Beyond the Boat: Excursions and shoreside services enhance the visitor experience.

Author:Barbour, Tracy

*Editor's note: Because this article was researched and written prior to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 the pandemic was not taken into account when the article's participants were being interviewed. The effects of the coronavirus on the tourism industry are not included in this article.

Nearly half of all visitors who come to Alaska arrive on cruise ships, according to research and consulting firm McDowell Group. And when they dock, there are a variety of shore excursions and other services available to enhance the cruise experience. Here's a rundown on just some of the offerings that make it possible for cruise passengers--as well as independent travelers and others--to enjoy unique attractions at different ports of call in Alaska.

Fishing in Homer

Homer isn't a huge destination for cruise ships, which dock there only a few times a month. But when ships call, Alaska Coastal Marine Tours/Rainbow Tours have options for passengers wanting to indulge in Homer's best-known pastime: fishing. Rainbow Tours offers half-day halibut charters on a 50foot vessel equipped with restrooms and other amenities. "We have two tour boats," says reservationist Kathy Rider, who books all the tours. "We do an awful lot of fishing."

The company, which has been in business for about twenty-five years, sees a lot of tourists during the summer. Rider says. However, the bulk of its business is from regularly scheduled tours, not from cruise ship passengers. Whether people are cruise vacationers or regular customers, many of them are attracted to Homer's beauty and wildlife.

The Kachemak Bay tour gives visitors a chance to indulge in three full hours of wildlife viewing. The tour gives cruise passengers a completely different view from what they would see from a ship. It takes them inside nooks, crannies, and coves, and close to Gull Island seabird rookery. "Our tour boats have knowledgeable people who point out all the attractions," Rider says. "You see whales, otters, sea birds ... It's a nice little excursion in Homer."

Birds of a Feather ... Flock Here

Last year, Sitka's Alaska Raptor Center had more than 40,000 people pass through its doors. Many of them were cruise goers eager to get an up-close look at the facility's 200 or so special residents. The center provides an enriching and relevant experience for guests, especially cruise ship passengers. "Any time you're cruising through Southeast Alaska, you'll see thousands of bald eagles," says Development Specialist Richard Hart. "Bald eagles are our number one patients. So we get a lot of people who feel like they get a lot from visiting the center because they are informed about something they have been seeing or are going to be seeing on their visit to Alaska."

The Alaska Raptor Center provides medical treatment to any bird in need, not just raptors. Its goal is to heal, rehabilitate, and release all its patients, but some are injured too...

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