Cruising Alaska: Shore Excursions in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka

If Alaska has been on your travel bucket list, but you’re not quite sure which area to explore as a first-timer, consider a cruise to visit multiple towns paired with a memorable onboard experience. In 2017, Holland America celebrates 70 years of cruising Alaska. The cruise line offers a variety of itineraries, so whether you’re seeking a succinct weeklong getaway or an expansive exploration, you’ll find the perfect match for your interests and budget with Holland America.

During my seven-night cruise on Holland America’s Westerdam ship, ports of call included Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka, three of the most popular towns for cruise-goers to visit. As with many cruise experiences, guests will also have a few “at sea” days while the ship is en route to its next destination. For those sailing days, it’s important to select a cruise line and ship that offers dining and entertainment options that speak to your specific preferences, or one that presents a wide variety to please everyone in your travel party.

Dining On-Board Holland America

I was impressed with Holland America’s range of dining options. An assortment of fine dining venues, such as Pinnacle Grill, offer menu selections for refined palates. Savor Pacific Northwest-inspired dishes such as king salmon or beef from Washington State’s Double R Ranch. Food enthusiasts will also want to explore taste sensations presented by Holland America’s Culinary Council of celebrity chefs. If you’re looking for a poolside snack, options include a burger bar, pizza stand, and the occasional special event. During my cruise, we celebrated our arrival in Alaska with local craft beers and Alaskan King Crab legs on the Lido Deck. Most of my meals took place on the Lido Deck at the all-day buffet, as the quality and selection were unbeatable. No matter how early or late the hour of my arrival, I enjoyed fresh, satisfying menu selections without waiting to be seated or served.

Holland America Experiences

Combine a strong onboard dining experience with endless options for entertainment, and you’ll soon see why Holland America has such a legendary reputation for cruising Alaska. Throughout the day and into the wee hours, Holland America offers movies, music and theater productions, yoga sessions, arts, and educational programs suitable for all ages. But, if you’re cruising to Alaska, you’ll also want to simply sit back and relax with your beverage of choice to take in the scenery and wildlife viewed from the comfort of the ship.

Photo: Holland America on-board entertainment. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Holland America on-board entertainment. © CT Shier.

While onboard, the crew will help point out marine wildlife and regional birds. From whales, seals, and dolphins to eagles, hawks, and cranes, you’ll be delighted with the abundant presence of wildlife as you cruise in style. Whether you select a balcony suite, as I did, or opt to view your surroundings from one of the many comfortable lounges, be sure to have your camera handy to capture these once-in-a-lifetime memories.

Holland America Shore Excursions

How you experience Alaska is entirely up to you. While many guests opt to explore each port-of-call on foot to independently take in local shops, dining, and entertainment, others prefer a guided experience with scheduled excursions. Perhaps you’ll enjoy a mix of both options. Holland America excursions offer inclusive pricing for immersive experiences led by local experts. While visiting Juneau, consider a foodie walking tour, traditional salmon bake, dog sledding, or a glacier helicopter tour. In Ketchikan, take a floatplane to see bears or explore Misty Fjords, or sign up for fishing, kayaking, or backcountry expeditions. In Sitka, go on a nature safari, or sign up for fishing, snorkeling, and wildlife excursions, or stretch your legs on a pedal and pub crawl through town. Excursions can be a good use of your time while in port if you have specific activities you want to experience. The following tips, though, offer a general idea of what to experience if you opt to explore port towns on foot.


One of Alaska’s oldest cities and the state capital, Juneau sits at the base of Mount Roberts and visitors will first notice the picturesque landscape. Downtown features a mixture of modern and early 19th-century architecture. Cruise ships dock at the busy waterfront where seaplanes, tour boats, and excursion buses greet visitors. If you opt to wander Juneau on foot, you’ll notice the bustling South Franklin Street is full of shops and restaurants to keep you full and entertained for hours. Attractions include historic sites and monuments, along with wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries. Visit local coffee roaster, Heritage Coffee, for a hot cup of coffee to warm your hands as you wander through the vibrant downtown. Dine at Tracy’s King Crab Shack for fabulous local seafood in a casual waterfront venue.

Photo: Heritage Coffee. Juneau, Alaska. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Heritage Coffee. Juneau, Alaska. © CT Shier.
Photo: Tracy's King Crab Shack. Juneau, Alaska. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Tracy’s King Crab Shack. Juneau, Alaska. © CT Shier.


While Juneau is the capital, Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “first city” for its southern location in the Inside Passage, making it the first city cruise passengers often visit. Ketchikan is a beautiful settlement where many homes and businesses are perched above the water on stilts. This is the case for historic Creek Street, a charming shopping and dining district situated on a boardwalk over Ketchikan Creek. The Waterfront Promenade is another must-visit neighborhood that you’ll notice immediately after disembarking from your cruise ship. Ketchikan is known for its salmon cannery and logging histories, and you’ll notice both of these influences as you sightsee the town. Enjoy a fresh local menu at Alaska Fish House, peruse market vendors for souvenirs, and dedicate time to visit Totem Heritage Center for an impressive glance at past and present carving traditions.

Photo: Alaska Fish House. Ketchikan, Alaska. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Alaska Fish House. Ketchikan, Alaska. © CT Shier.

Photo: Dining and shopping at Ketchikan's public market. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Dining and shopping at Ketchikan’s public market. © CT Shier.


In this oceanfront town along Sitka Sound, Russian architecture is evident throughout the city, most notably at the centrally located Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. In addition to Russian heritage, Sitka visitors can explore the cultural history of Native Tlingit Indians, Sitka’s first inhabitants. During your walking tour of Sitka, explore 22 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sitka National Historical Park, known locally as Totem Heritage Park, is a must-visit venue for its Tlingit and Haida carvings. Wildlife lovers will want to pay a visit to Alaska Raptor Center, which rehabilitates injured birds, and the Fortress of the Bear, a habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs. While perusing town, visit Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co for local vibrant salts, and Old Harbor Books for a wide selection of regional titles and an up-close look at their antique letterpress.

Photo: Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. Sitka, Alaska. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. Sitka, Alaska. © CT Shier.

Photo: Old Harbor Books. Sitka, Alaska. © CT Shier. FWT Magazine.
Photo: Old Harbor Books. Sitka, Alaska. © CT Shier.

If You Go

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Lori A. May

Lori A. May is a food and travel freelancer with Best Life, Canadian Traveller, Eater, The Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Time Out, and more.