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3 Incredible Excursions You Shouldn’t Miss on Your Alaska Cruise (Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan)

DISCLAIMER: This article was written on a cruise I took as part of a press trip. This means I didn’t pay a cruise fare. All opinions are my own and no company has any control over this content.

I’ve just disembarked a cruise where I spent 7 days sailing around Alaska. We travelled 2209 miles and visited the Alaskan ports of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.

It was unlike any trip I’ve ever been on before, and I saw and did things that I never could have imagined pre-cruise. It’s still hard to believe that all this really exists and that I was there.

Emma Cruises at Ketchikan

As I was travelling so far from home to take this cruise I decided to book excursions every day. This meant that I would have an organised trip to look forward to at each port.

I hoped that I wouldn’t regret this decision. My aim was to see as much as possible – but I of course didn’t want to feel like I had no free time to explore by myself. 

In our first port of Juneau, I decided to book a dog sled excursion on Douglas Island.

Last year I met a few sled dogs in Norway but didn’t get the chance to go for a ride so when I saw this one on the list I decided this would be the best time. I can’t imagine anywhere better to go dog sledding than in Alaska.

Cruising to Juneau

We sailed slowly into Juneau watching the amazing views go by, and docked at around 2.30 pm. I could see the cable car and a seaplane – both of which are very popular things to do in the port. 

We were met just outside the cruise ship by the tour company and took a bus ride to the Musher Camp.

For me just being in Alaska was so exciting. I could have spent hours just looking at the tall trees, it certainly was a landscape that is very different from my home in England. 

Our tour guide told us a little bit about the town’s history and said that Juneau isn’t accessible by road, only by plane or boat. It is the capital of Alaska and home to the Mendenhall Glacier.

As soon as we pulled into the camp the dogs were jumping and wagging their tails, they were already hooked up to the harness ready to run and our guide said that it was like a dog at home, as soon as you put their lead on they know that they are going for a walk and they get excited! 

Dog Sled team Alaska

We were split into groups of 4 or 6 and shown to our sleds, these are summer sleds with wheels because there wasn’t any snow on the ground when we visited in late April. 

The dogs pulled us away as if it was the easiest thing in the world and our musher told us about how he was keeping them at a steady pace but they would run much faster if they were allowed to.

I was really surprised by how steady the sled was and in total, we went on a mile circle around the woods.

Our Musher told us all about his dogs and how he ended up with each one. They all had the cutest names like Batman, Spider, Tesla, Bliss and Snoopy. He actually took some photos of the dogs for us while we sat on the sled, using our phones.

Emma Cruises Dog sled Huskie

I was wearing a light coat of course, which is very important on any Alaska cruise. We had fantastic weather this day but even still it’s always worth bringing a small coat. 

To get an idea of what you need to pack for an Alaskan cruise, read the article below:

A Light Packers Guide to Alaska – (What I Brought – and 17 “Essentials” I Didn’t Bring) + Printable Checklist

After our ride we learnt about the 1000-mile race that the dogs are able to compete in. Including how the vet stops work along the way and what happens if a dog does get too tired or gets hurt.

They actually wear adorable little socks to stop their feet from getting cut on anything sharp when running and apparently the dogs know that they’ll be running when they put these on – so they just lay upside down with their feet in the air ready to have them put their socks on! 

The record for the race was set in 2017 by a 57-year-old called Mitch who finished in 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds. He actually took the record from his son – and at 57 he’s also the oldest person to win the race. 

The dogs were all so friendly and actually they didn’t smell, that might sound like a no-brainer but the huskies I met in Norway really did, it took me weeks to get the smell out of my clothes.

Find out all about my winter trip to Norway where i saw Huskies here:

One of the dogs did slobber on my trousers in an unfortunate place but hey – that’s to be expected.  You may have noticed that these dogs don’t really look like traditional fluffy huskies and that’s true, they have all kinds of husky mixes here.

Dog sledding in Alaska
Our dog sled team

After some time spent on the rope bridge, we went to meet a couple of the pregnant dogs, we were told that they were expecting their puppies in the next week so we did just miss out on seeing them – but the adult dogs were plenty cute. 

The toilets at the camp reminded me of Shreks Swamp – which made me laugh.

On the bus we were given a couple of options, did we want to go back to the ship or did we want to be dropped downtown?

It was around 5 pm at this point and we were due to be in port until 10 pm so we decided to explore.

This was our first time wandering around a town like this and we had a look in all the shops, there were lots of great places to buy souvenirs and jewellery. We bought a few things before wandering back to the ship.

We were docked at the AJ terminal which was about a 15-minute walk away, there was a free shuttle put on by Norwegian but wandering along the streets in the evening was lovely and I’m glad we decided to do that. 

I saw a yellow school bus which for me is the most American thing ever! I was very excited because we don’t have buses like that where I’m from, we only see them in movies. 

In our next port of Skagway we did take the shuttle bus because we weren’t allowed to walk out of the port. This was only about a 2-minute ride but looking at the rock face beside the bus I would guess this is why we weren’t allowed to walk along there.

Still, there was no wait for the bus and we ended up being where we were meant to meet for our excursion about 45 minutes early.

Cruise ship docked in Skagway
Docked besides a rock face in Skagway. We had to take a shuttle bus to town.

The cruise ship was docked in a beautiful location and we joined the line to board the White Pass railway.

We were in this port from 7 am until 8 pm – so had loads of time to explore. 

I’d heard about this railway for years and when I told people I was coming to Alaska I had message after message telling me that this is what I had to do.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m not a massive fan of trains. I think it’s because I used to commute to work on them and they were more of a necessity for me. This train was nothing like that!

The railway was actually built in 1898 and it of course has been updated a lot in that time. When we sat down we were given a bottle of water and we met our guide who would be with us for the whole train trip.

In total, the journey was around two hours so I was very glad to learn that there was a toilet onboard every train carriage.

I did Google that one before I booked of course, I’m not risking being stuck up a mountain without access to a bathroom! We were actually travelling so far that we would be going in to Canada! 

The seats on the train did move so you could face backwards or forwards, there were a couple of people who were in a group with their friends who went backwards the entire trip. I’m far too motion-sick for that but clearly it didn’t worry them. 

The landscape changed drastically as we got further and further up. At the bottom, the sun was shining and it was a lovely warm day. By the time we got to the top everything was covered in snow – very deep snow that covered cabins and cars.

We were able to go outside of our train cart at the front and back during the journey, there was limited space of course so we did have to rotate around but everybody was polite. We all made sure we didn’t stay out there for too long to give everybody else a go. 

White Pass Railway/Railroad Emma Cruises

Whenever we saw a view like this I would think wow, this is it, it can’t get better, I’d better go outside and wave my camera around – and then BAM we would see something even more amazing. 

We went over bridges and through a few tunnels – there were constantly things to look at. I was hoping to see a bear but didn’t on this trip. 

We had the full day in Skagway so had plenty of time to explore the town when we got back.

I had one thing on my to do list and that was to get something that is called a “Doughboy.” It was basically like if you got 6 sugared doughnuts and squashed them together – I’m sure I had my years worth of sugar in just this one treat but it was absolutely worth it. I did have a diet Coke afterwards which I’m sure cancelled it out, right? 

Easting a Doughboy in Alaska

It was bizarre to see life going on in the town with this dramatic backdrop behind, I’m sure the people who live here, of which there are only around 1100, don’t even really notice the view anymore but for us it was incredible.

We were so lucky with the weather and that made the train trip even more special. 

Looking around the shops I did find a bear, but I don’t think that one counts. 

The weather continued to be brilliant for our trip to Ketchikan and they said that we had won the “Ketchikan lottery” because we had good weather.

We were only here for the morning so I booked a tour which I hoped would show me as much as much as possible.

It was called the “Eagles, Totems and Lighthouse” tour and would be on a boat owned by a local company.

When we disembarked the ship in Ward Cove we met our tour in a massive purpose-built building. It had totem poles, it had a little river, bears, wolves – everything. 

We also bought a few souvenirs and I saw a sign for a “Walmart Shuttle” which made me laugh. You may wonder why somebody would want to go on a Walmart Shuttle – but we don’t have Walmart in the UK, and for me, I could spend hours just looking around inside.

I don’t think you’d want to watch a video about Walmart so I did take the boat tour instead. We were walked to our boat as a group and introduced to the team that would be looking after us. 

Find out all about that amazing excursion, and the others I took here:

The staff on the ship were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. We were the last in the line so when we boarded the top deck was full and we sat downstairs. At first, I thought that was a shame but now I think it was the best decision. 

I’d recommend doing the same if you take a tour like this because we had the whole of the bottom of the boat for just 7 of us. There were windows that opened so that we could still get great photos and videos, but we didn’t feel the wind’s chill.

We were able to go up to the top deck too and we did towards the end of the trip but I’m glad that we made the table downstairs our base.

It was here that we were given some interesting snacks, including Alaskan Salmon.

We saw some Eagles and I was amazed by how massive they were. We got the chance to see some of their nests, which are apparently 4 to 6 feet across.

We also ticked off Totem Poles from the list, and because they face the water the ocean is the best place to see those from.

Alaskan Lighthouse

This is the lighthouse which really wasn’t what I expected but I guess it does count, I was expecting a stripey cartoon lighthouse, but we achieved 3 out of 3 things on this trip.

Some of the best Alaskan scenery was actually seen from our ship the Norwegian Encore, to find out what we got up to onboard, including the wildlife we saw and what it was like cruising through Glacier Bay.

Emma Cruises Glacier Bay
Wonderful scenery could be seen from my balcony.

To find out more about my balcony cabin onboard Norwegian Encore, watch this video next:

Before You Go

If you are considering a cruise to Alaska, why not check out my “Light Packers” guide below?

A Light Packers Guide to Alaska – (What I Brought – and 17 “Essentials” I Didn’t Bring) + Printable Checklist

Find out where people are taking cruises to – it isn’t always the Caribbean or the Mediterranean – although they are the top choices:

Top 10 Must-See Cruise Destinations: Discover Where Everyone’s Cruising To in 2024!

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