Top Highlights of Juneau, Alaska

Top highlights of Juneau, Alaska, when arriving by cruise ship

We packed in several top highlights of Juneau, Alaska, the largest town we visited during our 11 Seabourn cruise. We arrived before 7 am to find another ship already in port.  We met Gary and Mary for breakfast at the Colonnade Restaurant, our usual breakfast choice, at the Stern.  After having a quick breakfast while talking to the waiters and waitresses, we headed down the gangway to discover what Juneau had in store. Our Mourning in Juneau discovering Mt. Roberts:

We went to the end of the pier and walked down the street to the Goldbelt Tram, passing the tour salespeople. Bob and I quickly purchased tickets, as Gary and Mary had pre-bought them onboard to avoid crowds. There were no lines in the morning, but there were long lines in the afternoon when all seven cruise ships were docked.

Mary verses Totem PloleThe Goldbelt Tram took us up Mt. Roberts; we saw beautiful views of the town, bays, and one of the bigger mountains along the inside passageway. The local tram operator pointed out a herd of miniature white mountain goats on the mountain’s high ridge.

After exploring and taking pictures of beautiful totem poles, Gary and I took the 1-mile loop trail hike. It was Mt Roberts Loop - top highlights of Juneau, AKeasy to moderate in difficulty with spectacular views and vistas.

Tlingit Cultural Center

Bob and Mary stayed at the top of the tram. There was a restaurant, a cultural center with a video about the Tlinget tribe, and a gift center. We enjoyed the scenery for two hours while watching several big cruise ships arrive in town.

Our Juneau town experience:

After we finished exploring Mt. Roberts, we returned down to the street. The streets were busy with thousands of cruisers who had disembarked from other ships.

As we navigated down the narrow sidewalks of Juneau’s main street, we noticed there seemed to be many jewelry stores selling diamonds, gold, and silver. In all, there were 45 jewelry stores on the main road.

Buyer beware:

I found out that jewelry stores are attracted to busy cruise terminals worldwide. They are located where many cruisers disembark onto the streets.

These stores sell very little local jewelry. During the winter cruise season, jewelry store workers and owners travel to the Caribbean or Mexico to sell their items. None of us were interested and stayed away from the jewelry stores.

We did venture into a few more authentic-looking local stores to find some beautiful handcrafted wood pieces and knives made by the local first nations people. However, the prices seemed very high. A few other stores sold high-quality woolen jackets and sweaters, which we also steered away from. We live in Florida, where there is little need for Alaska-style clothing.

Red Dog: Old Fashion honkey-tonk saloon – Definite Top Highlight of Juneau

After walking around, we were hungry for lunch and headed for the Red Dog Saloon near the cruise terminal.

Red Dog Saloon - highlights of JuneauThe Red Dog is the town’s oldest tourist spot. The Red Dog is the oldest tourist spot in the city. It maintains its old charm with straw on the floors and a rustic feel. Additionally, there is a piano player in the saloon who plays old songs.

We got drinks, but the menu had no gluten-free options for Mary. We enjoyed our drinks and then returned to the ship. Mary could have a tasty gluten-free meal there, and we could choose anything we wanted.

Gold Dust, anyone?

Later in the day, we learned why the salty dog had so much straw on the floors. In the gold rush days, miners would head to the saloon for drinks. One pinch of gold dust got them one drink, and two pinches got them drinks for the evening. Some would always fall to the floor as the miners took their gold dust out of their pockets.

The owners remove the straw, soak it in water, and mix it every week. The straw stays on the top while the gold dust sinks to the bottom for scooping up. There were many ways to mine for gold in Alaska back in the day.

Whales, Whales, Whales – Top Highlights of Juneau Alaska

One of the things we wanted to see in Alaska was whales. The inside passageway is famous for the humpbacks and sometimes Orcas. We hadbooked a dinner whale-watching cruise that started at 7 pm. The bus ride took 15 minutes from our ship, and the driver shared interesting facts about the history and geography of the town.

He showed us the official ugliest capital building in the US. (He was right- it is pretty ugly for such a beautiful place.) Alaska’s capital has changed locations and might move again soon if the state provides funding.

Tales of old:

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK Mendenhall Glacier, Top Highlights of Juneau

As we traveled over a small bridge, the driver pointed out the view of the nearby Mendenhall Glacier. He also enlightened us about the extensive  Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau[/caption]Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau mining in Mt. Roberts and the nearby island of Douglas.

The mountain we hiked in the morning had lots of tunnels from the gold rush. According to his story, over 15 billion of today’s dollars in gold were taken out of Mt Roberts and Douglas Island.

Seabourn difference:

We arrived at the large motor catamaran boat at about 7:30. It was a Seabourn exclusive charter, so only about 45 of us were on a ship that could accommodate over 200.

The main cabin had an extensive buffet with shrimp, salmon, chowder, chicken, and several salads and spreads. All drinks, including wine and beer, were paid for by Seabourn. We went to the highest deck and quickly took photos of the picturesque bay and lush green islands.

No need to rush – humpbacks in residence:

As the boat headed out between the islands, Bob and I decided to go down and grab some dinner before we got too far out where the whales would Whale feeding in Juneau Alaska - Top Highlight of Juneaube. While eating, we saw two whales just off our right side, not too far away.

They came up for air, stayed on the surface for a minute, and then went back underwater by flipping their tails. The captain had also seen them and slowed down and maneuvered so everyone could see them without getting too close.  After waiting patiently for about 5 minutes, the whales resurfaced.

A marine biologist onboard, and between her and the captain, we learned a lot about humpback whales, including their feeding and breeding habits. She even had a piece of baleen from a whale’s mouth that filters the water and fish before swallowing the fish. She patiently walked through the cabin and outside areas showing each person the Baleen.

Magical Memories:

During the evening, we spotted several different groups of whales, usually in groups of two, feeding in the local waters. Several times we saw a Mom with her young calf feeding. Whales can dive for 8-10 minutes before returning to the surface for air.

We headed back to port, where our bus was there to take us back to town, after a few hours of fantastic scenery and watching several groups of whales.  Our Juneau history lesson lasted until we arrived at the ship as our bus driver continued the story of Juneau.

It was a great day, and we packed a lot in. Alaska’s natural beauty is everywhere.

The charming local towns don’t have too much to offer. They have evolved from gold boom towns to tourist towns with their own sense of charm. For us, the memories were all in the natural beauty and wildlife.

Alaskans – hardy and friendly:

We noticed in every town we visited that Alaskans are incredibly friendly. They help each other during the long, harsh winter months.

When summer arrives, they are primarily happy when tourists come to help them earn a living and prepare for the following winter. The shopkeepers, bus drivers, and tour guides in the towns were happy and proud. They were eager to show us the beauty of their corner of the world.

Tomorrow: The Inian Islands



Highlights of Juneau, AK Excursion Choices:

There were many choices for excursions in Juneau, almost too many to choose from since we were there for only one day. Excursion choices included:

  •  Mendenhall Glacier is a big attraction in the town as it can be seen from the main road bearing down on the city, gorging its way from nearby mountains. You could see the glacier up close by flying over it or using a helicopter to land and explore it. One of the most fun ways is to go by a dog sled team and a guide.
    One of our new shipboard friends took his family to Mendenhall by helicopter and said the experience was breathtaking.
    Whale watching in Juneau is popular because there are lots of humpback whales. Tour operators often give a money-back guarantee. Whales gather food before traveling 3000 miles to reach the Hawaiian Islands, arriving in December. Bob and I were booked on an evening whale-watching cruise with a buffet dinner.
  • A popular activity for passengers was an 8 ½ hour hike in Juneau’s mountains and woodlands to see brown or black bears. People spotted several bears, and they gave excellent reviews of this excursion.
  •  Macauley Salmon Hatchery is located directly across from Juneau on Douglas Island. The hatchery focuses on Chum and Pink salmon. Visitors can watch the process of collecting and fertilizing eggs.

15 Fun Facts about Juneau, AK:

1. Juneau is the capital city of Alaska.

2. It is the second-largest city in the United States by area, covering over 3,000 square miles.

3. Juneau is the only state capital in the United States that is not accessible by road.

4. The city is named after gold prospector Joe Juneau, who discovered gold in the area in 1880.

5. Juneau is located in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.

6. The Mendenhall Glacier, located just outside of Juneau, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Alaska.

7. Juneau is home to the Alaska State Capitol building, which is known for its distinctive blue dome.

8. The city has a population of around 32,000 people, making it the third-largest city in Alaska.

9. Juneau has a maritime climate, with mild summers and cool, wet winters.

10. The city is surrounded by mountains and water, offering stunning natural scenery.

11. Juneau is a popular destination for whale watching, with humpback whales frequently spotted in the area.

12. The city is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities, including hiking, fishing, and kayaking.

13. Juneau is home to the University of Alaska Southeast, which offers a variety of academic programs.

14. The Alaska State Museum, located in Juneau, showcases the state’s rich cultural heritage.

15. Juneau has a vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries, theaters, and music venues.