At the end of May 2016 my husband and I took his parents on what ended up being an utterly amazing family vacation: a 7 day cruise to Alaska. To be honest, virtually every excursion that either Norwegian cruise lines offered or that I found on my own seemed like a “must do”. In the end, we ended up with 4 not to miss excursions. Click to read (and see!) what I would repeat in a heartbeat.
Let me begin by saying that these are all my own personal experiences and opinions. I am not in any way being compensated by Norwegian Cruise Lines or any of the excursion vendors that I’ll be mentioning below. Now, with that out of the way, let the fun begin!
1. Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour – Ketchikan, Alaska
Now, this was a tour that I could have actually booked directly through United, but … it was significantly more expensive than just going directly to the vendor directly. Tickets can be purchased on their website in advance of your cruise. They met us right as we got off the boat and it was a short walk to their boat.
I wasn’t especially a huge fan of the Deadliest Catch TV show, but even having only watched a couple of episodes, I recognized the ship and some of the crew. Perhaps the claim to fame is that the Aleutian Ballad was capsized be a rogue wave. Afterwards it was turned into a tourism boat for all of us to enjoy. Even if you aren’t into the TV show, there will be something on this excursion for you as long as you love great views, fun stories, and taking in an utterly amazing eagle “show”. There are snacks and warm drinks available for purchase, and they actually passed out very warm coats for us all to wear as well.
While you will learn about (and see) crab fishing, we also saw whales, an octopus, and some crazy fish that live on the bottom of the sea. The best part though was watching them feed the eagles. Check out a slow motion video that I posted of about 20+ bald eagles swarming around our boat here – I still love watching that video. That part alone was a once in a lifetime experience.
2. Taku Lodge Feast & 5 Glacier Discovery with Wings Airways – Juneau, Alaska
This one I booked through Norwegian, but you can book directly with Wings Airways here. Full disclosure: I was petrified of riding on a seaplane. They are small, loud, and smell like diesel fuel. I still feel that way, but the views…. pictures do not do them justice. It was about a 20 minute sea plane ride to Taku Lodge, but it felt like 5 minutes. We were all glued to the window, and since every person has a window seat, it was easy to do. If you are nervous about the idea of riding in a sea plane, let me tell you with the literally hundreds of thousands of miles that I’ve flown in my life, this was the smoothest take off and landing I’ve ever felt. These pilots are pros.
When we landed at the lodge we had time to walk around the trails or just take in views of the glacier. It felt like home. There are particular residents that most people are hoping to meet: the local black bears. It took us about 5 minutes to see one. She walked right through the lodge ground about 10 feet free me at one point. The staff know the bears and their personalities well and very quickly had her up a tree. They gave us very clear directions about what to do in order to stay safe.
The bears come almost like clockwork for the same reason you are also there – the salmon bake! The staff do not feed the bears, but the bears have figured out that the sand at the bottom of the large grill outside where the salmon is cooked is just about the best tasting sand in the world. All of those lovely salmon oils drip down off the grill onto the sand and virtually without fail the bears come to do clean-up duty. The beauty is that while you are inside eating a downright magnificent fresh Alaskan wild salmon lunch, the bears are out cleaning up the grill. It is a pretty great lunchtime show.
3. Skagway Sled Dog and Musher’s Camp – Skagway, Alaska
Because, honestly, who doesn’t love puppies. I mean, come on…
This is another one that I booked direct with Norwegian, but you can also book directly on the vendor’s website here.
This tour was nice because it is only a couple of hours so more than likely you will still have time to explore Skagway if your stop is for the day. Obviously there isn’t too much snow around in what was June at that point, so they use special summer sleds to train the dogs. You go an a 1 mile ride through the forest and get a sense of what it is like to work with these tough dogs. The musher is there to answer any questions you have.
After the sled ride you get to learn about what it actually takes to run the Iditarod – a 1000 mile sled race across the rugged beauty of Alaska. Then, puppies. You get to meet and hold the future sledding champions.
This is a great excursion for kids and adults alike. There are bathrooms at the main camp along with snack and souvenirs for purchase. Our guide was great with history and had lots of jokes to keep the small group laughing the entire time.
4. Whale Watching – Victoria, British Colombia, Canada
Victoria was a struggle for me. I wanted something different for our group, but also something that we couldn’t get back home. While I have heard lots of good things about the Butchart Gardens, we are more “animal people”. That pretty much meant that at the last-minute I went with the generic whale watching excursion that Norwegian offered. None of the non-cruise line options I found would work with the hours that we were in port.
It ended up being excellent.
Maybe it was the time of year that we were there, or maybe it was dumb luck, but we saw all kinds of wildlife in addition to beautiful scenic views. We saw orca whales from pod L, humpback whales, sea lions, and birds left and right.
The boat had a great mix of indoor and outdoor deck space. Although there were quite a few people on the trip, I was hard pressed to have a bad view of the wildlife or struggle to get a shot with my camera. I had lower hopes for this tour to begin with, but the great staff and sheer volume of wildlife that we saw completely made the whole thing worth it. There were facilities on the boat along with refreshments to buy. The different boats would all radio back and forth to share if they saw whales so that the other boats could try to catch up and see them as well.
Hopefully that inspires you a bit if you are either headed on an Alaskan cruise or just adding it to your short list for the future. It truly is a treasure and a unique experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat.