Skagway

Karen Schmauss
The Port of Skagway is currently the number three cruise port in the State of Alaska by number of cruise ship passengers, behind Juneau and Ketchikan. There were several other ships at the dock by the time we arrived, including the mammoth Celebrity ship Summit. (We were jealous: they had hot chocolate and orange juice for their passengers at their gangway!) When you arrive at the port, you see on the cliff face adjacent to the pier many painted rocks with the ‘graffiti’ of various ships’ names and logos complete with dates. In essence, it’s a painted rock “guestbook”. RCL’s logo was predominately displayed along with Celebrity’s, Commodore’s, Carnival’s, etc. We had signed up for two tours at this port. A note about the tours: we were given the opportunity to sign up ahead of time on the Internet. It was a daunting task because there were so MANY choices in the four ports. But I urge you to do so. Those who waited to sign up on the ship were met with two things: (1) ENORMOUS long lines at the Shore Excursions desk, and (2) sold-out popular tours. Regarding the sold-out part, the operators seemed to be able to add tours to accommodate people, but there were still long lines to contend with at the Shore Excursions desk. I did my homework about the tours via the Internet and guidebooks, plus asked some friends who had taken Alaskan cruises. All in all, we were happy with our choices. Yes, you can probably get the same or similar tours cheaper at the Ports, but it’s a hassle to coordinate timing and you don’t get the guarantee from the ship that they won’t leave without you. Usually it’s not an issue but there was one tour that did not get back until shortly before the ship sailed; I would hate to have to worry about being left behind! Our first tour in Skagway was “Ghosts & Goodtime Girls: Historical Walking Tour” ($39 for two hours). The gimmick of this tour is the tour guide: a young woman decked out in black and red Victorian-era “hooker” garb. Her purse was in the form of a black leather corset. Our guide was very entertaining and engaging, teaching us on the brief bus ride to town how hookers and pimps arrive at their stage names: combine the name of your childhood pet and the street you grew up on. Mine was Aristotle Stoakes. Good name for a pimp! A couple other names were Fluffy Harrison and Snowball Thunderbird. Our guide took us on a walking trip throughout town, explaining it from the point of view of a young woman who made her living “entertaining” men in this tough-scrabble town. We learned about the origin of the words “hooker” and “red light district”. The tour ended at the Red Onion Hotel, the site of the town’s brothel, which is preserved upstairs as a museum. We were served a drink (we had diet coke) and given a short guided tour of the brothel. Was the cost worth it? Yes and no. We learned that the U.S. Park Service gives a historical walking tour for free, and that the U.S. Park Service trained our guide! However, the Goodtime Girls give a fun twist to the talk, and our guide was very pretty and my husband enjoyed flirting with her. The “Ghost” part was a bit lacking; all we heard about ghosts was that a small cabin on the tour route was supposedly haunted. A word of advice for Skagway: bring (and wear!) insect repellant. We foolishly left ours behind in the cabin, and those critters buzzed around us as the weather warmed up. I didn’t get bitten, but I slapped at many of them landing on my skin. The tour ended at 11:30 a.m. We walked through the tiny town (just a couple of blocks) and stopped at the Alaska T-shirt Company, which was really crowded and featured the surliest salespeople in Alaska. (The young male clerk grabbed my money and tossed my bag at me with nary a word.) We had about an hour and half before our second tour, “White Pass Scenic Railway”, so we hiked back to the ship for a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer and to dump our jackets and excess baggage. Then it was time for the railroad trip ($98 for 3 ½ hours). This was TERRIFIC and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Known as the “scenic railway of the world”, the railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. The narrow gauge railroad follows a 20-mile path that the stampeders took on foot and mule in order to hunt for gold. Instead of sitting in comfortable plush vintage railroad cars like us, they had to lug 1,000 pounds of supplies, making many trips which took many weeks. (At 40 pounds per trip, that meant SIXTY round trips back and forth over the rugged, uneven, mountainous terrain in arctic conditions, not the balmy summer weather we enjoyed.) How they did this is beyond me. We saw the remains of White Pass Trail. Dead Horse Gulch is aptly named – that’s where the unfortunate pack animals, exhausted, overworked and overloaded, collapsed and tumbled to their deaths down the steep mountain. The scenery was breathtaking, despite somewhat cloudy conditions. I stood on the platform quite a bit to take photographs. The trip was somewhat marred by a noisy, boisterous trio of “20-something” males in our car and a crying baby at the end, but even with those irritants it remains a highlight of our trip.

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