cruise planning alaska: excursions

Mendenhall Glacier Skagway White Pass Railway
images from flickr users bill & vicki T and michael bennett

One of the most pleasurable activities in trip planning is to look at sights and activities. We will have a total of 6 stops, so I was furiously looking them all up. Online resources as well as library—Fodor’s Alaska Ports of Call is a very, very useful book although it focuses too much on cruise excursions.

Juneau — we have the whole day there 11am-10pm. Most excursions are to Mendenhall Glacier, perhaps combined with whale watching. The glacier excursions are to the visitor center, with a view of mendenhall across the lake. To get on the glacier it’s either by helicoptor or a hiking expedition. I did the helicoptor to glacier trip in new zealand and mum doesn’t want to risk walking on ice so we are just aiming at going to the visitor center. Looking at pictures and videos, it’s definitely not second best, there are numerous trails that offer spectacular views of the glacier and the chances of seeing bears is quite high.

Ship excursions allow about an hour there, and the universal lament is that there is not enough time. There is a bus that goes there every 30mins $20 roundtrip. This means we can stay there as long as we want. We’ll go there straight after getting off the ship, then aim at getting back to town in the afternoon for an early crab dinner. If we see afternoon whale watching tours at the dock, we may go for that otherwise we’ll just stroll around town, visit a tourist trap bar or tour the beer brewery.

Skagway — whole day 6am-8pm. So many things to do. The main excursion is the white pass & yukon route train that goes between Skagway and Fraser in British Columbia. Add-ons include the suspension bridge, gold panning and dog sled rides. Suspension bridge sounds interesting, I’m a fan of Gold Rush and although the idea of dog sled rides is appealing it involves getting too close to dogs so yuck.

We will likely need to join a tour for our preferred option of train and bus combo that takes us to Carcross and Emerald Lake. There is a ship excursion option of course, and I’ve emailed a couple of independent tour companies. It’d be great if the independents have space, much prefer the smaller group.

If we can’t find an appropriate bus/train combo tour then I’ll want to go on the Jeep adventure where we drive ourselves to the summit.

Ketchikan — half day 7am-12.30pm. I thought we can walk around historic creek street, visit the heritage center or take a bus to one of the parks. More strenous activities include ziplining, karting, kayaking. There’s even a crab tour on board one of the early deadliest catch boats.

Mum likes the look of the wilderness cruise and crab fest for the all you can eat dungeness crab part. Plus we get to pull crab pots. Sounds good and we’ll have to go with the ship’s excursion on this one.

Victoria — evening 7pm-midnight. We want to go to butchart gardens but it may not be open—they only open till 10pm in the summer. If that is the case, we’ll just do a quick hoho bus tour or even better, walk inside the empress hotel and around the waterfront.

Seattle — 2 nights, 1 full day. A definite is pike street market, I envision us being there for hours. Space Needle, we’ll see. People flock to viewing points all over the world, from eiffel tower to empire state building, we always find those experiences a bit meh. Waterfront or may be the olympic sculpture park.

Vancouver — 3 nights, 2 full days. Mum did the homework on Vancouver and the first thing she identified are the markets — richmond night market, international night market and granville public market by day. We like markets. It being our last stop, the plan is to see what we can buy to bring home.

Activity-wise, there’s the capilano suspension bridge, especially if we skip the one at skagway. They also have a cliff walk, a treetop canopy walk as well as walking in the forest itself. Looks fantastic and at least half a day.

Another day can be spent at grouse mountain with a cable car, walking, bears and a 5-line zipline. The zipline takes 2.5hrs, even though mum won’t go she said I should. For some reason, I’m scared of heights, rollercoasters and bungee jumps but I went zorbing and I’m okay with the idea of ziplining.