One of the first things I noticed when planning my recent Alaska cruise was the numerous excursions offered by the cruise line. The second thing I noticed were the high prices that went along with many of the excursions. When traveling as a family of 4, the cost of a single excursion for all of us could easily soar well over $1000. Trying to stay some what budget minded, we chose to just do a single ship offered excursion for this cruise.
We chose the “White Pass and Yukon Railroad” in Skagway as our major excursion for this trip. We chose the basic train ride to the summit and back. However, the cruise lines also offer this train trip in combination with other activities like hiking or a city tour for an additional charge. The basic tour seemed to fit our extended group that included two kids under 11, 4 adults in their 40’s, and two ladies over 60. It promised to be something that we could all enjoy together.
This excursion is listed as one of the top ten activities in Alaska, designated an international civil engineering landmark in 1994 and listed as one of the world’s top scenic railways.
One of the nice features of this excursion is that the train comes pretty much right up to ship docks to pick up passenger. Passengers simply walk about 200 yards from the gang way to board the train. Many of the trains cars are historic antiques. The train cars feature reversible padded upholstered seats and picture windows. If passengers want to venture outside onto the exterior platforms during the ride they can also get unobstructed views from those areas. Our group enjoyed both the picture windows and the platform. The journey takes passengers from sea level in Skagway to the 2865 foot summit at the border between Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The train passes over several trussles, through several tunnels and by numerous waterfalls, gorges and scenic vistas. We all marveled at the scenery and the engineering required to build this railroad. Two of the highlights included Bridal Veil Falls and the Original Steel Cantilever Bridge. Our tour narrator provided us with both historical and scenic information about the train. The train was built during the Yukon gold rush as a way for prospectors to travel safely into the Yukon Territory. Today, the train provides a relaxing way for cruise ship passengers like us to travel a bit into the interior of Alaska and see a bit more than just the coast.
How would I rate the excursion? At over $100 per adult for a three hour tour, I felt the excursion was expensive, but worth it . However, when you compare the $100 price tag to other excursions offered at over $300, the price seems like a bargain. The train was clean, comfortable and tranquil, while the views seemed to get more spectacular around each corner. There were no “extras” on the train other than a restroom and bottled water (in cute little train shaped bottles). It would have been nice to have some refreshments or snacks, but it was just a 3 hour tour. As expected, it turned out to be a great excursion for our party of all ages. The kids and adults were well entertained by the scenery and every changing views. The only hiccup was that the excursion left at 12:30 and the dining room and buffet on the ship were not serving lunch until 12:00. Our family handled this by ordering room service at 11:00 and and other family members ate a quick lunch at the buffet before heading to the train. On the tour, we had hoped to see wildlife, but the tour guide informed us that the noise from the engines usually keeps the wildlife away from the trains. Imagine our surprise, when on the way back down from the summit, we saw a bear only about 10 feet from the train. A less expensive option to this tour is the “To the Summit” tours offered for under $40 per person. These tours travel along the highway that runs on the opposite side of the gorge from the train. While the tour van doesn’t offer the atmosphere of the train, it has the up side of stops at scenic views and views across the gorge of the trains running along the opposite side.
This tour was very enjoyable and I would definitely recommend to anyone traveling to the Alaskan inside passage.