I recently got a question from one of my readers:
Everything is paid for, the flights are booked with miles. And now you have a big dilemma on your hands: should you do any shore excursions? After all, this super duper expensive Alaska cruise may end up being a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As always, I can’t tell you what to do. The cost can be significant, so it largely depends on your budget. You can browse and even book some shore excursions ahead of time. Here is a page of NCL
website listing various options for Alaska. You might sit down first, though, before you take a look at some of these prices.
I have been on Alaska cruise before and my strong opinion is that you don’t have to do any excursions. The visual highlights can be experienced right from the ship. Alaska itself is what’s best about Alaska. You can pay more money to enhance your experience, but IMO the benefit will be somewhat marginal. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go on any excursions, of course. I’m just saying don’t feel the pressure to do it.
Follow the leader
Last time I went with my sister-in-law, she decided to treat me to a tour leading to the top of the mountain near Haines. Well, the cruise was in May and there was wet snow everywhere. The golf cart was completely exposed to weather elements. It kept getting colder and colder, and I didn’t really dress appropriately since it was a surprise!
Additionally, it was “follow the leader” type of tour and apparently, some people never saw snow before. So, they would stop and go make snow balls, while the rest of us in golf carts just sat there waiting. I looked at my sister-in-law and said: “This is the kind of thing you put up with when there is no other choice. You DON’T pay to experience it!” She laughed and agreed, but unbeknownst to me, she actually paid over $200 per person. Ouch! Well, at least the food was good.
Of course, not every tour will turn out that way, but we are talking serious bucks here, especially when you have a family of four. Many tours run at $150 per person or more. What I recommend you do instead is try to rent a car whenever possible. We actually did that in Ketchikan so we could explore the surrounding area, and it was way cheaper than what it would cost through cruise line. Research it ahead of time and make sure your insurance or credit card benefit will cover it.
Sometimes you can have the best of both worlds. For example, our cruise through NCL came with $75 tour allowance per port. So, of course, I’ll make sure to take advantage of it. Some activities don’t cost a tremendous amount, so I’ll look for those. There are a few touristy-type stuff like lumberjack shows, so we’ll take our kids there.
This tour costs how much?
We are actually splurging on one expensive shore excursion, but only because my sister-in-law insisted on it. She actually offered to pay for my family, that’s how badly she wants it. But I just couldn’t let her do it, not again. Introducing the tour of Yukon Territory:
Yup, that would be $730 for the four of us. She has been on this tour before and absolutely loved it. This is a ridiculous amount of money but sometimes, you just have to do stuff like that for the greater good. Apparently, renting your own vehicle was complicated since you have to cross over to Canada.
If you end up visiting Victoria, BC during your Alaska cruise, there is a place I strongly recommend:
Butchart Gardens are considered the most spectacular gardens in the world by many experts. If you are into this sort of thing, definitely go. You can rent a car in Victoria (or just take a taxi) and pay for admission yourself. That’s what we did back in the day.
Credit card bonuses to help you pay for excursions
Signing up for cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards should do the trick. You can read about both in this page The bonus points are redeemable toward travel expenses, and your tours should be coded by cruise line as such. At least, that was the case for me in the past.
I do recommend you look for cruise line promotions that will give you port credits to use for excursions. Then try to use them up, but don’t go crazy. You are there to experience Alaska, and you don’t need to pay anything for that. Well, except the mega bucks you just dropped on your cruise, of course.
P.S. See my comments section for additional tips from readers.
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