When asked what the best Alaska cruise ports are, this writer (as a former resident) would say…well… all of them! In addition to the majesty of the wilderness and the depth of human cultures, each of them has something special.
Let’s explore 14 favorite ports of call on a cruise to Alaska:
In This Article…
One of the best Alaska cruise ports is considered the “1st city” of Alaska because it is the first port of call for northbound cruise itineraries. Accessible only by sea or air, this is the land of traditional totem poles.
Visit the Totem Heritage Center to see these carvings of life and people from First Nation cultures. Walk the 11-acre Totem Bight State Historical Park for more of these amazing creations.
Once ashore, the downtown area of Ketchikan is pedestrian friendly and has many of the main attractions, including the famous “red-light district.” Stop in art galleries, grab a meal of salmon, and tour the Dolly’s House brothel (now a museum). Cruise ship passengers can also walk along the historic Creek Street, with plenty of traditional-looking wooden venues.
Follow the Waterfront Promenade to read historical markers, rest on whale-tail benches and enjoy the harbor’s scenery. For an adventure, ride one of the two zip lines speeding down 4,600 feet on the side of a mountain.
This port of call has festivals year-round celebrating this island town’s natural and cultural heritage. Music, whales, military parades, and more await. Check with the Visitor Center for maps, festival schedules, and insider tips for exploring the town and surrounding wilderness areas.
Celebrate America’s national bird with a stop by the Alaska Raptor Center. The 17-acre sanctuary helps rehabilitate injured birds and offers visitors a chance to see the flight-training center, where a number of magnificent raptors practice for their return to the wild.
Hear Alaska Native artists speak about their works of art and demonstrate their skills at the Sheldon Jackson Museum. And see the creatures of the deep waters at the Sitka Sound Science Center aquarium. Then, walk to St. Michael’s Cathedral for old-world architecture and the historic Sitka Pioneer Home.
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Immerse in the wilderness along 700 miles of trails around the area, including several accessible boardwalks like the Estuary Life Boardwalk Trail. The Sitka National Historical Park is also worth a visit, where visitors can enjoy the traditional Native American artwork and even the Raptore Centre for injured birds.
There are actually two different cruise ports in Sitka. The newer Sitka Sound Cruise terminal is approximately six miles from downtown. The Old Sitka Dock is located downtown.
Icy Strait Point (Hoonah)
One of the best Alaska cruise ports recently added to many of the ship lines’ ports of call is Icy Strait Point. This small island community has invested in several attractions and built a destination based on the local culture.
Stop at the Cannery Museum to see the importance of salmon and fishing along the waterfront communities. Walk the beach in search of small treasures, and sit at a table with a view for some delicious local seafood meals.
Ride a gondola to the top of Sky Peak. Fly 60 miles per hour back down the mountain on a zipline. Navigate through a unique obstacle course in the forest at Tree Top Adventure & Ropes Course. Then, take a shuttle to the state’s largest Tlingit village to speak with residents about life in this part of southeast Alaska.
Save your appetite for a culinary experience in the state’s capital. In addition to freshly caught seafood, chefs forage ingredients, and breweries experiment with local flavors to create delicious food and drink. Juneau is a popular cruise ship port of call, especially as it’s located in the northern part of the Inside Passage.
Guided tours of historic downtown are free, and the Alaska State Museum contains over 23,000 artifacts of nature, history, and culture. The maze of narrow streets with historic buildings is one of the most walkable cruise port areas on any tour. Gift shops, restaurants, visitor information, and museums are all located downtown.
Ride a tram for views of the city; spot mountain goats at Marine Park; take a flightseeing ride to the famed Mendenhall Glacier; watch sea life at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery; and access many hiking trails from the city. You can find plenty of things to do in Juneau right here.
Skagway is one of the best Alaska cruise ports on many of the lines’ itineraries, including a stop at this Klondike Gold Rush town with over 20 restored historic buildings.
Located at the base of the White Pass, visitors can see what it looked like to be in an Alaska gold rush town at the turn of the 20th Century. There are wooden sidewalks and locals in period costumes to make the picture complete!
Stop at the Visitor Department for information – the building is unmistakably covered in 8,833 pieces of driftwood. See a six-foot mammoth tusk and more artifacts at the Corrington Museum of Alaska History. Take a self-guided (or guided) tour to see the gorgeous flora that earned the town the nickname “Garden City of Alaska.”
Ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad – “The Scenic Railway of the World” – to see dramatic landscapes and vintage sites while climbing almost 3,000 feet over 20 miles. The two-hour tour is perfect for cruise ship passengers.
Glacier Bay National Park & Hubbard Glacier
On the way to our next port, many cruise ship lines stop along the way. While the vessel will not technically “dock” at these two locations, it will “park” in the ocean within view of glaciers.
At Glacier Bay, marvel at the snow-covered mountains, fjords, and waterfalls while waiting for that iconic Alaskan experience – ice “calving” from the glacier.
On a clear day, passengers can see eight glaciers in a stunning array of blues and greens at the former stop. Parked in the bay beside Hubbard, your cruise ship will be dwarfed by the immensity of “the largest tidewater glacier” on the continent. With a seven-mile-wide blue face, this “quickly” advancing field of ice calves more frequently than those in Glacier Bay.
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Inside tip: Dress warmly; wear rain gear, and bring along some patience. The thunderous crack and dramatic splash of an iceberg being born is worth the wait in whatever weather is happening at the moment!
Arriving at this deep-water fjord, the world’s tallest coastal mountains greet passengers. The picturesque town situated along the waterfront offers “a dozen walkable blocks” to explore.
Start with a visit to Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum. Enjoy “one of the largest collections of Native Alaskan art and artifacts in the world” at this destination.
Then, spend some time at the Valdez Museum, where you can learn about First Nation cultures, the Gold Rush, the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 1964 earthquake, the history of bush pilots, and more topics related to this area of the state.
Grab a bite to eat at this end-of-the-road location and enjoy waterfront views from your table at The Wheelhouse and the Fat Mermaid.
Enjoy fine dining, carry-out options, coffee shops, food trucks and some of the best burgers at Old Town Diner. Then, visit the Crooked Creek Information Site for naturalists’ recommendations on outdoor activities.
Book an itinerary that includes a stop at this best Alaska cruise port of Whittier – a “secret” military installation from World War II. This little-known port of call’s top attraction is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. It is North America’s “longest combined vehicle and railroad tunnel.” To learn about this engineering marvel, visit the “dynamite kings” exhibit.
Hike the Horsetail Falls Trail for the coveted experience of seeing this and other small waterfalls along the way. Travel to the Portage side of the tunnel to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. Here you can explore a simulated ice cave, touch an actual iceberg and see the miraculous creatures known as ice worms.
Prince William Sound, home to 150 glaciers, is best explored via chartered catamarans, kayaks, or jet ski tours. Guided wildlife tours take passengers to all the best viewing spots for Steller sea lions, birds, whales, and land mammals in the area.
Once on shore in Seward, visit the Alaska SeaLife Center for a behind-the-scenes tour of rehabilitating and returning wildlife to their natural homes. Up-close views, animal encounters, and hands-on opportunities with marine invertebrates are fun experiences for the whole family.
Take an accessible 2.2-mile (round trip) walk from the Exit Glacier Nature Center to see this glacier “flowing” through the Kenai Mountain Range. Excellent photo opportunities here! For a bird’s-eye view, book a flightseeing tour that can also include landing on a glacier and dog sled rides.
For stunning vistas on land, hike the (moderate) Skyline Jeep Trail or the Tonsina Creek Trail along the coast – both accessible from town. To enjoy the best fishing, book a charter for a chance to hook all five Pacific salmon species, halibut, lingcod, and more. Then, have your catch processed, frozen, and shipped back home.
This cruise port makes our list because of the vibrant arts community, delicious dining, and welcoming atmosphere. The town boasts numerous local art galleries, theatre productions, live music, and the opportunity to take classes in painting, sculpting, and writing while onshore. Stop at the Homer Council on the Arts office to get a schedule and map.
Take a floatplane, helicopter, or boat shore excursion to see a host of wildlife residents at Kachemak Bay State Park. Or, walk the “Spit” – a thin sliver of land deposited eons ago by glacial movement. It is a gathering place for locals, visitors, and artists, and the spot to find info about shore excursion adventures.
Try local flavors at a variety of eateries, from fine dining to food trucks, and experience what “real” fresh seafood tastes like. Halibut, salmon, scallops, oysters, and more are on the menu, along with fresh-baked goods. Sip local mead, wine and beer, and take a tour of breweries and wineries.
Book a cruise that stops at the second-largest island in the United States…and is home to 3,500 brown bears! The town, once the capital of ‘Russian America’ from 1792-1799, is popular due to its scenic coastline and access to the wilderness.
Stop by the historic Holy Resurrection Church, the oldest Russian Orthodox church in the country. And visit the Kodiak History Museum located in an old former fur storehouse wooden structure. Exhibits celebrate the storytelling passion in the area to preserve and share “the natural, cultural and artistic heritage” of the island.
For a memorable view of the area, get back on the waters of nearby Uyak Bay via a small boat, canoe, or kayak trip. Eagles in the air, whales and otters in the ocean, and urchins, starfish, and anemones through the clear water below make this a wildlife adventure.
Dutch Harbor (Aleutian Islands)
Located along the 1,100-mile Aleutian Islands chain is a unique addition to our list of best Alaska cruise ports. This village makes regular appearances on popular television shows alongside the captains and vessels that harvest the seafood bounty around this top fishing port in the country.
After docking at the pier, learn the history of Alaska Native cultures at the Museum of the Aleutians – rated as one of the best in the state.
Then, visit the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area and Visitor Center. Find indoor exhibits and displays and see barracks, bunkers, and gun emplacements left behind from this forgotten chapter of the war.
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Explore the valleys and surrounding hillsides along the same trails indigenous people used for thousands of years. (Inquire about permits and maps at the Ounalaska Corporate Office.) Known for stunning wildflower displays, rare birds and scenic vistas, a walk into the treeless (and bear-free) landscape is a must.
Take a cruise into the Bering Sea and tender to shore at this destination of Nome, famous for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Snap a picture at the finish line marker. Learn about the long history of indigenous people at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, then test your skills on a guided fishing tour of the area’s 14 rivers.
Try your luck on a gold panning expedition while viewing artifacts from the famous Gold Rush days at the turn of the 20th Century. Be sure to see “The Last Train to Nowhere” – an old steam train sitting upon unfinished tracks on the tundra.
Spend time walking the shoreline, exploring the unique ecosystems of the surrounding tundra and forests, and go on a berry-picking expedition.
Do some Whale watching, salmon in the streams and brown bears, moose, musk oxen, and wolves in the wilderness. And come outside after dark for the Northern Lights show!
How to Visit Alaska Cruise Ports?
There are several options for those looking to enjoy Alaska’s stunning ports of call during the season that typically runs from the end of April through Summer. Most cruise ships will depart from Vancouver in British Columbia or Seattle, Washington. There are also some limited sailings, such as departures out of San Francisco and even Los Angeles.
Princess Cruises and Holland America Line will have the most options when it comes to sailing Alaska. However, some other major cruise lines also have multiple ships sailing in the region, including Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
It’s also important to note that most cruise lines do not call at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage. Rather, the large ships dock in Whittier, Seward, or both, where passengers can find transport to the state’s largest city. Not all Alaska cruise itineraries include just Alaska cruise ports. often, passengers will have some featured ports in Canada or on the US West Coast.