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Beautiful Juneau Cruise Port Adventures: Norwegian Cruise Line Jewel

Hello, fellow travelers! I recently ventured to Juneau, Alaska, on an unforgettable stop during our 7-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel. As Alaska’s third-largest city by population and the largest by area, Juneau cruise port is an enchanting gateway to pristine wilderness, rich history, and delectable cuisine. Here’s a detailed recount of how we made the most of our day in this stunning city.

Quick Facts About Juneau and Juneau Cruise Port

  1. Capital City: Juneau is the capital of Alaska, making it one of the most significant political and historical centers in the state.
  2. Geographic Uniqueness: Unlike most U.S. capitals, Juneau is inaccessible by road due to the rugged terrain surrounding it. The city can only be reached by sea or air.
  3. Size: Juneau is the largest capital by land area in the United States, covering over 3,250 square miles, which is larger than the entire state of Delaware.
  4. Population: Despite its large size, Juneau has a relatively small population, with around 32,000 residents.
  5. Wildlife and Nature: Juneau is a prime location for viewing wildlife, including bears, eagles, and marine mammals. The nearby Mendenhall Glacier and Tongass National Forest offer stunning natural vistas and outdoor activities.
  6. Tourism: Tourism is a major part of Juneau’s economy, especially during the cruise ship season, which brings thousands of visitors to the city each year.
  7. Historical Gold Mining: Juneau’s founding was closely tied to gold mining. The city was originally established as a gold mining camp in the 1880s.
  8. Cultural Heritage: The city has a rich cultural heritage, with strong influences from Tlingit Native American culture as well as Russian and European settlers.
  9. Educational Institutions: Juneau hosts the University of Alaska Southeast, providing higher education opportunities in fields such as liberal arts and marine biology.
  10. Climate: Juneau has a maritime climate, with mild, rainy summers and cool, snowy winters. This climate supports a lush temperate rainforest, part of the larger Tongass National Forest.

Setting Off from the Juneau Cruise Port

We skipped the usual cruise ship excursions in favor of a self-guided adventure, which began right after we disembarked at the base of the Goldbelt Tram. Despite initial tour vendor quotes of $90 per person for a trip to Mendenhall Glacier, we cleverly secured a taxi van that accommodated nine of us for an economical $22 each.

Goldbelt Tram from Juneau Cruise Port
Goldbelt Tram from Juneau Cruise Port

Exploring Mendenhall Glacier National Park

Our first stop was the breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier National Park. At the visitor center, we picked up Junior Ranger badges for the kids and delved into the history and ecology of Mendenhall Glacier and its wildlife. We then embarked on a 2-mile hike to Nugget Falls, a powerful waterfall cascading into a serene lake, set against the dramatic backdrop of the glacier.

View other National Park Adventures

Quick Facts About Mendenhall Glacier

  • Mendenhall Glacier is a stunning 13.6-mile-long river of ice.
  • It is one of the 38 major glaciers that flow from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield.
  • Observers can witness the effects of climate change here, as the glacier has been significantly retreating over the years.
Mendenhall Glacier National Park
Mendenhall Glacier National Park

A Visit to the Salmon Hatchery

After the glacier, we visited nearby DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery down the road from the Juneau Cruise Port, where we learned about the life cycle of salmon. Although we didn’t spot any juveniles, we saw mature salmon preparing for their incredible journey to the ocean, where they would eventually return to their spawning grounds. Juneau’s waters are teeming with King, Sockeye, and Coho salmon, among others.

DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery

Savoring Local Eats at The Hangar

Hunger from our morning expeditions led us to The Hangar on the waterfront, where I indulged in the best Alaskan Halibut Fish and Chips ever, and the girls enjoyed Citrus Salmon. The freshness of the local catch was truly unparalleled.

Other Culinary Gems in Juneau

  • Tracy’s King Crab Shack: A must-visit for their famous King Crab Legs.
  • Sandpiper Café: Ideal for breakfast enthusiasts, offering hearty portions and local favorites.
Filipino food vendor in Juneau
Filipino food vendor in Juneau

More Sights and Activities in Juneau

  • Alaska State Museum: Dive into Alaska’s history with exhibits on native heritage, natural history, and Russian influence.
  • Mount Roberts Tramway: For those who skipped it at the start, this tramway offers stunning views from the mountain, accessible right from the cruise ship dock.
  • Whale Watching Tours: Juneau is a prime spot for whale watching, with frequent sightings of humpback and orca whales.

Downtown Juneau and Cultural Insights

We spent the latter part of the afternoon wandering through downtown Juneau, only a few miles from the Juneau Cruise Port, immersing ourselves in its vibrant arts scene and picking up local handicrafts. The area buzzes with galleries, boutiques, and historical buildings that paint a picture of Juneau’s rich cultural tapestry.

Old Downtown Juneau
Old Downtown Juneau

An Evening of Northern Lights and Entertainment

Returning to our ship, we were treated not only to a Broadway-caliber performance by the ship’s talented singers but also to the mesmerizing dance of the Northern Lights across the sky—a perfect natural finale to our day. I used the My Aurora app to track the chances which was 5% at the time but we decided to try it out anyways bearing the frigid weathers on a fast moving cruise ship.

Northern Lights in Juneau Cruise Port
Photo captured on Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max, Night Mode at 10sec exposure.

Concluding a Day in Juneau

Every moment in Juneau offered a new discovery, from touching the ancient ice of Mendenhall Glacier to tasting the ocean’s bounty. For those looking to explore Juneau from a cruise, stepping off the beaten path promises adventures that resonate long after you’ve sailed away. So, pack your spirit of adventure, and get ready to explore the rich experiences Juneau has to offer!

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