If you’re planning on an Alaskan cruise and you happen to love animals, these excursions from Princess Cruises will be unforgettable!
So it is no surprise that I am a HUGE animal lover. I mean, I practically accost every dog I meet on the street with a high-pitched squeal and open arms to pet their fluff. I just love animals so much!
When I teamed up with Princess Cruises in September for an Alaskan cruise, I perused their excursion options and instantly wanted to do ALL the animal ones. How many times can you say you’ve seen a bald eagle up close? Or got to pet a wolverine! A wolverine, for Pete’s sake!
And these Ruby Princess Alaskan excursions were so amazing. I had tears in my eyes during each excursion and looking back at these photos makes me kind of emotional – animals are so precious, beautiful, and majestic. And when you’re within feet of a black bear in her natural habitat, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the beauty and power of nature.
Anyway, enough mushy talk! Let’s dive into these excursions, shall we?
First, my Ruby Princess cruise took us to Juneau, Alaska; Skagway, Alaska; Ketchikan, Alaska; and Victoria B.C., Canada. We visited Victoria at nighttime and I went to high tea there at the Gatsby mansion, so no animals were involved. For this post, I’ll talk about the Alaskan excursions exclusively.
First up: Whale-watching in Juneau.
Juneau was beautiful and foggy when we arrived. We took a tour bus to a small dock where we would go whale watching on a speed boat. We got on the boat and I thought we were going to watch everything from inside as it was drizzly outside… but they opened up the front of the ship for us to go out and see these animals up close and personal!
I was also worried the whales would be shy and wouldn’t show up… or I’d be too slow to photograph them. Well, I was wrong about the former, but those whales are fast… however, I did catch some 🙂
Our captain estimated we saw about 5 different whales, but it’s obviously hard to say since they didn’t come terribly close to our boat and because these Humpbacks all looked very similar. He did explain to us to watch for their “fluke”, AKA when they jump out of the water and make a big splash with their tail.
The flukes were hardest to catch, but here’s a glimpse of a whale I did capture.
While we were on the ocean searching for Humpback whales, we ended up in a race with some competitive and friendly porpoises. Porpoises are very similar to dolphins, and these guys were FAST. As you can see, most of my pictures are splashy because they were racing our boat and beating us!
We also sailed past a small island FILLED with sea lions! These dudes were barking and making a ton of noise, and some came out toward our boat to show off their swimming skills.
For a scenic, low-activity excursion, I highly recommend whale-watching in Juneau. Since the boat is covered and has plenty of seats (and binoculars on each seat!), it’s a great way to relax and watch wildlife. Or, you always have the option of going out to the front of the boat (outdoors) for an up-close and personal view of wildlife. If I could change one thing, it’d be that I brought a larger zoom lens to capture those whale flukes better.
Second: Kroschel Wildlife Refuge, Skagway, AK.
The Kroschel Wildlife Refuge is quite a ways away from the city of Skagway – once you get off of the ship, you’ll take a tour bus which will take you to another bus stop. Then you’ll get on a boat very similar to the one in Juneau and take an hour-long ride to Haines, Alaska. The ride is smooth, quick and scenic – there’s some beautiful sights of waterfalls in the distance as you head to Haines. Once docked, it’s another 30-45 minutes bus-ride to Mosquito Lake Road, a remote street that houses the Kroschel Wildlife Center.
Situated in a rain forest (side note: did you know Alaska is a temperate rain forest? Now you do!) is the refuge, a huge compound that rescues and rehabilitates animals unfit to live in the wild. This was the most interactive excursion by far, as you get to pet a LOT of the animals… and the ones you do not pet, you get extreme close-ups of. This isn’t a “oh, that vague shape in the distance is a bear!” kinda place… you SEE the bear practically up in your face. It’s amazing!
Steve Kroschel is the owner of the eponymous refuge and he was described by both our bus driver as “wacky.” He was right, but it’s a good wacky! Steve got in the pens with all of the creatures to introduce our group, or wrangled the animals so we could touch and pet them. He was barefoot most of the time and was very jovial, exuberant, and funny, which added to the excitement of seeing these beautiful wild creatures up close.
Steve led us up to the large pen that housed Isis, a gorgeous wolf. He encouraged us to start howling which in turn made Isis howl.
Next up, we met a red fox and Steve walked around so we could each pet her. She was surprisingly soft and had such big, expressive eyes. Despite being in a crowd of strangers, all of the animals appeared very calm.
We also met a black fox which was hard to photograph because she was so fast-moving!
Across from the fox pens was a lynx. She was positively gorgeous in person and was “stalking” her “prey” (AKA, a meat treat Steve tossed in). She was behind a chain-link fence, but Steve built small photo slots in the fence so you could get an unobstructed photo.
We also met a mink – and the are as soft and silky as you’d think!
And I can say the next guest was kiddo approved, as we had one kid on our excursion…
This wolverine was feisty but friendly and let us pet him and take photos. As you can see, he was very photogenic. How many times can you say you pet a wolverine?!
Steve also introduced us to his resident porcupine who was noshing on a treat while people took photos and pet her! Yes, I pet a porcupine! She was coarse-haired and kind of rough textured, but very mellow.
Then there were the reindeer, who were VERY eager to slurp up the feed in our hands.
And of course, there was Karen the Moose! Karen was an even-tempered, sweet moose that you could FEED FROM YOUR MOUTH! And yes, I was crazy enough to do that. Steve would hand you a thick carrot half and you’d gingerly place it in between your teeth, then very carefully lean in toward Karen as she took the other half from your mouth. It was a surreal experience!
Lastly, we met up with Kitty the Kodiak bear. Kitty was rescued from the Kodiak area of Alaska and when we stumbled onto her pen, she was eating two blueberry pies. A bear after my own heart! Kitty was relaxed and happy as she scooped pawfuls of pie into her mouth, but Steve tempted her with something even better: fancy oatmeal! Steve clanged the big pot of oatmeal (made with maple syrup and bacon fat) and Kitty leisurely walked by us to her enclosure where she was rewarded with a big pot of oatmeal.
Overall, this was an incredible experience. I was in awe of all of the animals and their unique personalities and happy demeanors. You could really tell Steve is so passionate about these beautiful creatures and it showed. I loved being able to interact with the animals up close and personal and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery in the lush rain forest. There was minimal “hiking” but we did walk everywhere on a variety of terrain – gravel, dirt, etc. so I would recommend kiddos who can walk on their own or those who are not mobility-challenged.
Last stop: Ketchikan’s Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, Ketchikan, AK.
So full disclosure: I almost skipped this excursion and I am so glad I didn’t! I was feeling a tad under the weather, but I stuck it out and I was BEYOND thrilled I did.
After a 30-minute or so bus-ride, we arrived at the Rainforest Sanctuary. Also located in a temperate rain forest, this refuge center had the most hiking (although not as bad as it sounds). We followed a knowledgeable trail guide as we hiked through the forest over a variety of terrain (bark, gravel, dirt, some mud) and took in the peaceful surroundings of this lush forest. Eventually, we reached a bridge system which sounds scary for a heights-averse person like me… but this “bridge” system is more like a huge deck – solid wood, level under foot, and woven around the forest to better observe the black bears down below.
The bridge system sat about 15 feet above the ground, so far enough away from the black bears, but close enough to observe them personally. We were warned that sometimes the bears come onto the bridge system, but it was rare because during the tour, they also have scouts out and around the trail to observe bears and ensure we were safe.
Within maybe 5 minutes of walking on the bridge system, our guide was paged and a scout had spotted a bear on the ground hunting for salmon. She directed us to the bear and sure enough, there she was on the forest floor scavenging for salmon in the creek below. She was gorgeous and in one swipe of her paw had grabbed a fish from the stream and took a big bite.
If you look closely throughout my photos, you’ll see dead fish draped over trees and brush… apparently, the bears only take one bite of the fish and leave the rest, so they aren’t very economical with the whole fish 🙂 Our guide said the bears tend to like the female salmon’s eggs… and the male salmon’s brains!
We also spotted this blue heron chilling on a tree… lots of pretty things to see in this gorgeous sanctuary.
Our guide had mentioned the bears sometimes come onto the bridge system and do this funny thing where they’ll jump and scratch a tree. The tallest scratch indicated the Alpha bear so all other bears who came by could see who’s boss. Lol! Here’s a pic of the tree with scratch marks you can see if you look closely. There’s also a woodpecker there, too!
At the end of the tour, you reach the wild bird area of the sanctuary. Overhead, several bald eagles flew by and nestled themselves among the trees. However, we got an up-close look at a rehabilitated bald eagle named Sitka in the center.
Sitka can no longer live in the wild after she was hit by a car. Because of the accident, she lost one of her toes which is apparently essential for their navigation. So now Sitka lives with the barn owls (although in separate pens) at the sanctuary. Sitka was stoic and powerful and simply gorgeous in person… it was crazy to see our country’s bird right there!
With the most walking of the three excursions, I would recommend this for folks who have no mobility-issues and those who are able to walk over a mile on relatively easy terrain. This excursion may have been the most leisurely, as the guides virtually let us take our time photographing all of the animals and walk at our own pace.
Overall, these excursions were all FANTASTIC and I am so happy with my choices! Each excursion was unique in its own way and so memorable; I am so happy with the photos I took and the experiences I gained.
Next time you book your Alaskan cruise, make it with Princess Cruises and be sure to check out these amazing stops!
For more information on Princess or to plan your next cruise, visit their website, as well as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter!
Have a super sweet day!
In the interest of full disclosure, I am working with Princess Cruises this year. I was compensated for this post, but all opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep my blog alive!
This is amazing, Hayley! I never knew animal cruise excursions existed. I love your pictures and a rainforest in Alaska?! Unbelievable. Thank you for sharing, and if you ever go again, let me know! I would love to go.
Thanks Amanda! I had no idea Alaska was a rainforest, so I was so surprised to hear that!
Colin Hart says
Very interesting article. Loved the pics
Omg isn’t it the best? I did a cruise too in Alaska and had the best time! I did whale watching in Juneau like you, horseback riding through the wetlands, snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean and dog sledding and helicopter ride atop a glacier! I’d love to go back and do the animal sanctuary and wild life refuge 🙂 keep on traveling!