Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Three Perfect Hours in Ketchikan ... and some remarks on Skagway

without apology to the "Three Perfect Days..." series from whatever airline magazine...

Our cruise ship docked several hours in Ketchikan, but having been up late the previous night, we didn't all want to go charging out as soon as we got there. So here are a few highlights from our visit.

First, we stopped by the tourist info booth and picked up a map for a walking tour. Numbered signs on the street correspond to the sites on the tour map -- very convenient.

Near the start of the walking tour is a salmon outfit, I believe at 322 Main Street. A tour book writer was so impressed with the salmon here that he ordered a case and had it shipped home. We did the same.

We continued on the tour, where our next highlight was the hatchery. This is an elaborate setup which releases 300,000 fish into the river every year. The hathery also includes a bald eagle habitat. Very educational and definitely worth the $12 fee.

But we spent an extra $5/person to get a package deal which included the totem heritage center, a stone's throw away. There we learned that totem poles aren't worshiped; they're more or less analogous to some stained-glass windows, telling a story or honoring someone. Another reason a totem pole was constructed was to proclaim bad behavior -- a "shame" or "ridicule" pole. If amends were made, the pole would be torn down and destroyed.

We continued back to the pier and wanted some fish and chips -- which could be had from a street vendor. A large halibut and fries (6 pieces of fish) was about $13. Everything was fresh and hot and delicious. I wanted a beer but they weren't licensed for that.

Two days later -- Tuesday in Skagway

Important things learned here:
  • the yarn emporium is near the corner of 3rd and Broadway. One shuttle driver and a passenger said it was on 5th; a sales guy from a jewelry shop said it was on 4th. But 3rd is correct.
  • If you're considering the train tour to White Pass: This costs at least $90 a pop ($112 and up if booked through the cruise line) and I'm sure it's fabulous. Our tour was $45 per person and was conducted in a shuttle-style van, 18 passengers. If you're on a cruise ship and stop in Skagway (or Skaguay), I can tell you this is a much better deal. Our driver, Matt, gave us a quick tour of downtown before we stopped at the old cemetery where Soapy Smith and Frank Reed were both buried. We made multiple stops and got some terrific views. The train doesn't make any of those stops, and they cannot possibly have a more entertaining or informative tour guide.
  • Dogs can be seen on the musher's camp excursion -- the camp being in Dyea, about a 45-minute drive from the Broadway dock. If you go on this trip, you should wear stuff you don't mind getting dirty, as the road will likely be muddy. (The dogs pull a wheeled vehicle -- they love to run! -- and some mud inevitably gets kicked up onto the forward passengers in the sled.)
I believe the price for the dog musher's camp is about the same whether booked through your cruise line or independently (i.e., by wandering into town). But if I have this right, the bus tour was only available in town. Get a tour with Matt as your driver if you can.

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