because of the challenges provided by the harsh weather and challenging geography. The commentary provided throughout the tour provided a fascinating look at Skagway’s history during the gold rush era.
Some excursions also combine the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway with a tour of the city, which also points out some of the highlights in the area.
Stroll through the streets of downtown Skagway
The six-block downtown district is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and is full of charming storefronts and buildings. I especially loved the juxtaposition of the historic buildings with the majestic, snow-capped mountains in the background – it is super photo-worthy!
You’ll find dozens of saloons, restaurants, souvenir shops, galleries, and more to browse through. Also worth a visit is the visitors center of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which has several interesting exhibits that provide a look into Skagway’s history as a gold rush town.
Stop into the Red Onion Saloon
Known as Skagway’s most famous saloon, the Red Onion Saloon dates back to the late 1800s during the height of the gold rush, when it was also the most well-known brothel in town.
You’ll see remnants of its past inside the saloon, and you can even take a brothel tour upstairs (we unfortunately missed the last tour by 15 minutes, but our friends did it and said it was super interesting!). Paintings of the ladies from back then line the walls, and the waitresses here dress up in period costumes. (If you want to learn more about this side of Skagway’s past, the Red Onion is also a stop in the Ghosts and Goodtime Girls Walking Tour excursion.)
We stopped in for a drink here, and tried the Duck Fart, which is to Alaska what a Mai Tai is to Hawaii. What is a Duck Fart, you ask? It is a shot made out of Kahlua, Bailey’s and whiskey. The Red Onion also has its own version of this in the Reindeer Fart, which replaces peppermint schnapps for the whiskey. We had one of each and they were tasty!
Eat local seafood at Skagway Fish Co.
The Skagway Fish Co. is located right near the cruise ship dock, so we stopped in for a quick lunch and really enjoyed it! It is an awesome place to stop in for some fresh, local seafood. The best part is the patio – you can enjoy your meal while gazing at the beautiful mountains!
If you feel like #yolo-ing, they also have a $99 jumbo king crab leg. My friend Melissa ordered this because…well, she just had to. It was MASSIVE – they told us it was about 1.5 pounds. And yes, she said it was worth it!
Head to the library for Wifi
No, seriously…Skagway has very spotty cell service because of its location in between some giant, tall mountains (the internet on the ship wasn’t working great, either). Not gonna lie, we totally ran here because we were so desperate for internet (yes, we are pathetic, but Google Maps wasn’t loading!). If you find yourself in the same predicament, the library is located on State Street and 8th Avenue.
Have you ever been on an Alaska cruise? What are some of your most helpful Alaska cruise tips?
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Caroline is a Southern California based traveler, writer, and photographer. She travels all around California, the US, and the world in search of the most colorful places, the most delicious food, and bucket-list adventures. Her aim is to inspire other travelers discover how to add more adventure and joy to their lives. On Pictures & Words, you’ll find detailed guides + itineraries, along with vibrant photos to help you plan the the most epic trips. When she’s not traveling, Caroline also runs half marathons.