Adventure Kayak Excursions in Alaska?

My family is taking a 7-night Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska departing from Seattle on May 27. This will be my first time ever to Alaska. Our ports of call in order are Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord, Vancouver, BC, and returning to Seattle.

I really want to do a kayaking excursion at some point on this cruise. However, all the kayaking excursions offered through the cruise appear to be lilly-dipper outings that everyone and their 93yo grandma can handle. I want something a little more fun and adventurous; either whitewater kayaking or advanced touring/expedition-style.

I assume I will need to book something with an outfitter outside of the official cruise excursion offerings. Can anyone make recommendations for adventurous kayak outings in any of my planned ports of call? It can’t be anything that is all day or overnight, but I want something more than just a 2-hour paddle in a SOT around a calm bay. In Juneau, we’re there from 12pm-9pm; Skagway 7am-8:30pm, and Victoria 9am-6pm.

Thanks for any advice and recommendations!

Alaska is tough
I assume the outfitters as so conservative because of the chilly water. Unless you have paperwork showing an open water designation from someone like the BCU or maybe the ACA, which I do not see in your profile, you will either be in very safe bounds or in a tandem.

That said, personally I think many paddlers do not have enough appreciation for guided tours when they will only be somewhere for a short time. You can relax and still be on the water in a new place, and a good tour will give you great information about the area. It is not easy to beat that combination, unless you want your paddling to be about proving something.

You could try these guys.

I have no experience with them but their website looks good. Juneau is a lovely town…in the summer!

Good point!
I think you may be right, Celia. I should probably just take it easy and enjoy the scenery while an experienced guide handles all the details. Plus, I just found out today that my 10yo daughter REALLY wants to go on one of the kayak excursions with me. So, that will necessitate some lilly dipping!

Bring your own
and skip the cruise.

Are you locked in?
a one way cruise to Seward or Whittier followed by a DIY land tour of a week or so opens up vastly more options.

Yep, locked in…
It is a round-trip cruise sailing out of Seattle. I do not have the option of taking a multi-day land trip following the cruise, as much as I would like to do so.

Next time
Take the ferry up and paddle back.

No sea experience in your profile?
All the places you list have potential for strong tidal streams. If you don’t know how to work with or around them–and I am not talking about just the mechanics of your boat–an “adventurous” tour would be iffy. Especially so in an unfamilar rental with a lousy-fitting nylon skirt. And an itinerary that would not allow you to choose a day with optimal conditions.

I agree with Celia. Enjoy the touring aspect and don’t bother trying to make it more than that. Isn’t that why you chose a cruise in the first place? Otherwise, the suggesion to take ferry one way and paddle back makes sense…if you are prepared for that kind of adventure.

Thanks to everyone for the input. I have decided to just do one of the 3-hour kayak tours offered though the cruise line. Especially since my 10yo daughter really wants to go paddling with me during the cruise. I think this will be a really great daddy/daughter bonding experience!

Just to explain my initial post a bit. Since I’ve been paddling WW exclusively for the past year, I guess I was just looking for a WW experience somewhere up in Alaska. Having never been to Alaska, I didn’t know what was available. There are a couple WW float excursions offered in a couple spots, but those are rafting excursions where you only sit in the raft while a guide does all the work. I assumed (incorrectly probably) that if there is whitewater rafting opportunities, that surely there must be outfitters who offer WW kayaking trips. I was hoping someone could recommend an outfitter that could hook me up with the equipment and a guide for a 3-5 hour tour down one of the rivers where WW rafting is offered.

Alternatively, I was wondering if there were outfitters that offered trips in touring/sea kayaks to go play in any of the tidal streams and such, similar to the videos I’ve seen of Deception Pass in Washington. Granted, I do not have any experience in coastal play in a sea kayak. However, I was assuming (again, most likely incorrectly) that it couldn’t be all too different from the class III/IV WW kayaking I’ve done in the past year.

Celia, you mentioned in your reply not seeing any sort of designations in my profile (e.g. BCU or ACA). True, I do not have any official paperwork or designations. However, I am curious about this. What kind of designations are out there? I’m obviously still relatively new and inexperienced in most things boating. The only designations I was previously aware of are getting instructor certifications in specific classes of WW. Or possibly swift water rescue training. I really have no intentions of ever being a WW instructor, so I will probably never pursue WW instructor certification. Is there some other type of official paperwork/designation a boater can obtain that indicates skill/experience level? Is this something akin to SCUBA/PADI certification where you take classes and get a certification that states you are qualified to go SCUBA diving? (Not that I’ve ever taken SCUBA courses or ever plan to.) I have taken an 8-week WW kayaking course taught by an ACA-certified instructor from the local Paddle America club. I’ve completed the requisite moving-water beginner trips. I’ve been paddling for a year in class II/III/IV water and am a member of the local WW club, ACA, and AW. Is there some sort of certificate or paperwork I should have received after all that which indicates I’m more than just a lilly-dipping newb?

Length of sea kayak vs WW kayak (maneuverability).

The fact that tidal streams change periodically, and sometimes quickly. Do you know how to use tide and current reference materials?

Not a clue on how to use tide and current reference materials. That’s why, if I had decided to continue my search, I would have looked for a reputable outfitter and an experienced guide to take me out.

As it is, I’m just going to stick with the EZ PZ lilly-dipping tour with my 10yo daughter!

Smart move
If you like it, there is always next time.

On the paperwork…

– Last Updated: Apr-27-16 5:22 PM EST –

There are two major organizations that offer credentials to someone as a certain level of sea kayaker, coaches as well. Each of these organizations also have a path for other modes including white water and canoeing. The places and kayaking program (sea, WW or canoe) in which each organization is strongest varies, because to have training you have to have a deep bench of coaches. There are a lot more sea kayaking coaches in the Great Lakes and along the coasts than in Oklahoma for ex.

One is the American Canoe Association, for sea kayaking it is the Open Water series. You may not have been aware of all that transpired when you took that ACA course, or maybe it was an introductory so this does not apply. When ACA offers the long weekend IDW/ICE courses, one of those acronyms is the individual level and the other is the potential coach level. You leave the weekend with a rating in each. I haven't done it so I can't tell you how they handle the paperwork, an area in which ACA has a notoriously bad reputation. But somewhere in the archives you have been rated.

The other is the British Canoe Union (means any boat) that exists as Paddlesports North America in the United States.

Both have coaches that are certified to teach at various levels, from beginning skills to really hairy environments that I am way to old to ever want to master. Both have a way to get an award that indicates the paddler has achieved a certain level. The BCU/PNA route probably costs more by the time you have gotten to an intermediate level, and many feel it is a lot fussier. But getting well up there in either system will take time, practice and some bucks.

It really only matters if you are in one of two situations. One is that you have enrolled for training in one of these programs, and you have to care about pre-requisite trainings or awards. The other is if you are traveling somewhere and the coaches and outfitters don't know you. The awards/certification should tell them what kind of trip you can handle, whether you can take out a solo kayak, that kind of thing.

One example is in the training and trips out of Body Boat and Blade, where a lot of the classes list BCU levels as a pre-requisite. Link here -

Here is a link to tours at the Great Lakes Symposium where you will see ACA levels listed as pre-requisites.

Hope this helps. Both organizations have web sites. There are other certs, such as the Maine Guide certification, which are well respected but I can't say they translate to getting onto a trip like the numbered BCU and ACA levels.

in the case of the GLSKS

– Last Updated: Apr-27-16 5:30 PM EST –

Those are not prerequisites, unless something changed; those were a means for the symposium hosts to describe difficulty of each tour. Many people show up at that symposium from across the country and not all of them have an ACA cert. This is not unique for symposia.

OK, but pre-req’s elsewhere
On the site for the same event, the accredidation track.

Deception Pass is no joke! I live a 6 mile paddle from there. No WAY any outfitter would take someone just stopping by off the cruise ship out in conditions like that without being able to vet their experience. Death makes for a lousy vacation.

The fact that you self-describe yourself with this sentence: “I’m obviously still relatively new and inexperienced in most things boating.” makes me think you’re biting off more than you can chew in wanting an “extreme” sea kayak adventure in Alaska.

For the record, the places you’re going are pretty tame as far as conditions go. I did a kayak excursion in Ketchikan and was pleasantly surprised with them. They didn’t babysit us too much and it was a decent length paddle filled with lots of wildlife (whales, porpoise, and dozens of eagles). You just have to appreciate it for what it is. Hopefully you’ll enjoy your excursion equally. FYI they will almost certainly put you in a tandem unless you happen to have an odd number of people in the excursion group and they allow people with more experience to have a single.