In Alaska, we ONLY go with independents unless there's no choice (some excursions are only available through the ships). While independents aren't always cheaper, they're virtually always smaller groups guided by locals.
I agree. The Alaska excursions are very expensive.
We are doing a mixture of cruise ship and private excursions.
Be forwarned --- Yukon is right --- the private excursions are not necessarily cheaper in Alaska. As a matter of fact, I am paying $4/pp more for a private whale watch than what the cruise line charges but I figure it's worth it to not have to battle for railing space w/ a hundred other people and get a customized tour.
RCCL Serenade of the Seas