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May 17, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Alaska cruise: Shore excursions are key (and they can cost you)

If, like me, you’re a cruising skeptic, time on shore in Alaska will be an important component of any cruise you might end up taking (to please your significant other, or because you have no other way to see Glacier Bay, or whatever).

The White Pass & Yukon Route historic railway is a popular shore excursion for cruise passengers visiting Skagway. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

The White Pass & Yukon Route historic railway is a popular shore excursion for cruise passengers visiting Skagway. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

Shore excursions are also a major moneymaker for cruise lines, and this cruise had more than 100 offerings from which to choose along the way. Often, you can arrange shore trips at considerably less expense once you get on shore, but the cruise director on Star Princess offered these arguments for booking with the ship’s excursion office:

  • You won’t have to wait in line onshore, where there might be up to five other shiploads of people competing to book tours and trips at private booths. (I didn’t see such lines on our trip, but this was early in the season. Or it might just be that the argument is winning, so most cruisers book outings while on board.)
  • You won’t get left behind if you’re on a Princess tour. The ship will wait for its own groups if there’s an unforeseen delay. Depending on how far afield you go, and how long the ship is in port, that argument might or might not win you over.

    Near the visitor center in Juneau, tour seller Trent Wilson advertised that he was the only local among a crowd of tour vendors.

    Near the visitor center in Juneau, tour seller Trent Wilson advertised that he was the only local among a crowd of tour vendors. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

  • Quality and comfort is more assured on a Princess-arranged tour. That’s true, but you might get more local flavor from riding on the old school bus with the local narrator who owns his own business and has lived there all his life.

You might also find onshore tour vendors willing to offer price breaks on slow days, or if you get a group together.

Here’s a sampling of tours and costs offered for Star Princess passengers:

  • Mendenhall Glacier bus trip from Juneau, $45 on a standard tour coach. I got there on the local ramshackle bus for $16.
  • Salmon fishing outing from Juneau, $199.
  • Mendenhall Glacier and whale watching from Juneau, $199. A local tour operator on the dock offered us a similar outing for $110.
  • Chilkoot Trail hike (two miles) and float-trip from Skagway, $139.
  • Dog sledding (on wheeled sleds) and glacier flightseeing, from Skagway, $549.
  • Rain forest walk and crab feast, from Ketchikan, $159.
  • Misty Fjords seaplane exploration, from Ketchikan, $279.

(SEE READER COMMENTS HERE.)

Comments | Topics: Alaska cruise, cruise excursions, cruises


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