Skagway

Eric Benshetler
This was my favorite town as far as unique atmosphere goes, although my wife didn’t like it as much as I did. Skagway hasn’t had any major fires, so many of its original wooden buildings remain, as well as its wooden sidewalk. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the similarity between this gold rush town which grew up almost overnight to the frontier towns that are seen in westerns. We booked the 8 AM trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. You can board the train right at the cruise ship dock and save yourself a half-mile walk to the train depot if you buy your tickets from Carnival instead of on-line in advance from the railroad. The price difference was $7. If you like old trains and mountain scenery, this is a great trip. I know many people have recommended it. However, we didn’t think it was that outstanding. Maybe it was the early hour; it’s easy to doze off. Maybe it was because it was hard to find room on a platform to stand outside; some people share space better than others. Maybe it was because the engines are switched at the midway point and we were breathing diesel fumes for the return trip. Or maybe we had just seen enough scenery by that point. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to take this one. Important note: Sit in one of the middle cars! Several on-line reviewers have suggested sitting in the last car if possible because of the views from the back platform. However, when we tried that, we were told that the last (and presumably the first) car weren’t open due to the diesel fumes. We ended up in the next-to-last-car on the way up. This became the second car on the way down after the engines were switched, and the fumes really were significant. After we returned and ate lunch on the ship, we walked into town. There are trams from the ship to the dock end and then small buses from the end of the dock into town if you have trouble walking. While my wife was shopping (notice the pattern), I spotted one of the 45-minute ranger-led walking tours of the historic district and listened in to part of it. Since it sounded interesting, the boys and I decided to go on the next one and arrange to meet my wife later. The free tours are hourly at 9, 10, 11, 2, and 3 o’clock and limited to about 30 people, but only about 12-18 people were going out on most of them so we were able to join the next one out from the Visitor Center at 2nd Avenue and Broadway. The park ranger was as entertaining and informative as all the others I’ve encountered. He did a great job helping us realize why people would willingly leave a relatively comfortable city life for the challenge of hunting for gold in Alaska, not unlike the dreams that fueled the “dotcom” boom in the late 1990s. He humorously noted that the town today really isn’t much different from the way it was 100 years ago, since its goal is still to separate the visitors from their cash. He also talked about the key role of whiskey in the town’s early economy, and of the “Skagway Shuffle” of moving buildings around which continues today. My wife joined us near the end and she agreed that it was a great tour. We saw the famous, or infamous, Red Onion Saloon briefly, but the tours of the second floor had ended for the day by the time we got there.

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