In Alaska, local events can be cheap alternative to paid excursions

SAN FRANCISCO -- "If you don't spend a penny on a tour, there would still be plenty to do," said Ron Valentine, director of operations for World Explorer Cruises, which sells shore excursions for its Alaska ports of call.

Valentine was referring mainly to the museums and heritage centers that abound in places such as Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, at sites within easy walking distance of the ship when it is in port.

In Seward, he said, World Explorer provides free shuttle service for those passengers who want to visit the Alaska Sealife Center, where admission is $12.80 for adults and $10.30 for children.

Valentine acknowledged, however, that it is nearly impossible to arrange cruises to coincide with cultural events taking place in communities along the route.

For example, World Explorer will not get to Haines this summer for the annual Southeast Alaska State Fair. The fair runs from Aug. 9 to 13, when the company's vessel, the Universe Explorer, will be cruising British Columbia's Inside Passage.

But the Southeast Alaska Tourism Council's 2000 brochure lists several happenings slated to take place on days the Universe Explorer will be in port.

Those on the nine-night, May 7 voyage will find themselves in Ketchikan during the 10-day Celebration of the Sea festival.

Passengers taking one of the seven 14-night cruises will have many opportunities to participate in local fun.

Those departing May 30 will be calling in Juneau on June 2, during the city's three-day Celebration 2000, a biennial gathering of thousands of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian natives for traditional dancing, storytelling and art. The festival will be held within walking distance of the port.

A one-day admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students.

The Sitka Renowned Music Festival runs for most of June, so passengers on the May 30 and June 13 cruises can catch it during their 8 a.m to 6 p.m. calls at Sitka on June 9 and 23, respectively.

The May 30 departure also affords a full day in Ketchikan on June 10 during the annual King Salmon Derby, which runs June 3 and 4 and June 10 and 11.

Wrangell is holding its King Salmon Fishing Derby from mid-May to mid-June, making it possible for those on the May 16, May 30 and June 13 departures to tie into this annual event.

Passengers departing on July 25 will be able to take part in two communities' celebrations.

On July 27, they will be in Wrangell for seven hours during the 2000 Eternal Reign Music and Cultural Festival, which runs from July 26 to 30.

Then on July 29, the same passengers will be in Skagway from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad Golden Spike Centennial.

Because shore excursions can cost up to several hundred dollars and generally are not included in the cost of a cruise, voyagers boarding any ship to Alaska might want to take along a copy of the tourism council's brochure, which also provides contact numbers for each event listed.

World Explorer Cruises
Phone: (800) 854-3835

Southeast Alaska Tourism Council
Phone: (800) 423-0568

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