Ultimate Quick Guide To Alaska Cruise Ports

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Ultimate Alaska Cruise port guide

The Ultimate Alaska Cruise Port Guide: Activities and Weather Reference for the Last Frontier.

An Alaska cruise is like no other cruise experience.

For many, an Alaska cruise will be the experience of a lifetime. It’s like stepping into a vast, pristine gallery of nature’s finest works. Awe-inspiring scenery, captivating wildlife, and rich history, all wrapped up in the luxury and comfort of a modern cruise. Imagine waking up to the sight of towering glaciers and expansive forests from the balcony of your cruise ship. A cruise to Alaska is entirely different from other types of cruise vacations in many ways.

The weather, the surroundings, and even the COST involved in shore day activities call for a unique type of preparation. Thousands of miles of coastline, tiny tree-dotted islets, and wildlife of all kinds. You’re in for a TREAT!

HOT TIP: Save some extra money for shore day activities in Alaska. They are more expensive than other cruise destinations (like the Caribbean or Mexico), but we highly recommend getting out and seeing what’s beyond the cruise ship pier!

This is what you can expect from an Alaskan cruise—a voyage unlike any other that combines natural beauty, unique wildlife, and rich cultural experiences. From the stunning views of glaciers calving into the icy waters to the quaint, historic towns that beckon along the coast, an Alaskan cruise is a dream for nature lovers and adventurers alike.

But how do you plan for your Alaska cruise adventure? How do you know what to do in port? When should you go, and what should you expect from the weather? HOT TIP: Join your Facebook roll call for your Alaska cruise to see what other cruisers are planning. You may find excursion inspiration from others on your sailing!

From the charming towns of Ketchikan and Haines to the cultural hub of Icy Strait Point (home of the world’s longest zip rider) and the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia, let’s explore what each port has to offer on this breathtaking journey. Below you’ll find an easy to understand outline of eight popular ports you’ll likely encounter on an Alaska cruise. Each includes port highlights, common weather conditions, and five fun things to do.

If you want more detailed information about a specific port, click the name of the port in the list.

Ports of Call on an Alaska Cruise (Alpha order)

Click on the port title for more information including what to wear while in port.

1. Haines

Alaska cruise ports - Haines
Alaska cruise ports – Haines
  • Highlights: Nestled along the shores of the Lynn Canal, Haines is known for its breathtaking natural beauty and its proximity to wildlife. It’s quieter and less touristy compared to other popular Alaska port. Haines has always been one of our favorite ports, and we are always excited when we see it on an itinerary.
  • Weather: Summer brings mild temperatures, typically ranging from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with occasional rain.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Visit the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve to see these majestic birds in their natural habitat.
    2. Explore Fort William H. Seward, a national historic landmark.
    3. Hike the trails of the stunning Chilkoot State Park.
    4. Attend a performance or workshop at the Alaska Indian Arts.
    5. Go fishing or kayaking in the pristine waters surrounding the area.

OUR EXPERIENCE: For our Haines top 5 list we went with things that are more likely to have a broader appeal, but our favorite things to do in this port are biking and ATV tours. Try Sockeye Cycle for bike rentals, and Takshanuk Mountain Trail ATV.

2. Icy Strait Point

Alaska cruise ports - Icy Strait Point
Alaska cruise ports – Icy Strait Point
  • Highlights: This Alaska Native owned and operated cruise destination in Hoonah is perfect for experiencing Tlingit culture and the untouched wilderness of Alaska. There is a surprising abundance of things to here. Whatever you do, don’t stay on the ship! That said, you’ll pay a premium for food at ISP… so, you may want to eat on the ship. Then again, you might want to try a few of the unique dishes (like reindeer chili) available at the restaurant here, but bring your wallet.
  • Weather: Expect cool, moist weather with temperatures in the 50s (Fahrenheit) during the cruise season.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Zip down the world’s largest ZipRider.
    2. Watch for whales and other marine life on a tour.
    3. Walk the forest trails for a chance to spot wildlife.
    4. Learn about the local Tlingit culture.
    5. Try fresh seafood, particularly the Alaskan halibut.

OUR EXPERIENCE: We visited ISP a couple of times, and while we enjoyed just hiking around and sitting by the campfires, we think the ZipRider is an absolute must. It was pouring rain when we went, and it was still totally worth it!

3. Juneau

Alaska cruise ports - Mount Roberts Goldbelt Tram - Juneau
Alaska cruise ports – Mount Roberts Goldbelt Tram – Juneau
  • Highlights: Alaska’s capital is accessible only by sea or air and is a hub of activity with its mix of natural beauty, history, and modern attractions.
  • Weather: Summer temperatures hover around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with a high chance of rain.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Visit Mendenhall Glacier and the nearby Nugget Falls.
    2. Take a tram ride up Mount Roberts (Goldbelt Tram) for stunning city and ocean views.
    3. Go whale watching in Auke Bay.
    4. Explore the historic downtown and the Alaska State Museum.
    5. Try dog sledding on a glacier.

OUR EXPERIENCE: Mendenhall Glacier is our go-to recommendation for Juneau. Most will find it to be a pleasant hike, and seeing the glacier and Nugget Falls is a big payoff for us. It’s hard to go wrong when it comes to picking excursions in Juneau. The Mount Roberts tram can get crowded at times, but the view is outstanding and certain worth the minor inconvenience of standing in line for a few minutes. If you want to go BIG though, you’ve got to try dog sledding on a glacier. It truly is an unbelievable experience.

4. Ketchikan

Alaska cruise ports - Ketchikan
Alaska cruise ports – Ketchikan
  • Highlights: Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Ketchikan is rich in Native American culture, surrounded by lush rainforest.
  • Weather: One of the rainiest places in North America, expect frequent showers and mild temperatures.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Tour the Totem Heritage Center.
    2. Walk along Creek Street, the historic boardwalk.
    3. Venture into Misty Fjords National Monument by boat or seaplane.
    4. Enjoy salmon fishing in the abundant waters.
    5. Visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.

OUR EXPERIENCE: Ketchikan is probably one of the best places to just walk around. There are lots of fun shops, eateries and bars that are worth visiting. If you’re looking for a low impact adventure, we recommend the Totem Heritage Center.

5. Sitka

Alaska cruise ports - Sitka
Alaska cruise ports – Sitka
  • Highlights: This unique port blends Tlingit, Russian, and American history amidst volcanic landscapes and oceanic vistas. In Sitka, get out on the water if you can! The Sitka sound is breaktaking and quite different from there ports. It’s likely your guide will share some area history with you. Sitka was under Russian rule from 1799 to 1867, and many locals have rich lineage and many generations of history in the area! Go whale watching, kayaking, snorkeling or better yet, check out below what crazy adventure we had in Sitka on the open water!
  • Weather: Milder than many expect, with temperatures often in the mid-50s to low 60s Fahrenheit.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Tour the Sitka National Historical Park (Totem Park).
    2. Visit the Russian Bishop’s House and St. Michael’s Cathedral.
    3. Explore the Alaska Raptor Center.
    4. Take a wildlife tour to spot whales, bears, otters, and eagles.
    5. Kayak, jet ski, or snorkel in the peaceful Sitka Sound.

OUR EXPERIENCE: We’ve visited Sitka a number of times, and without question our favorite experience so far has been the Waverunner Island Exploration excursion. At the time of writing this article this tour has to be booked through the cruise line. We booked ours through Oceania, but at present it is available through NCL, Holland America and Princess as well.

6. Skagway

Alaska cruise ports - Skagway
Alaska cruise ports – Skagway
  • Highlights: Step back into the Gold Rush era with well-preserved buildings and the famous White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
  • Weather: Summer temperatures range from mid-50s to low 60s Fahrenheit, with fewer rainy days than other Southeast Alaska ports.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway- an absolute MUST at least once!
    2. Explore the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
    3. Hike the trails offering panoramic views.
    4. Browse the shops and eateries on Broadway Street and grab a Spruce Tip ale and loaded tater tots at Skagway Brewing Company.
    5. Visit the Red Onion Saloon for a taste of local history.

OUR EXPERIENCE: Sometimes an activity just sticks in your mind, and it seems like you remember every exciting moment of it. It’s just there for you to pull out of your memory and experience all over again. That’s the way it is for our White Pass & Yukon Route Railway adventure. We remember it all, and love to talk about it. It was just one of those perfect times in our Alaska travels. So yeah, that’s what we recommend for Skagway. Oh, and if you have enough time drop by Skagway Brewing Company for a Spruce Tip ale. So good.

7. Wrangell

Alaska cruise ports - Wrangell
Alaska cruise ports – Wrangell
  • Highlights: One of the oldest towns in Alaska, Wrangell offers an authentic experience of Alaska’s history and native culture. Cruise ship visits here are rare, and it’s a joy just to walk around this quaint town!
  • Weather: Similar to other Southeast Alaska ports, expect mild temperatures and frequent rain.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Explore the Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site.
    2. Visit the Wrangell Museum.
    3. Tour the Anan Wildlife Observatory to see bears.
    4. Kayak in the Stikine River.
    5. Participate in a local cultural tour.

OUR EXPERIENCE: If you have the opportunity to visit Wrangell, and you’re like us, you’ll enjoy the “non-touristy” feel of Wrangell. We loved interacting with the locals here that were just going about their normal day. We just walked around and explored. We stopped by a supermarket and visited The James and Elsie Nolan Center; a facility that houses the Wrangell Museum, The Wrangell Visitor Center, and the Convention Facility. There were no crowds to speak of when we visited, but it was pouring rain that day, so your experience may be different.

8. Victoria, British Columbia

Alaska Cruise Ports - Pendray Inn and Tea House - Historic Manor in Victoria BC
Pendray Inn and Tea House – Historic Manor in Victoria BC
  • Highlights: This charming Canadian city boasts beautiful gardens and Victorian architecture.
  • Weather: Mild and drier than many other Pacific Northwest areas, with summer temperatures usually in the 60s Fahrenheit.
  • Top 5 Things to Do:
    1. Visit the famous Butchart Gardens.
    2. Explore the Royal BC Museum.
    3. Walk around the Inner Harbour.
    4. Tour the historic Craigdarroch Castle.
    5. Enjoy high tea at the Empress Hotel or the Gatsby Mansion.

OUR EXPERIENCE: Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of those things you should probably do at least once… just to say you’ve done it. We loved our visit to the Empress, however we found the Pendray Inn and Tea House (formerly the Gatsby Mansion) to be more our style. It was so charming, more personal feeling and a bit less expensive. HOT TIP: Pendray Inn is closer to the cruise ship, and is a wonderful way to spend your day in Victoria. But, reservations are usually required, so call ahead!

A few notes on what to Pack for your Alaska Cruise:

You’ve heard it before, layers are KING in Alaska. But, what the heck does that mean? Typically, a day in Alaska can go from drizzly and cool, to sunny for a few hours, then perhaps brisk & breezy. Here are some specific do’s and don’ts to get you started! In short, think jeans, non skid sneakers or hiking boots (waterproof preferred), and clothing that can be layered (t-shirts, hoodies, sweaters, and a light rain layer are key!).

For early or late season cruises, an insulated jacket is also recommended. Also, remember to pack a camera (your phone is great for this!), travel size binoculars, and some motion sickness remedies if you’re prone to seasickness. Our Alaska Cruise store, and Amazon shop feature all of these items!

Conclusion: Why Cruise to Alaska?

An Alaska cruise is really a significantly different experience compared to other cruise destinations. It’s hard to overstate the awe-inspiring natural beauty and wildlife encounters. You have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it. If you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or both, this is the cruise for you. Unlike the more typical tropical cruises, Alaska exposes you to the raw and rugged edges of the vast north. Add to that the opportunities for cultural enrichment and historical exploration, and we circle back to calling this an experience of a lifetime.

Best Times to Cruise to Alaska: We really don’t think there is a bad time to cruise to Alaska. For us it’s always an adventure no matter what the weather conditions, although we do prefer times when there are fewer crowds. In general terms the prime cruising season is from May through September. June to August offers the warmest weather and the best chance of clear days, while May and September provide lower prices, opportunities for fewer crowds and potential (although unlikely) sightings of the Northern Lights. Again, each part of the season offers unique charms and advantages. Read our full article on the best and worst times to cruise Alaska here.

Listen to our Best and Worst Times to Cruise to Alaska on the CruiseTipsTV Unplugged podcast here.

If you’re looking for a cruise that combines adventure with breathtaking scenery and educational opportunities, an Alaska cruise should be at the top of your list.

Read more CruiseTipsTV articles here.

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