Is there a there, there? The correct answer is yes. What I’m going to discuss are the small ports-of-call on an Alaskan cruise. Sometimes small is better. Sometimes the unusual and out of the way places are the most interesting. Not knowing exactly what is waiting for you before arriving can be exciting. What is there?
Let’s start with two of the least visited ports, Sitka and Haines. Sitka, the larger of the two, has a thriving downtown area but unlike the three major ports, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, does not have rows of jewelry stores, one right after the other. No Diamonds International, no Effi, no Tanzanite International, and on and on. Just lots of small islands surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Where does the mayor of a town come to the pier and thank every passenger exiting the ship for visiting? Haines, Alaska. It’s not even a town but referred to as a borough. Basically a short one street town void of jewelry stores, no T-shirt shops on every corner, not a souvenir store in sight. No street lights either. The closest thing to that would be the one four way stop sign intersection. Despite it’s size, there are lots of interesting things to see here. A Hammer Museum, a native museum, Fort Seward, built in 1902 to bring law and order to the Gold Rush, a rapture center as well as a rapture sanctuary outside of town, and the set used in filming White Fang.
Icy Strait Point is also one of the less frequented stops. One ship a day. This was opened in 2004 by Celebrity Cruises. The port is at the old Hoonah Canning plant, now a small museum reflecting on it’s rich history of fishing, now long gone. The setting is very serene and natural. They have added the world’s longest zip line, over a mile long, traversed in less than 90 seconds from high on the mountain above the dock right down to the water’s edge.
Although a definite tourist destination, Skagway still has charm. This was the base for the gold miners of 1898. The big excursion here is to take the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad up to Summit Lake just past the Canadian border and you either come back on the train or by bus. The train hugs the sides of the mountains and crossed several trestles and through tunnels with breathtaking scenery the whole trip. The shopping area of the town itself is about four blocks wide by six blocks long, with every major jewelry store and T-shirt store plus more filling the buildings. The year round population is a little over 800 but when four cruise ships are in port, the population swells ten times to well over 8000.
I will discuss the two larger Alaska ports, Juneau and Ketchikan, as well as Victoria, British Columbia in a future blog.
Until next time,