Alaska’s capital city is unique but with only six hours to see the sights, Juneau whale watching was my number one priority. However, the choice isn’t easy for everyone. Juneau, the largest US capital city by area, offers exciting and unique things to do including nature and wildlife viewing (bears, whales, waterfalls), adventure sport (kayaking, rafting, ziplining), dog sledding, glacier walks, panning for gold, and more.
Nearly 1 million visitors arrive in Juneau annually, 900,000 of them via cruise ship. We were no exception. After reviewing the options, our family split up. While we all went on the water, two wanted more adventure (without a camera) while I, along with one of our girls, went a Juneau whale watching and Mendenhall glacier photo safari (see images below).
Why We Recommend Pre-booking Juneau Excursions
We will pass on one of the best recommendations we were given: Prebook a shore excursion in Juneau Alaska. While it is an easy port to do on your own, it is the last port you want to be left at should you be late getting back to the ship. And while people always think it will never happen to them, our ship left 8 people in Juneau.
Juneau is the only US capital city that is not accessible by road (although there is a car ferry). Therefore, getting to the next port to be reconnected with the ship will be very expensive. (You generally need to hire a private plane or boat).
We were thrilled to discover that Viator, TripAdvisor Company, offers a worry-free shore excursion guarantee. They are a company we trust, with small groups, great guides, and generally significantly lower prices than the ship can offer.
Juneau Alaska Excursions
All of the options on this table had Viator’s worry-free shore excursion guarantee at the time of publishing this page. It is prominently displayed in the detailed descriptions. Be sure to verify it before purchase.
|Mendenhall Glacier, Whale Watching and Salmon Bake||See Mendenhall Glacier
Juneau whale watching cruise
Alaskan salmon bake
See totem carving
|Bear Viewing, Flight, and Kayak||Visit Pack Creek brown bear viewing area
Fly over Tongass National Forest
Kayak through Windfall harbor
|Gold Panning and Salmon Bake||Juneau city tour, pan for gold
See totem carving, Salmon Creek waterfall
|Juneau Whale Watching Tour||Whale watching on a 48-passenger boat
See Mendenhall Glacier on a clear day
|Mendenhall Glacier Trek||Guided trek along Mendenhall Glacier
8-mile trek through Alaskan wilderness
Pass glacial formations
*Read fitness requirements
|Mendenhall Glacier Rafting||Raft through Class II and III rapids
See Mendenhall Glacier from the river
Our Juneau Alaska Whale Watching Experience
The spout of water shot up into the air and my heart skipped a beat. I unconsciously held my breath as I hoped this majestic whale would breach the water, jumping into the air. Instead, she gracefully returned to the sea, her tail appearing as she descends. We don’t get to pick the day or the weather when we cruise.
Juneau Wildlife Spotted
We saw Humpback whales, seals, sea lions, and a bald eagle. Orca whales and brown bears are often seen from the Juneau whale watching cruises. We also successfully went whale watching in Hoonah Alaska a few days earlier.
Check out this beautiful DVD on Humpback whales, from National Geographic →
Whale Photography Tip
Capturing this moment in a photo involves preparation. You need to be ready, ideally with a camera set at a fast shutter speed (sports mode on a point-and-shoot). Also, set it in a burst mode so the camera will take a series of shots when you hold down the button. By setting my shutter at 1/800 it was fast enough to stop the action. At the same time, it was not so fast that it froze the water drops as they came off the tail (as stopping the drops leaves the appearance of dots on the photo).
For more travel photo tips, sign up for our newsletter and we will send you a free copy of my e-book: Travel Photo Tips by Rhonda Albom↓
Juneau Glacier Viewing
Next, we took a drive to a forest about 12 miles out of town. Here we hiked along Nugget Creek Falls trail to the Mendenhall Glacier viewing point. Often referred to as the Juneau glacier, it is 13.6 miles long.
Glacier Photography Tips
Like with most landscape shots, the goal is to have the maximum in focus. Therefore you will want to set your aperture to a higher number. If you are using a point and shoot, use the landscape (mountain) setting. I shoot in Raw and adjust for white balance in Lightroom. However, if you don’t use post processing software, you can adjust the camera’s white balance before taking the shot. For glaciers, set the white balance to “sun”, which adds a cooling filter that will intensify the blue of the glacier. I know the day we had was overcast but had I set the white balance to “cloudy” the camera would add warmth (less blues) to the photo.
Other Alaska Cruise Ports We Reviewed
We sailed from Anchorage (Whittier) to Vancouver. Here are our top recommendations for each port: