You are currently viewing Sitka, Alaska: What Cruise Lines Don’t Tell You, Things to Do, and How to Avoid Disappointment

Sitka, Alaska, often graces the itineraries of many Alaskan cruises, including our recent trip on the Norwegian Bliss in May 2024. While Sitka boasts stunning natural beauty and a rich cultural history, the town itself can be somewhat underwhelming for those expecting bustling activity and a myriad of attractions. Upon arrival, we faced a long and uncomfortable wait to get onto a shuttle into town. The line was exacerbated by the rainy weather, people skipping the queue, and general confusion about the process. This experience underscored the importance of booking a shore excursion.

We highly recommend booking a shore excursion to make your stop in Sitka memorable and enjoyable. We opted for an afternoon excursion, but in hindsight, we wished we had also booked one for the morning. A well-planned shore excursion can save you from the hassles of shuttle lines and provide a richer, more immersive experience in Sitka.

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Why Sitka Can Be Disappointing Without a Plan

For many travelers, Sitka’s small-town charm quickly wears thin. The town itself is small, and if you don’t have a plan, you might find yourself wondering what to do. The shuttle from the cruise port to the town can take more than an hour, eating into your limited time on shore. Once there, you might find the selection of activities and attractions lacking compared to other Alaskan destinations.

The Cruise Port Experience

When your ship docks in Sitka, you’ll be greeted by a large hall that houses a few food stalls and merchandise vendors. While it offers a glimpse into local crafts and cuisine, it isn’t enough to fill an entire day. Additionally, your cruise ship is unlikely to dock by itself; there will typically be another ship there, meaning close to 10,000 passengers are unloaded at the same time. This makes things a bit uneasy without a shore excursion. If you’re looking for a rich and fulfilling experience, you’ll need to venture beyond the cruise port.

Sitka Totem Park

The Solution: Booking a Shore Excursion

To truly enjoy your time in Sitka, skipping the long shuttle lines and booking a local shore excursion is the best option. Here’s why:

1. Seamless Travel Experience

By booking a shore excursion, you can bypass the lengthy wait for shuttles and get straight to exploring. Most excursions offer direct transportation from the cruise port, saving you time and hassle. This allows you to maximize your time in Sitka and focus on the experience rather than logistics.

2. Access to Exclusive Activities

Local shore excursions often include unique experiences that you wouldn’t be able to arrange on your own. This can range from wildlife tours and guided hikes to cultural experiences with local indigenous communities. Booking through a local provider rather than through the cruise ship is highly recommended. You’ll not only ensure you make it back on time but also enjoy a more genuine and intimate experience. Plus, most cruise ships stay in Sitka for almost the entire day, making an externally organized shore excursion an easy and flexible option.

3. Expert Guides Enhance Your Visit

A knowledgeable guide can make all the difference. They provide valuable insights, historical context, and insider tips that enrich your understanding and appreciation of Sitka’s natural and cultural offerings. Their expertise turns a simple visit into an educational and memorable adventure.

Top Recommended Shore Excursions in Sitka

To help you plan your visit, here are some top-rated shore excursions that promise to deliver an unforgettable Sitka experience:

Wildlife and Marine Life Tours

Sitka is a hotspot for wildlife enthusiasts. Booking a wildlife tour can give you the chance to see whales, sea otters, seals, and a variety of bird species in their natural habitat. Read more. 

Historical and Cultural Tours

Delve into Sitka’s rich history by joining a cultural tour. These excursions often include visits to historic sites, museums, and local cultural centers where you can learn about the indigenous Tlingit people and the Russian influence on the area. Read more.

Outdoor Adventures

For those who love the great outdoors, Sitka offers plenty of adventures. Guided hikes, kayaking tours, and fishing trips provide an immersive way to experience the stunning landscapes and pristine waters surrounding the town. Read more.

Sitka Zodiac Adventure

Things to Do in Sitka on Your Own

If you prefer to explore on your own or if excursions are fully booked, here are some things you can do in Sitka:

Visit Sitka National Historical Park

This park offers scenic trails and a fascinating look into the area’s history, including the Tlingit and Russian heritage.

Explore the Alaska Raptor Center

This rehabilitation center for injured birds of prey is both educational and inspiring. You can see eagles, owls, and other birds up close.

Stroll Through the Downtown Area

While small, downtown Sitka has charming shops, cafes, and historic buildings worth exploring. Don’t miss the Russian Bishop’s House and St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Conclusion: Make the Most of Your Sitka Stop

While Sitka may not have the bustling energy of larger Alaskan towns, it offers unique experiences that can be truly rewarding if approached correctly. Skip the long shuttle lines and underwhelming port hall by booking a local shore excursion. This strategy ensures you maximize your time, enjoy exclusive activities, and gain deeper insights into this beautiful Alaskan town.

By planning ahead and opting for a shore excursion, you’ll discover the hidden gems of Sitka and make your cruise stop one of the highlights of your journey.

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