Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Alaska Cruise Bear Viewing Excursions

Cruise travelers can see bears at several wildlife facilities. Credit: Pixabay license
Cruise travelers can see bears at several wildlife facilities. Credit: Pixabay license

Alaska bear viewing excursions include seeing them in captivity or taking an expensive floatplane to their favorite gathering places.

If one creature symbolizes the Alaska wilderness, it’s the bear. Fortunately or unfortunately, bears don’t like to hang out by the cruise ship docks. And the cruise lines don’t want them there either.

So cruise visitors have to go looking for them, which is easier in the Alaska interior than on the Alaska coastline.

Anyone on a whale watching tour might see a bear or two on the shoreline and in the distance. We saw a few far away while touring Glacier Bay.

Otherwise, some of the Alaska cruise ports have bear viewing tours that may require expensive travel.

For example, one touring company listed a three-hour “Neets Bay Bear Adventure Floatplane Tour” in Ketchikan for $389 per person. Passengers go by floatplane to the Neets Bay Salmon Hatchery in Tongass National Forest to see black bears looking for salmon.

Visitors take a 25-minute flight to the bay, where they land and go to a viewing platform to watch bears fishing for salmon for 45 minutes.

Like whale watching, “wildlife sightings are not guaranteed” according to the tour companies.

For limited budgets, the smaller cruise port at Icy Strait Point has several “bear search tours” in combination with other activities such as food and brewery tours. Those excursions cost between $100 and $200 per person.

Otherwise, it is possible to see an occasional bear while hiking. Hikers are warned of course not to get too close to one.

Bear Watching in Captivity

Visitors with limited budgets or time can see bears in captivity—as long as the bears leave their hiding places. Several locations are available for Alaska cruise travelers.

Fortress of the Bear in Sitka is the only bear facility directly located at or near a cruise port. It is the best option for seeing bears in captivity during a cruise because of the number of bears at the facility. Visitors get within 25 feet of three populations of brown bears. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 18 and free for children under 7.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a facility about midway between Anchorage and the embarkation / debarkation cruise ports at Seward and Whittier. The center has both black and brown bears, which unfortunately we couldn’t see because they stayed in hiding.

Some shuttle buses include a stop at the center as part of the trip between Anchorage and the ports. Conservation center tickets are usually included as part of the shuttle transfer fee. Otherwise, tickets are $18 for adults, $14 for youth ages 5 to 17 and free for children age 4 and younger.

The Alaska Zoo, 4731 O’Malley Road, Anchorage, has black, brown and polar bears. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children and teens 3 to 17.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
April 04, 2022