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Anchorage Cruise Port Tips

Anchorage visitors' center. © 2018 Scott Bateman
Anchorage visitors' center. © 2018 Scott Bateman
Anchorage is not a cruise port. But no one can take an Alaska cruise without going there for one simple reason. It has an airport.

Cruise passengers fly into Anchorage to start a cruise that goes from Alaska down to either Seattle or Vancouver. Cruise passengers also fly out of Anchorage at the end of cruises that begin in either Seattle or Vancouver.

Because Anchorage isn’t a cruise port, passengers must take a transfer between there and the actual ports at either Seward or Whittier on the coast. They are two hours south of Anchorage.

Seattle and Vancouver have many attractions that make it worthwhile to spend an extra night or two in either city. Is it worthwhile for anyone to spend extra time in Anchorage before or after their cruises? We tried spending one extra night in Anchorage to see what we could find.

Attractions and Shore Excursions


It also is the starting and stopping point for a remarkably busy tour bus. The one-hour bus ride is somewhat interesting, especially at the massive small plane airport. Tickets are $20 per person. Longer tours lasting two to four hours cost $60 to $100 per person depending on the length and tour operator.

Afterward our trolley tour, we crossed the street to the Anchorage Federal Building for the free exhibits and a series of films about the state.

Anchorage Museum, 625 C Street, is the state’s largest museum. It has a broad focus on art and design, history, science and culture. Exhibits include native Alaska cultures, an interactive history gallery and a hands-on science center with a planetarium, marine life tanks and other attractions. General admission tickets are $18 per person.

Alaska Native Heritage Center, 8800 Heritage Center Drive, is a 26-acre facility that educates the public about Alaska Native history and culture. It has art, dances, movies, exhibits, traditional native dwellings, demonstrations of native games and more. ANHC is about seven miles east of the city center. Tickets are $24.95 per person with discounts for children.


Anyone who goes to the Alaska Native Heritage Center can continue another six miles in the same direction to Chugach State Park. Attractions include the 200-foot Thunderbird Falls, the Eagle River Nature Center, Eklutna Lake and various hiking and cycling trails.

Alaska Zoo, 4731 O’Malley Road, specializes in the conservation of Arctic, sub-Arctic and similar climate species. The center cares for orphaned wildlife in addition to providing education and research. The zoo is about 10 miles southeast of the city center. Tickets for anyone who isn’t an Alaska resident are $15 per person.

About six miles farther southeast of the zoo is Flattop Mountain, a commercial resort and recreation development. The development claims it is Alaska’s most visited peak. Hikers can scend the 1.5-mile, 1,350 vertical foot trail to the summit in about an hour. It has panoramic views from Denali and Mt. McKinley to the Aleutian Islands. A shuttle is available from 4th and C streets downtown for $22 per person.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, 79 Seward Highway, is nearly one hour south of Anchorage. It’s also a common stop for some of the shuttles that take people to and from Anchorage and the southern ports at Seward and Whittier. Prices are $15 for adults and $10 for children 7 to 17.

Local flightseeing excursions at $350 to $600 per person are common. Helicopter tours last from one to three hours or more and usually include brief glacier landings. Some include dogsledding at a higher price.

The center is a mid-sized open-air zoo with various animals available for public viewing including bears, wolves, eagles, buffalo, lynx, elk, moose and more. Prices are $15 for adults and $10 for children 7 to 17.

Denali State and National Parks


The most famous attraction near Anchorage and most popular land attraction in the entire state is not that near. But Anchorage is a starting point for getting there.

Denali state and national parks are in a category by itself. The two exist side-by-side several hours north of Anchorage.

Denali State Park is more than 300,000 acres or about half the size of the state of Rhode Island. It has limited facilities except for K’esugi Ken Campground, which is about two hours and 20 minutes from Anchorage. The park has eight major hiking trails ranging from one mile to 27 miles and easy to difficult.

The Denali National Park visitor center is four to five hours or about 239 miles north of Anchorage. Like the state park, the national park has many hiking trails, scenic drives and wildlife viewing opportunities. Denali mountain, formerly Mount McKinley, is the dominant feature of the park and the tallest mountain on the continent at more than 20,000 feet.

This giant park has more than 6 million acres of land.

The National Park Service offers shuttles that take visitors through the park. Visitors can get off and back on shuttles at their leisure.

A variety of inns, hotels and resorts are near the park entrance.
Tour companies offer a visitor package starting from the Seward cruise port for anyone who disembarks there.

An example tour was $864 per person for three days and two nights including accommodations and transportation. Visitors would then go to Anchorage via the Alaska Railroad.

Cruisers on a tight budget may transfer to Anchorage, rent a car and drive up to Denali. It is best to plan on staying there at least three days and two nights because of the lengthy drive.

Getting Around / Transportation


Anchorage has a street naming system like Washington D.C. that names streets with letters in one direction and numbers in the other. If only all cities had such an easy system to follow. Walkers will have no trouble touring the city and finding the addresses they want.

Unlike the smaller ports, Anchorage has plenty of taxis to take people just about anywhere around the city.

Budget travelers can use a public bus system called People Mover. Adult fares are $2; day passes are $5.

Weather


Despite Alaska images of massive snow, Anchorage is one of the driest locations on any cruise itinerary for the state.

Total rainfall in June is a little more than one inch, according to historical data from the U.S. National Weather Service. Rainfall climbs to only two inches in July and three in August.

Even September, which usually brings heavy rains to most of southeast Alaska, average only about three inches.

Average high temperatures in the summer reach the upper 60s Fahrenheit and sometimes break into the 70s.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

August 28, 2019

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