Alaska Shore Excursions, Part 2

| Monday, 05 Mar. 2001

Click here for Alaska Shore Excursions, Part 1

Exploring Juneau

Information: http://www.traveljuneau.com; Phone: 888-581-2201.

Activities/attractions: Mendenhall Glacier, flight-seeing, hiking, whale watching, Mt. Roberts tramway, Taku Glacier Lodge.

Tour BoothsCLICK FOR PIC
Juneau, the capital of Alaska, has a great variety of things to see and do. Here you'll have to plan carefully to fit in more than one option.

When you get off your ship, you'll be right downtown. The Visitors Bureau has an office at the pier where you can pick up maps and information. A number of memorials are situated along the waterfront and boardwalk and the famous Red Dog Saloon is nearby; state and city museums and government buildings are a short walk, with shops all along the way.

Mt. Roberts TramwayCLICK FOR PIC
From your ship, you'll see the Mt. Roberts tramway gliding 1,800 feet up the steep slope beside the cruise ship pier. The tramway is quite an engineering achievement, built by the Swiss and operated by Goldbelt, a native-owned company. At the top on a clear day, you'll see spectacular vistas and an aerial view of your ship, and you'll find walking trails, shops and restaurants. Watch "Seeing Daylight," the 25-minute, award-winning film about the culture and heritage of the Tlingit people. A day pass for the tram costs $21.95 ($12.60 for kids age seven to 12). Some cruise lines sell tram tickets for the same price, but since you still have to walk to the tram terminal, the only advantage to purchasing on board is perhaps skipping a lineup at the tramway ticket counter. Visit: http://www.alaska.net/~junotram/

River Raft on Mendenhall LakeCLICK FOR PIC
The city covers an extensive area. Mendenhall Glacier, a 20 minute drive from downtown, is the most accessible glacier to any town on the Inside Passage. A shuttle bus departs from outside the tramway to the glacier. $5.00 each way. Once there you see the visitor's center, the glacier and its lake. There are some spectacular hiking trails and park rangers offer guided hikes. Be alert if setting off on your own as bears are common in this area and some trails may be closed for this reason.

Juneau Taxi & Tours is one of several companies with vans waiting at the pier, or call ahead to book before you arrive. Vans can take up to seven passengers and rent for around $55 an hour. It won't take more than a couple of hours to see all the main sights including Mendenhall Glacier, the mining museum, fish hatchery, a city tour and panning for gold. You might want to linger longer at the gold panning creek or Mendenhall Glacier, and you'll have that flexibility if you book your own van. Call Juneau Taxi & Tours at 907-790-4511.

For those wishing to drive themselves, Rent-A-Wreck, Hertz, Budget and Avis rental offices are located at or near the airport in Juneau, about a 15 minute drive from downtown. Rent-A-Wreck has 50 used cars available in Juneau and they will deliver your car and/or pick it up, at the library parking lot beside the cruise pier (or one of three other downtown locations). The charge is $10 each way or $17.50 if you pick up and drop off in town. If you pick up and/or drop off at the Rent-A-Wreck office on Industrial Blvd. they will drive you between the pier and their office at no charge. Be sure to reserve early and request pier service when you book.

Pier pickup may be available the day of your arrival through Hertz or Budget but it is not guaranteed. They recommend you reserve ahead then call them from the pier when you are off the ship. Should you need to take a cab to Hertz, keep your receipt and they will reimburse up to $15 of the fare which is around $25. Avis is located at the airport and does not offer pickup service in Juneau. You'll get the latest information by contacting the car rental offices in Juneau directly: Rent-A-Wreck: http://www.rentawreck.com, phone 888-843-4111 or 907-789-4111. Hertz: phone 1-800-654-3131 or the local office at 907-789-9494. Budget:phone 1-800-527-0700 or the local offices at 907-790-1086 (airport) or 907-790-2866 (Old Dairy Road). Avis: http://www.avis.com, phone 1-800-230-4898 or the local office at 907-789-9450.

Guided HikeCLICK FOR PIC
Hiking is readily available in Juneau. Due to the abundance of bears in the area, it's a good idea to take a guided hike with a naturalist/guide. You'll also learn much more about the region by hiking with a local guide. There are hiking trails as close as Mt. Roberts, right beside the cruise ship pier. Without a reservation, you can take the tram to the top and join a hike with one of the knowledgeable guides from Gastineau Guiding, considered the premier company in the area. To pre-arrange a hike in Juneau, contact Gastineau Guiding directly. The company offers several hikes in the Juneau area including the Mt. Roberts Alpine Loop in conjunction with a city tour. Visit their web site at http://www.stepintoalaska.com

The Taku Glacier Lodge Wilderness Experience has been one of Juneau's most popular cruise excursions for many years. It departs conveniently from the Juneau waterfront near your ship. This three and a half hour tour includes 50 minutes of flightseeing in a DeHavilland Otter, during which time you'll see five glaciers from the air. During the two hours at the lodge, there's a king salmon feast in view of Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier. Wildlife viewing is common, with bears and bald eagles frequently spotted. You'll have time to explore the grounds and the historic Taku Glacier Lodge, which originated as a hunting and fishing camp in 1923. The cost is $210 for adults, $170 for children under 12 (a child younger than two years goes free if he travels on your lap). Wings Airways also offers a one hour tour with 40 minutes of glacier flightseeing only, for $148.00. For more, visit http://www.takuglacierlodge.com and http://www.wingsairways.com.

Active adventures abound in Juneau. This is an excellent spot for whale watching, wildlife viewing, kayaking and river rafting. Some whale watching companies actually offer a cash refund if you don't see a humpback or orca whale during your tour. For these individually priced adventure activities, cruise line pricing is often comparable to booking independently. Some companies do not take bookings directly from cruise ship passengers, such as the reputable whale watching excursions of Allen Marine Tours.

For those who want to make their own arrangements, companies offering adventure tours are listed in the Tours & Attractions area of the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau online at http://www.traveljuneau.com.

For helicopter flight-seeing tours in Juneau, call early if you book independently. Temsco Helicopters offers a 30-minute flightseeing tour with a two-hour hike on a Juneau glacier; a 30-minute flight with a 20-25 minute walk on Mendenhall Glacier for $199, and the Pilot's Choice Glacier Explorer with a 50-minute flight plus two glacier walks totaling 30 minutes for $299. Visit Temsco Helicopters at http://www.temscoair.com or call 1-877-789-9501.

Era Aviation is another well-established company in the flight-seeing business. Era's Four Glacier tour lets you see four glaciers in different stages: the advancing Taku Glacier, the retreating Norris Glacier, the cascading Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier, and the Dead Branch Glacier, which floats in its own meltwater. The two-hour tour includes a 15-20 minute walk on a glacier ($229). Era also offers the Glacier Dog Sled Adventure Tour including a 45 minute flight and an hour at a glacier dog sled camp ($410). "Mushers" who have raced the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race operate the camp, and the highlight is a 20 to 25-minute dog sled ride on the glacier. Visit Era Helicopters at http://www.flightseeingtours.com. Reservations can be made online.

Exploring Ketchikan

Information: http://www.visit-ketchikan.com; Phone: 1-800-770-3300.

Activities/attractions: Saxman Native Village, Totem Bight Historic Park, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, Misty Fjords National Monument flight-seeing, bear viewing.

Ketchikan is noted for its cultural heritage and is also the sport fishing capital of Alaska, with five species of salmon in abundance. You can actually fish right at the marina in town. In recent years, snorkeling has become popular along with the more traditional kayaking adventures.

Again the ships dock downtown, and the Ketchikan Visitor Information and Tour Center is at the pier. This well-equipped office has pay phones and public restrooms, an ATM and phone card machines.

Here you'll find a tour center for booking bike and car rentals, arranging sightseeing and fishing at the marina. Avoid disappointment by booking in advance from home. See the Visitors Bureau web site at http://www.visit-ketchikan.com.

Here's a selection of the companies represented to contact directly: Southeast Sea Kayaks will pick you up at the pier and take you on a tour "away from the herd". www.kayakketchikan.com (1-800-287-1607) Alaska Dive, Snorkel and Bike Tours www.alaskadeepsix.com (1-866-333-7749) Northern Tours of Alaska ( www.northerntoursofalaska.com (1-877-461-8687 or 907-247-6457) City Tours offers double decker bus tours right from the visitors center at the pier. Reservations can be made online at citytours.alaskamade.com (1-800-652-8687).

Ketchikan's local car rental company is Alaska Car Rental, in business for over 20 years. They offer pier pick up and you can drop off near the ship. Call 1-800-662-0007 or visit their web site at www.akcarrental.com. Budget has two car rental offices in town. The location at Lewis Chevrolet, 4950 North Tongass, offers pier pickup which must be booked well in advance. Call 1-800-527-0700.

Creek StreetCLICK FOR PIC
At the Visitors Center, pick up a walking tour map and a Ketchikan guide, then head out to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center to learn more about the culture and history of the region. Walk along historic Creek Street built on stilts above salmon-filled Ketchikan Creek. Here you'll find the famous Dolly's House, once home of Ketchikan's most famous "madam," Dolly Arthur, which is now a museum. A cable car takes visitors up the cliff to the Cape Fox Lodge for local cuisine and a view over town ($2.00 if someone is on duty). You might be able to take a great photo of your cruise ship from here. There's also a view into the mountains from the front of the lodge and a totem pole circle. You can walk the trail back down to Creek Street or ride the cable car down. En route back to the ship, stop in at the Dog Sled and Mushing Museum on Mission Street.

The entertaining lumberjack show runs three times a day rain or shine. It's a short walk from the cruise pier on the boat harbor on Spruce Mill Way, behind the Alaska Discovery Center. For more visit http://www.lumberjacksports.com.

The two top native cultural centers in Ketchikan are Totem Bight Historic Park and The Saxman Native Village. Situated 2 miles out of town, Saxman Native Village has the world's largest collection of totem poles. Here you can watch local artists carve, and experience the music and dance of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida peoples. Arts and crafts are available in the gift shop. Totem Bight Historic Park has a fine collection of totem poles, a clan house and nature walks. Northern Tours of Alaska and Alaska Sourdough tours, both represented at the tour center, can take you there. Northern Tours all inclusive city, totem park, and rainforest tour costs $30 for two hours.

Taqan Air is a well-established air taxi service offering a variety of float plane tours aboard its fleet of four-passenger DeHavilland Beavers. The company sells through many cruise lines but you can also contact them directly to make arrangements. Taquan does not offer pier pick up and drop off so passengers who need this service are advised to book through their cruise line. You are also guarnateed a flight time by booking through the cruise line. Taquan may not be able to confirm a flight time until the day you arrive in port if you reserve independently. Mid July to Mid September is the busiest time of year as this is bear watching season.

One tour the company offers which is available the day you arrive in town is the 35-minute Alps, Eagles and Totems flight for $99 which takes you over Ketchikan and the surrounding to view the highlights. This flight is ideal for those who don't want a long excursion or spend too much time in a small plane.

Taquan Air's Misty Fjords National Monument is a popular flight tour from Ketchikan, since not all cruise ships visit the park. This 2.3 million-acre area is home to some of Alaska's most dramatic scenery with sheer granite cliffs, waterfalls, river valleys and lakes. The 90-minute flight costs $199.

Bear viewing is a high priority with visitors to Alaska, but it is possible to spend a week in Alaska and not see a bear. Taquan Air offers two bear-viewing flight and hike tours in the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska bear adventure is 2 ½ hours including a 45 minute flight and about 1 hour bear watching and 30 min hiking/driving for $299. The Anan Creek tour is three and a half hours. It operates on Saturday and Sunday only during the pink salmon run in July and August. This tour is by special arrangement only and includes 45 minutes to one hour of flying time, a guided hike to the wildlife-viewing platform with about an hour of bear watching. The fare is $425 and you must contact Taquan Air directly to make the arrangements. Access to the prime bear viewing areas is restricted by U.S. Forest Service permits.

Your best bet is to call Taquan Air at 1-800-770-8800 or email tours@taquanair.com to make arrangements directly through the company. Visit their web site at http://www.taquanair.com.

Exploring Sitka

Information: http://www.sitka.org; Phone: 907-747-5940.

Activities and attractions: Russian and Native culture and history, Sitka National Historic Park, Alaska Raptor Center, kayaking, fishing.

Sitka, on Baranof Island, has one of the most picturesque settings of any Alaskan port. Here you will tender ashore to enjoy the former Russian capital of Alaska, which combines native culture, Russian history and Alaskan wilderness.

St. Michael's CathedralCLICK FOR PIC
You can see many of the sights on a walking tour around town, including St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Totem Square, Isabel Miller Museum and the Russian Bishop's House. Familiarize yourself with Sitka before you leave home by studying the map at http://www.sitka.org/maps.html.

Russian and Tlingit dances are performed in town. The all-female New Archangel Dancers troupe is preserving the authentic folk dances of Russia. They have performed around the world, and their show is worth seeing before returning to your ship. Performances are at the Harrigan Centennial Hall on Harbor Drive.

The Sheet'ka Naa Kahidid Dancers preserve the Tlingit art of storytelling through traditional dance. See them at the Tribal Community House along with other cultural events, and a gift shop with authentic Native artwork. It's on Katlian Street next to the Pioneers Home.

Raptor CenterCLICK FOR PIC
The Alaska Raptor Center is a 10-minute drive from town. Here, injured eagles, owls and other birds are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. The birds can be seen in the outdoor display and an informative presentation explains the work of the center. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under. See http://www.alaskaraptor.org/.

Situated near the downtown area, the Sitka National Historic Park is home to a fine collection of Haida and Tlingit totem poles and a museum of Tlingit and Russian artifacts. The active Tlingit arts program allows visitors to watch and talk to Native Indian carvers. Take the self-guided ocean-side trail past several totems to the site of the Tlingit fort.

A transit shuttle operates May through September, Monday to Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours when cruise ships are in port. It stops every 25 minutes at Crescent Harbor Shelter, Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska Raptor Center, a downtown stop by Random House, the Tribal House, and O'Connell Bridge. It costs $7 per person for an all-day pass; $5 per person one-way. For more information call 907-747-7290.

Again, car rentals should be made well in advance in Alaska. Avis is located a the Sitka airport and here they do offer pier pickup but it must requested at least three days in advance. http://www.avis.com, phone 1-800 230-4898 or the local office at 907-966-2404.

Sitka Tribal Enterprises offers culturally oriented bus, hiking, walking and private tours. Visit http://www.sitkatribal.com or call 1-888-270-8687 to order brochures.

For companies offering tours, fishing charters, kayak rentals and more useful links in Sitka, visit the web site of the Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.sitka.org.

There's something for everyone in Alaska. Aside from excursions and exploring the towns you visit, shopping is available close to the cruise ship docks in all ports. For those who simply want to enjoy some R&R and take in the pristine beauty, there's no need to take an excursion at all. Just enjoy life aboard your ship. You'll be surrounded by some of the world's most spectacular scenery every day of your Alaska cruise.

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