An Alaska Cruise is a trip of a lifetime. There is so much to see and do it can almost be overwhelming. Each port is unique and with a few insider tips you’ll be sure to make the most of your Alaska adventure. In Part One I shared tips for selecting the best Alaska Cruise for you, getting a great price, and a few things to do in Alaska pre-cruise. Below I will share insider tips on getting to your cruise ship, your sea day viewing Hubbard Glacier, and the some of the best things to do in Juneau and Skagway. And in Part Three I will share my tips for your time in Icy Strait, Ketchikan, Vancouver and sailing the Inside Passage
Getting to the Ship for Your Alaska Cruise
Tip 5 – take the train to Seward – the early train gives you time to explore Seward
You have two choices for getting to the cruise port in Seward – bus or train. You can book the public train from Anchorage to Seward which leaves at 6:45 am and spend your day touring around in Seward, which has a lot to offer. Or, you can choose the later train that is a private charter for cruise passengers only, and must be booked through your cruiseline.
The bus ride is approximately a 3 hour ride and is less expensive, while the train trip is 4-5 hours, depending on your departure time. The train ride is wonderful. You sit at tables in glass-domed cars, and each car has a “host” who serves food, runs the bar, and generally narrates the journey. The scenery is breathtaking, and the time flies
Here are a few scenes from the Anchorage to Seward train trip
Sea Day on an Alaska Cruise – Viewing Hubbard Glacier
Tip 6 – for Hubbard Glacier, get to the Forward Lounge early and take LOTS of pictures!
If you are used to cruising in the calm Caribbean, the waters between Seward and Yakutat Bay, where the Hubbard Glacier is located, can be a shock. The day we sailed from Seward the seas were unusually ROUGH with 12-15 foot swells. The minute we crossed into Yakutat Bay the seas flattened out completely, and we were in a dead calm! Modern cruise ships have features that greatly mitigate seas like that, but if you get sea-sick, be prepared for that brief stretch of the journey.
Hubbard Glacier is awe inspiring! Some tips to have the best viewing experience:
- The second the ship enters Yakutat Bay get yourself up to the forward lounge to secure a nice window seat. There aren’t many, and they fill up fast.
- It will be FREEZING outside, and likely misty, so bundle up and plan to come in and out to view the glacier from different sides of the ship.
- Take lots of pictures and be patient. It’s so cold that people are always coming and going – you won’t have to wait long for your turn at the front railing to get the best snaps.
- Move around the ship to vary your view and photo ops.
- Keep an eye and ear out for any calving (when a huge chunk of ice falls off the face of the glacier) to get that coveted photo op!
- Don’t forget to pause and enjoy the unique sounds – the glacier will moan, rumble and creak. It’s eerie!
Views of the amazing Hubbard Glacier
What looks like a waterfall below is actually ice “calving” off the face of the glacier
Juneau and Skagway are on almost every Alaska cruise itinerary and both offer opportunities to see some amazing sights. As the state capital, Juneau is a bit more business-like than touristy, while Skagway offers all the usual shops, etc. within walking distance to the pier. Here are some fun things to do in both Juneau and Skagway:
Tip 7 – In Juneau plan to spend several hours at Mendenhall Glacier in the morning, and check out the Alaska State Museum in the afternoon
The highlight of your Alaska cruise stop in Juneau is visiting Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Creek. Do NOT buy a tour from the ship. You will pay more, your time at the glacier will be very limited and you will be in a mob scene. All you have to do is walk off the ship and get a cheap ticket on any of a number of shuttles, and the very best option is to go in the morning before all the tour buses descend with their hundreds of tourists later in the day.
You can buy a round trip ticket to go out and back with the same shuttle company (usually leaving every 30 minutes) or you can buy one-way tickets and just go out and back on whichever shuttle is leaving when you are ready to return. I read in several places online that it is possible to WALK from the cruise pier out to Mendenhall. Absolutely NOT! It is a 20 minute direct bus ride on a freeway.
The hiking at Mendenhall is lovely and easy-peasy – wide, flat trails.
Here are a few sights from hiking around the Mendenhall Glacier
Nugget Creek and Nugget Falls
We spent the afternoon walking around Juneau (again, no need to buy a tour) and visiting the Alaska State Museum. The museum is great – lots of well-done exhibits on native peoples, the gold rush, Russian influence, art, animals, earthquakes, etc. One of our life goals is to tour all 50 state capitol buildings. They are usually stunning feats of architecture, steeped in history. Alaska’s state capitol is a repurposed WWII Federal office building. Oh well!
The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau – not exactly fancy!
Juneau from our balcony
Tip 8 – In Skagway take one of the all-day Bus & Train tours to the Yukon
Skagway is an adorable old gold rush town. However, the absolute MUST activity here is a mini-bus & train tour to the Yukon, preferably one of the all-day(7.5-8 hours) options. Again, do not purchase your tour from the cruiseline. Buy online directly from the tour operator. You will be on the SAME tour as the cruise people, just paying less. Chilkoot Charters offers two slightly different all-day tours, the Yukon Rail and Bus Excursion or the Bennet Scenic Journey.
We did the Yukon Rail and Bus Excursion and it was a BLAST!
The All-Day Yukon Rail and Bus tour includes:
- A gorgeous scenic drive up the Klondike Hwy
- Lots of stops to walk around and get some snaps
- Lunch at the slightly corny but fun Caribou Crossing Trading Post. The BBQ lunch is pretty good – do not miss the apple cider donuts or the amazing Yukon Wildlife Museum!!!
- A visit to Carcross
- Retracing the breathtaking route back to Frasier to board the train
- A train trip in vintage rail cars back to Skagway on the historic White Pass and Yukon rail line. Bonus tip – for the return train ride sit on the RIGHT side of the train – best views!
When you book your tour, this is the most important tip of all – choose the “Bus First” option!!! Most people choose the “Train First” option. Therefore you will have a private or near-private tour for the first half. When we did it, we were the only people who chose “Bus First” and a whole CROWD chose train first. It was fabulous – we got to ask tons of questions and stop wherever we wanted to take pix.
Even tho these are all day tours, you will still have some time to explore around Skagway, so go for it! As you can see below, the day will be filled with amazing sights!
Fraser Canada, near the train station
Views on the Klondike Highway to the Yukon Territory
The Wildlife Museum at Caribou Crossing Trading Post showcases animals native to the area
The ride back on the White Pass and Yukon historic rail line
Downtown Skagway Alaska
That rounds up my tips and suggestions for enjoying your time at Hubbard Glacier, Juneau and Skagway. I hope you’re getting excited about visiting Alaska!
Check out Parts One and Three of this series for more great tips on making your Alaska Cruise the best trip ever!