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Best Free Alaska Cruise Attractions

Sitka harbor
Sitka harbor is a popular attraction. © 2018 Scott Bateman
Some people don’t want to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars are Alaskan cruise shore excursions. They want just free attractions.

Alaska shore excursions can send a cruise budget sky high because many of them are so appealing, such as whale watching, dog sledding or flightseeing in a plane or helicopter.

Some activities aren’t so much shore excursion as they are attractions with an entry cost. Some are in town and others require transportation, which is then another cost from a taxi or shuttle.

But not everyone has an unlimited budget. So what Alaska cruise attractions are free and within walking distance of the cruise ports?

Ketchikan


Creek Street is a colorful and mildly interesting attraction within a few blocks of the cruise docks for anyone with extra time on their hands. This historical street, which was the home of brothels during the gold rush, is free to access. A few of the attractions have an admission fee.

Attractions include Dolly’s House Museum, Tongass Historical Museum and various boutique gift shops. Dolly’s House Museum admission is $5. Tongass Historical Museum admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and free for youth under age 17.

Energetic walkers can go to the Totem Heritage Center about one and a half miles from the cruise terminal. “One of the world's largest collections of original, 19th century totem poles,” this city-owned museum says. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and free for children.

Sitka


St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 240 Lincoln St., is known for its green dome and gold crosses. It is the earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World. The cathedral, which was built in the 1840s, was destroyed by fire in 1969 and rebuilt. It still contains some icons that date back to the 1600s.

The Russian Bishop’s House, 510 Lincoln St., is the home of the first bishop of Alaska. The two-story log building, which is now a museum, is one of the oldest surviving structures of Russian America. It is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. Admission is free.

Sheldon Jackson Museum, 104 College Drive, is one of two official Alaska state museums. The museum, a half mile from Harrigan Hall, has what it describes as an “exceptional collection” of Native American artifacts. General admission is $5, seniors are $4 and youth under 18 are free.

Baranof Castle State Historic Site is within walking distance of where tenders drop off passengers. This National Historic Landmark was the location of Tlingit Indian and Russian forts, where Russian formally gave ownership of Alaska to the United States in 1867, and where the first 49-star U.S. flag was flown after Alaska became a state in 1959.

Juneau


The Alaska State Museum, 395 Whittier St., has a large collection of art, historical and natural history objects and exhibits. It is a half mile from the cruise terminal. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and free for youths 18 and younger. It sometimes has free admission for everyone on select dates.

A half mile from the cruise terminal on Main Street at the corner of 4th Avenue is the small Juneau-Douglas City Museum. It displays exhibits about the culture and history of the Juneau and Douglas area. Admission is $6 for teens and adults, $5 for seniors and free for children 12 and younger.

Skagway


Arctic Brotherhood Hall
Arctic Brotherhood Hall. © 2018 Scott Bateman
The most interesting attraction in this town of 900 people is the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, 245 Broadway. It has nearly 9,000 driftwood sticks nailed to it. The visitors bureau says it is the most photographed building in Alaska. Getting there is a brief walk along Broadway from the cruise docks.

Captain William Moore cabin at Fifth Avenue and Spring Street was the first house built in Skagway before the Gold Rush. Built in 1887, it is the oldest structure in Skagway. The U.S. National Park Service has restored several interior rooms using photographs taken by the Moores in 1904.

Gold Rush Cemetery, Main Street and 23rd Avenue, has the graves of milers, criminals and con artists dating back to the late 1800s. It is about two miles from the cruise docks. But for anyone who walks to the end of Broadway while shopping, it’s only a half mile.

Budget travelers who can’t or don’t want to walk it can take the low-cost town shuttle service to reach it. The shuttle is $2 one way or $5 for the entire day.

Another half mile beyond the cemetery is Lower Reid Falls. It also has a two-mile trail with moderate elevation.


Seward


Seward has one of the nicer business districts of the small Alaska cruise ports. Visitors can take a free city shuttle to the district, which has a enough shops and restaurants to keep visitors busy for a few hours. A variety of colorful outdoor murals add to the attractiveness of the town.

A series of small parks lie along the waterfront for walkers who want to use them for a loop through and around town. On our afternoon there, a sea otter calmly floated on its back within 10 feet of us and didn’t mind photos. Quite the ham.

Mount Marathon offers a free, moderately challenging four-mile hike. The trail head is at the western end of Monroe Street -- the farthest away from the waterfront -- and one block south of the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.

One of the biggest free attractions in the area is the Kenai Fjords National Park, and one of the biggest attractions in the park is Exit Glacier. The park visitor center is right by the small boat harbor in Seward. Unfortunately, getting to the Exit Glacier Nature Center and the hiking trails is not free and too far to walk at eight miles one way. Round-trip shuttle tickets are $15 apiece.

Whittier


Whittier is so small that it has little to see in the town itself. One exception is Prince William Sound Museum at the Anchor Inn has 32 exhibits about Whittier's history and Alaskan military history during World War II and the Cold War.

The Whittier harbor and Prince William Sound offer pretty views on a clear and sunny day.

Seattle


Seattle Center is the place to go for things to see and do, some free and some not. Viewing the world-famous Space Needle is free; going up the Needle is not. International Fountain also offers nice views and good photos on a clear day.

The three other major attractions at Seattle Center -- Pacific Science Center, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Museum of Pop Culture -- all have entry fees.

Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Avenue, is a free, nine-acre sculpture park. The park is right by the cruise ship docks.

The famous Pike Place Market, 1514 Pike Place, is one of the more unusual shopping experiences. This former fish market is now a sprawling food, craft and shopping mall packed with sights, sounds and smells -- and often quite a few people.

Vancouver


Getting to a free or cheap attraction in Vancouver depends on how much time passengers have in port, before or after the cruise. The best ones require at least a long walk or some kind of transportation to get there.

The district around the cruise terminal is Gastown, which offers mainly shopping and dining. Nearby Chinatown doesn’t have much to offer other than the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

The next best option is False Creek, an inlet lined with parks and paths for walking and biking. Energetic passengers could walk from the docks to the Sun Yat-Sen garden and then on to the beginning of False Creek by Science World at TELUS, which is about one and a half miles altogether.

They can then either walk on the paths if the day is beautiful -- as ours was -- or take a water taxi over to the Granville Island Public Market. It often has free entertainment plus tons of shopping and restaurants.

Other options for this route include a bus from Waterfront Station, a taxi or the convenient metro.

Anyone who likes recreation and has even more time available can go to Stanley Park. It lays claim as the first and largest urban park in the world. The park has 1,000 acres of rainforest, a beach, walking trails and other recreation. It also has Canada’s largest aquarium.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Things to Do   

October 13, 2018

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