Sitka

Eric Benshetler
Surprisingly, Sitka wasn’t as Russian as I expected. As with many of the early Alaskan towns that were mostly built from wood, Sitka has had it share of fires and reconstruction. For example, the landmark St. Michael’s Cathedral with its Russian-style architecture was rebuilt in 1966. Sitka was, fortunately, the only tender port. The Spirit actually uses a few of its lifeboats as tenders to take passengers ashore. It was exciting to watch the crew drop and launch the lifeboat just next to our cabins. The drawback, however, is that the lifeboats are smaller than other tender boats I’ve been on, and it took a few hours to get everyone off the ship. If you’re not on a Carnival side tour, and we weren’t, you get numbered tender tickets on the Lido deck. I made the mistake of getting them after we ate breakfast, and it took another hour until they called for Tender 21. At least we were able to wait on our balcony and enjoy the sunny weather and view while waiting for the announcement. Sitka is not very large. There’s a staffed information booth near the dock with maps. You can easily walk to most of the main attractions and shops. There’s also a transit bus that runs in a half-hour loop, which costs $7 for an all-day pass. We just missed the bus and decided to walk to the Alaska Raptor Center, about a mile away. It’s a nice hike on walkways past the waterfront and shops, the Russian Bishop’s House, a few homes, and Sheldon Jackson College, and along the edge of the Sitka National Historical Park and over the small Indian River with spawning salmon. The Alaska Raptor Center was another AAA recommendation. It’s not large, but includes about two dozen rescued bald eagles, falcons, and owls. After paying admission and viewing a short film, one of the staff members took us on a tour of the facility. Most of the birds we saw are there permanently, and he explained why. Surprisingly, several of the eagles had collided with power lines. They’re not sure why, but maybe while focusing on prey a couple miles away the eagles miss the smaller power lines right in front of them. After the tour we were able to go back to see all the birds, which are kept outside. There’s also a short loop trail through the temperate rainforest that we hiked before heading back to town. Despite the tender delay and the walk to and from the Raptor Center, we still had time to see the main attractions in town before heading to the docks for the next-to-last tender back. I had originally hoped to see the Sitka National Historical Park before or after the Raptor Center, but I scrapped that plan since my wife wanted to do some shopping and I decided the buildings in town might be more interesting than the park if our time was limited.

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