In an earlier review, I touched upon the experience I had during my 7 day Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Star. During our cruise, you make port stops at various cities where you get to spend a number or hours to shop, dine at local restaurants, or enjoy a shore excursion that is available through Norwegian Cruise Line. My port stops occurred at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Prince Rupert. As of today, there are 43 excursions offered in Ketchikan, 38 in Juneau, 40 in Skagway, and 16 in Prince Rupert. It can really be a headache to schedule the combination of excursions that you want to participate in and make sure they are of the highest quality activities for the money spent.
Before I get into reviews of my individual excursions, keep these tips in mind:
Shore Excursions Can Take up the Entire Time in a City
When you participate in some of these shore excursions, be knowledgeable of the length of the excursion and how much time NCL is actually allowing you to spend in a city. The excursion may be so long that you may not have anytime to eat at local restaurants or have much time to browse the downtown area to purchase souvenirs. I saw a trend that younger people usually wanted to participate in the more active excursions while older folks were more often willing to save money and just walk around the city during the entire docking period.
NCL Will Not Leave Disembark Without You
Don’t worry about NCL’s ship leaving the city without you if your shore excursion happens to run late for whatever reason. NCL will wait for you no matter how long it takes to get back. Even though this scenario is uncommon for an excursion to run late, it did happen to us when we participated in the White Pass & Laughton Glacier Hike and were the last ones to board back onto the ship!!!
Bring Your Passport
When you participate in a shore excursion in Prince Rupert (Canada), you will be asked to display your passport when crossing back into United States territory. If you are found without a passport, that could lead to some tricky situations so make sure to apply early for a passport if you do not already have one.
Expensive is Not Always Best
The most expensive excursion is not always the best experience. As you’ll see below, the price of the excursion does not dictate my rating of the excursions. Sometimes the best excursions will depend on the family, age range, previous experiences, and goal of the trip. What’s best for me may not be best for you so take my recommendations with a grain of salt.
There were a number of people who were unable to participate in the excursion of their choice. Before you book your cruise, make sure that you can book yourselves on the shore excursions that meet your eye. I would hate to spend all this money on a cruise that lacked the experience you wanted to attain when you set foot off the cruise ship. Note that some excursions are added as the cruise comes closer so keep an eye out for that. Double check but I believe you are allowed to cancel your reservations for a shore excursion at no additional fee.
Excursion: Tatoosh Islands Sea Kayak
Price Per Person: $144 (Note that these prices were with respect to the last week of August price & excursion prices vary by sail date)
Approximate duration: 4.5 hours
This excursion started with a motorized inflatable boat ride to the Tatoosh Islands in our party of twelve people. We then partnered up into two person sea kayaks with a rudder in back controlled by the foot peddles inside of the kayak. Outerwear was provided including a coat and life jacket. We used spray skirts so access to your pockets during the actual kayaking trip was very difficult. With a considerable amount of water splashing onto your spray skirt, it would be suggested that you make sure you keep that skirt on during kayaking, and it’s recommended that any digital camera be hung around your neck if you desire to take photos while on the water. With two guides, we had a paddling time of about 1.5-2 hours around the Tatoosh Islands. One of our guides was extremely knowledgeable and a wonderful tour guide that pointed out many bald eagles he spotted in the distance sitting among the trees. We stayed relatively close to shore as the waters did get a bit choppy during certain parts of the kayaking trip. Since you take the Zodiac boat ride so far out to the Tatoosh Islands, you really do get a peace of mind during the kayaking trip since you are so far away from civilization. A lot of nice looking trees, rock formations, and scenic views of the Tongass National Forest existed during this trip but I expected something much more exotic from a place called “Tatoosh Islands.”
This was the more expensive kayaking trip I participated in during our Alaska cruise and although it did contain very beautiful scenery and a quiet atmosphere, I thought the price for a double kayak was overpriced for 1.5-2 hours of paddling. A lot of the cost incurred probably derived from the 25 minute Zodiac trip and that they have to take you on a van ride out to the adventure center before even getting onto the Zodiac ride.
Experience Rating: B+
Overall Rating: C+
Excursion: Mendenhall Glacier River Float
Price Per Person: $119
Approximate duration: 3.5 hours
As you participate in the Mendenhall Glacier River Float excursion, you should not need to worry as much about securing reservations as dozens of 8-12 people river floats were available. With a two hour float time, this was a very satisfying experience as we floated down the Mendenhall River with an excellent view of the Mendenhall Glacier at the beginning of the excursion while getting very close to large chunks of ice in the water. As we proceeded down the river (we happened to go on the day with the largest rapids according to our float guide), we were met with maximum of class 2 rapids. There were some really fun dips as the rapid did not get too rough and the rough waters only existed in certain sections of the river. Unfortunately, someone in a nearby river float actually fell off the float and got quite soaked, but did not seem to have any negative effects of hypothermia. Don’t let this rare incident deter you from going and be aware that I did go on one of the rougher days of the year accordingly to the guides.
Toward the end of the float, the guide did most of the paddling and we were greeted with an amazing sight of a bald eagle feasting on a large whole salmon. I took a number of digital photo shots from the middle seat (as only the two outer people in each row actually do any rowing). Therefore make sure to sit the person with the camera in the middle for photo opportunities. A combination of glacier scenery, affordable pricing, ability to get some exercise, and possibility for wildlife sightings make this excursion one of my top choices. If you are expecting a white water rapid experience, you’ll probably be disappointed.
At the termination of the river float excursion, you come to a large building where you remove all the boots and gear they provide you. You’ll also arrive to some hot apple cider, smoked salmon, crackers, cheese, and optional photos for purchase which they took of your river float group in action along the Mendenhall River. Not all the photos are the best of quality or best angles so being at the front of the float would provide a better photo purchase opportunity since you’d ensure to be at the front of the photo for a good souvenir to bring home.
Experience Rating: A
Overall Rating: A
Excursion: Tsimshian Cultural Kayak
Price Per Person: $105
Approximate duration: 3.5 hours
Now I can’t say that there is whole lot of “cultural” in this Tsimshian Cultural Kayak excursion outside of the fact that the two tour guides are young Native Americans and that your ending destination is a beach where a Tsimshian village once stood. Nothing on the beach gives any indication that a Tsimshian village ever existed and looks like any other beach. This kayaking trip is not as private or scenic as the Tatoosh Island Kayaking trip as our group of about fourteen people basically took a kayak across the Prince Rupert Harbor. Once arriving on the beach, the tour guides proceeded to make a fire with nearby branches and brush for everyone to chow down on some hot dogs and roasted marshmallows for a lunch. One treat they did bring along were freshly caught dungenous crabs that they had caught earlier in the day (this is not normally part of the excursion). Kayaking in single or double sea kayaks were about half of the duration of the excursion.
If you want to see better scenery of the Alaska/Canada outdoors, go to Tatoosh Islands Sea Kayak. If you rather just have a general kayaking experience with the family at a more affordable price, this would be the kayak tour of choice I’d recommend. One thing I did like about the Tsimshian Cultural Kayak is that there were at least two single kayaks and that there was no extended boat ride to get to the docking point in order to start kayaking. Again, make sure to put your digital camera around your neck because your sea skirt around your sea kayak will make it difficult for you to have access to pockets and your pants.
Experience Rating: B-
Overall Rating: B
Excursion: White Pass & Laughton Glacier Hike
Price Per Person: $195
Approximate duration: 9 hours
Simply Amazing!!! The best value per dollar spent. This 9 hour adventure includes a one hour train ride along the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway and a magnificent 6-8 mile round trip hike to the Laughton Glacier. Along the way until arriving at the base of the Laughton Glacier, you will encounter rivers, streams, a plethora of trees, a boulder field (make sure you bring those hiking boots), exposed glacier crevasses, and walking on top of the glacier. A nice cold can of Kokanee beer was waiting for us at the finish line upon our arrival and sandwiches were provided since the excursion took up the entire day.
The wild thing is that only about ten people from the Norwegian Star were allowed to go on this hike. I heard a number of NCL passengers that were very disappointed that they were unable to participate on this excursion, and I felt bad for those that really wanted to go because it was a super enjoyable day of activity. A couple of the older folks that were in our group were unable to make it onto the glacier and through the boulder field since it was very strenuous. Being able to do the entire 6-8 miles round trip hike is very refreshing and something that you can look back when you’re older and gladly say that you were able to conquer the Laughton Glacier Wilderness Hike.
The guides on this hike were my favorite and most educated of all the guides we had on this Alaska trip. When you have to spend 9 hours with a group of people, it is so much more enjoyable when they’re amiable and socially inclined. Two jokes that they told me that I will never forget:
“Two fish are swimming together and one hits a wall, what does the other one say? Dam”
“A nearby frog is sitting on the bank, what does he say? Dumb bass”
Experience Rating: A+
Overall Rating: A+
For those who have not had the opportunity to see the glaciers of Alaska, make sure to do so on your cruise via a shore excursion. With global warming in effect and the glaciers receding at a fast rate, the glaciers will be much more difficult to get a close look and first hand experience 5 or 10 years from now. With that said, going on these NCL excursions are not cheap, but for those only having one opportunity to go on an Alaska cruise, I would highly recommend participating in these excursions at least 3 of your 4 days while the ship is docked. Try to find a diversity of actitvities that would suit the entire party and if possible, I would highly recommend the White Pass & Laughton Glacier Hike in Skagway and the Mendenhall Glacier River Float in Juneau. Find better alternatives in Ketchican and Prince Rupert if possible. I heard that there is some very nice areas to view salmon running up river in Ketchikan as well as doing a lot of shopping for smoked salmon since that town is the “salmon capitol of the world.” Plan these activities ahead of time and do your homework to ensure that your shore excursion and onship experiences with Norwegian Cruise Line is one for you to forever remember (note that going on another cruise ship will produce different onshore activities since the docking time will in all cities will be cruiseship dependent). Happy cruising!